Every household toolbox should contain plumber’s putty and silicone to fix plumbing issues like leaks in the tub, toilet, shower, sink, and other drains.
The main difference between a plumber’s putty vs. silicone is that putty is easy to manipulate and remove while silicone hardens for better waterproofing.
In this article, we will put plumber’s putty vs. silicone in a side-by-side comparison to help you figure out when to use each plumbing compound. Although putty is more traditional, many people prefer the stronger waterproofing of silicone.
Plumbers Putty vs. Silicone: Key Points
What is Plumbers Putty?
Plumber’s putty is a method of waterproofing the sections where pipes and drains fix to the toilets, showers, tubs, or faucets.
The biggest selling feature of putty is its malleability. This material has a soft, squishy feel that makes it easy to manipulate onto plumbing.
Once in place, the putty will help hold pieces together. But the putty won’t harden or dry out, no matter how much time passes. So, if you need to make repairs or replacements years later, it’s easy to pull off and remold as required.
Plumber’s putty is a product with specific intended uses, but it’s not a versatile product that you can use in place of others. There is no better option for securing pop-up drains, sink strainers and fitting undersides.
How to Apply
Applying a plumber’s putty is a simple, mess-free project that anyone can apply without expertise. In addition, putty comes in small plastic tubs, making it a fantastic product to keep in your tool bag for future use.
To apply this putty, use your fingers to scoop out a small portion of the material. Then roll it back and forth in your palms until it forms the shape of a long rope or a snake.
Once it’s stretched, drape it over the plumbing fixture, covering the entire area completely. After removing excess putty, apply pressure to flatten the rope onto the fixture. Don’t use extra hard pressure, which can ruin the putty’s shape and lead to potential leaks or cracks.
As with any product, it’s always best to read and follow any instructions. Given the many different brands of plumber’s putty – and their various bases – some products can cause stains to materials (mostly petroleum-based putties).
- Moldable – shaped, kneaded, manipulated repeatedly
- Easy to apply
- Possible to remove, adjust, and re-apply
- It doesn’t have to dry before using
- Easy to take off to change out faucets after years
- Durable – 50 lifespan
- It doesn’t harden
- It doesn’t stick to surfaces – gravity can cause plumber’s putty to dislodge
- It won’t hold broken pieces or repair cracks
- Can’t cover large surface areas
- Not for use on plastic pipes
- It can’t use on exposed pieces
- It doesn’t seal cracks
- Not for use on metal joints or threaded pipes
What is Silicone?
Silicone caulking is another tried-and-true plumbing sealant with similarities to plumber’s putty. This compound is popular for use on sealing wooden boats and other marine settings.
Silicone’s chemical makeup sets it apart from plumber’s putty and other materials. While there are different brands and formulas, all silicone caulk contains oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen polymers.
The main difference between plumber’s putty and silicone caulking is that silicone hardens once it’s applied. After silicone dries, it is more challenging to remove compared to removing putty. In most cases, you need a scraper or some other tool to chip off cured caulk.
Once removed, silicone caulk has to be replaced with new wet silicone. You cannot reuse the old sealant as you can with a plumber’s putty.
Silicone is also an adhesive, which means once you put it into place, it bonds to the materials, forming a tight seal that prevents leaks and other water-related complications. This magic caulk can also make minor repairs, such as cracks or gaps.
Not only is silicone resistant to water, but it can also resist dirt, air, and water. Plus, you can also use it for a mildew sealant.
Silicone’s chemical makeup and performance make it a better choice in areas where putty’s soft malleability won’t work, like ceilings, walls, and woodworking. But it is also fantastic for ceramics and acrylics with pipes fittings, bathtubs, and sinks.
How to Apply
Silicone comes in a tube, making the application of running a thin beaded line simple by using a caulk gun. Be sure your gun is of strong, reliable quality to complete your application easier and less messy.
Once you’ve cleaned and prepped the surface, it’s time to prepare the silicone. Start by placing the tube of silicone into the gun, ensuring a tight fit. Then, create a 45-degree angle hole at the end of the line to allow the caulk to come out.
It’s always a smart idea to test the hole’s performance by squeezing a small amount of silicone out. You may need to cut a bigger hole if the first cut isn’t successful.
While running your bead line, you can use your finger to keep the silicone in a thin line and to wipe off excess silicone.
Although you can use silicone to waterproof many different kinds of surfaces, and it’s compatible with multiple materials – wood, metal, glass, granite, and plastic – you shouldn’t use it to support weight-bearing pieces.
- Forms waterproof seal that prevents leaks
- Works for large coverage area
- Doubles as an adhesive to repair cracks and breaks
- Compatible with multiple materials
- Dries hard
- Won’t crack
- It can be hard to get off – typically requires scraping off with a tool
- Requires proper placement the first time and needs to be exact
- More difficult to modify and shape due to hardness
- Only good for one to two decades
- It can’t be covered with paint
- Leaves stains when removed
What’s the Difference Between Plumber’s Putty and Silicone?
Plumber’s putty and silicone serve the same purpose – to create a seal between two connecting pieces while protecting from water exposure catastrophes. That said, these two products are quite different on several scales.
Plumber’s putty comes in different formulations, with ingredients unique to each brand. However, two of the main ingredients found in almost all putties are linseed oil and powdered clay – the cause of the putty’s flexibility and resistance to drying out.
Other potential ingredients include fish oil blends, talc, and limestone. All of these ingredients are non-toxic, making plumber’s putty safe. But if the putty contains ingredients like crystalline silica, it’s a toxic putty version, requiring extra safety precautions.
Silicone caulk is a sticky elastic material that hardens into a rubbery consistency with impressive adhesive and waterproofing abilities.
These products consist of silicone polymers made of mostly oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. As with plumber’s putty, there are different formulations for various brands.
The dry time is an important factor to weigh when debating between a plumber’s putty and silicone caulk. The chemical makeup of the individual brand’s formula will play the biggest factor in how fast your product dries and is ready for use.
Because silicone typically contains inorganic and organic compounds, the dry time takes longer. In addition, the oxygen and silicone (joined C-Si bonds) in the synthetic polymers require drying.
Keeping a maintained temperature between 40℉ and 100℉ and humidity levels lower than 95% helps silicone dry faster and cure correctly. It normally takes a minimum of 24 hours to dry. But you should always test it for dryness before exposing it to water.
Because plumber’s putty mainly consists of clays and oils, giving it malleability and expandability, it won’t dry out (at least for a very long time).
Once you’ve fixed the putty into place, the conjoined pieces are ready for use – no drying time necessary. If the putty does start to dry out and get hard, it’s no longer suitable for use and needs replacing.
Some situations lend themselves better to one type of compound over the other. For example, a plumber’s putty is suitable for small areas, but you’d get better use of a silicone sealant when working with tasks on a large scale.
Putty is suitable for drains, pipes, and fixtures that you may need to take apart or replace later on down the line. You can also use it to seal cracks or leaks in pipes or drainage systems. And yet, it can’t fill gaps between pipes because it’s not adhesive.
Silicone is better when you need a secure hold because the material is a sticky adhesive that dries into a hard form.
You also have a wider range of applications for silicone outside of plumbing – waterproofing and weatherproofing. For example, you can also use silicone for cables, vehicles, and electronics. And, silicone can protect against moisture, dirt, dust, and UV rays while being an adhesive.
Despite plumber putty’s superb abilities, it fails when it comes to the test of sun exposure. The sun will damage the flexible elasticity of the plumber’s putty, causing it to shrink.
With extended exposure, UV rays will cause the putty to harden and eventually crack and break. Putty is also not suitable for weatherproofing due to its malleability.
Silicone’s basic polymer is dimethylsiloxane, a stable inorganic compound with a higher heat resistance than the caulk’s organic ingredients, which are more vulnerable to UV rays.
If you choose a product that will experience heavy UV exposure, you’ll want a formula with a higher concentration of inorganic (synthetic) ingredients to organic (natural) compounds. And, even better, the Si-O bonds help silicone be awesome for weatherproofing.
If toxicity is a significant concern for you, you may be reluctant to use silicone caulking due to having organic and inorganic (sometimes toxic) components.
While there are many different types of silicone caulking with heavy toxicity levels, there are also some that classify as non-toxic – look for 100% pure silicone. Some of these toxic chemicals can cause asthma or cancer.
Most plumber’s putty is non-toxic due to containing clay, limestone, and linseed oil. But be wary of putties with higher water resistance, as these products usually have added chemicals to make them more waterproof.
These chemicals can be toxic or irritative to sensitive breathers. Petroleum-based putties are also more toxic and require extra precautions. Always be sure to check a putty’s chemical composition and ingredients before making a decision.
While plumber’s putty has less risk of being toxic compared to silicone, silicone is non-flammable while putties aren’t. Therefore, never apply plumber’s putty near heating sources.
Silicone’s chemical makeup and rubbery texture give it superb waterproofing abilities. In addition, the rigid structure helps protect the material and the joined sections, allowing for resistance against heavy water pressure – to an extent.
The downside of silicone being able to withstand the brunt of so much abuse is that it only has a life expectancy of around twenty years. One time dealing with the frustration of chipping away the hardened silicone may be enough to lure you to the side of the tried and true plumber’s putty.
Plumber’s putty also offers you 100% waterproofing and flexibility – meaning it won’t harden (for 10 to 15 years at least). So you can get the best use in areas with smooth water pressure like joints and drainage pipes.
Odor and Color
Plumber’s putty is an off-white color with a similar texture to Play-doh. Unfortunately, you can’t get putty in any other colors, which doesn’t matter since putty is not visible after application. Putty also doesn’t produce any odors or strong smells.
Silicone can have a distinct foul odor that can linger for two to three days before dissipating. A lot of people describe the scent as old vinegar (acetic acid). And in terms of colors, you can silicone is no color, clear, or your choice of 23 light colors.
Plumber’s putty is easy to remove from joints or fittings, allowing you to make adjustments as needed, using the same materials reshaped into the proper form.
The pliability does mean that you’ll have to perform multiple adjustments over time. Once putty gets hard, you can’t re-apply it and must use a new portion.
Once the silicone has the opportunity to harden and lose its flexibility, it forms a secure hold that you won’t need to adjust to re-apply. But it becomes a nightmare if you do have to remove it.
Silicone and plumber’s putty are pretty equally matched in terms of bathroom fittings and drain pipes. But you can typically expect putty to outperform and outlast silicone used in these areas.
The elasticity of plumber’s putty makes it stand up better against long-term exposure to water. Even over time, the putty stays soft, making it easy to remove and replace if you notice it starting to fail.
As silicone caulk dries and hardens, it loses its flexibility. The rigid nature can cause cracks and breaks when exposed to heavy water pressure or as time passes. But silicone’s higher strength capacity and adhesiveness make it a better choice when you need to hold something together.
Plumber’s putty is a more affordable choice, and the performance makes it suitable enough for most plumbing projects.
You can pick up a tub of putty for less than $10 and in large quantities like a 5-pound tub, making it a useful product to keep in the utility closet for sudden emergencies or home repairs.
While silicone caulk is more expensive for less quantity, it is also more versatile. It’s suitable for multiple materials and uses, meaning there’s the potential for it to be very handy. However, you can expect to spend around $9 for a 10-ounce cartridge. And if you don’t have a gun, it’s an additional cost.
Is Plumbers Putty Better than Silicone?
Answering the question of whether a plumber’s putty is better than silicone is difficult. The answer is circumstantial and will change in response to different factors.
Plumber’s putty is always a great choice to seal leaks and connect fittings. But as the name does imply, you should only use this putty on plumbing fixtures and accessories. While you have more available uses for silicone caulking.
When to Use Plumbers Putty
- Sink fixtures
- Drain baskets (front of drain)
- Sink and bathtub drains
- Faucet fixture baskets
When Not to Use Plumbers Putty
- On porous surfaces
- When there are multiple issues
- When there’s a heavy water capacity potential
- To fill gaps or spaces
- Around heating sources or flames
- When you need a secure hold
When to Use Silicone
- When you need a secure hold
- For stronger waterproofing
- To weatherproof
- On porous surfaces
- On large surfaces or big projects
- For resistance against moisture and dirt
- To use on projects besides plumbing
- To fill cracks and gaps
When Not to Use Silicone
- When there’s an aversion to foul odors and toxic fumes
- When you need flexibility
- For patching small areas
- If you need durability
- If you’ll be removing or changing out fixtures
Can I Use Silicone Instead of Plumbers Putty?
Silicone offers a wider range of uses than plumber’s putty and some advanced benefits. In most situations where you would use a plumber’s putty, you could also use silicone as a replacement.
Plumbers Putty or Silicone for Sink Drain
To prevent leaks and drips from forming in sinks, you must use a sealant between the sink’s surface and the drain body.
Without a sealant, water can leak out from the joined area, dripping under the sink. You can use silicone caulk or plumber’s putty to seal sink drains.
Plumber’s putty may crack and cause leaks as the clay dries out with time. But it’s the preferred choice of sealant if you’ll be adjusting or removing the drain.
Plumber’s putty and silicone are two types of plumbing compounds that you can use to prevent leaks and create watertight seals for plumbing fixtures. Putty offers more flexibility and easier removal, but silicone caulking creates a stronger waterproof and weatherproof seal. Silicone also has more uses than putty, which is limited to plumbing.