Expert Plumbing Tip: How Does Pipe Leak Tape Work?

In this installment of expert plumbing tips, we are looking more closely at pipe leak tape.

Pipe leak tape has a surprisingly broad number of applications in plumbing and can make repairing small leaks a breeze for homeowners.  A little trade secret, professional plumbers sometimes use tape in specific situations as well.

What is pipe leak tape?

There are two types of tape that are commonly used in leaking pipe repair: pipe thread tape and silicone tape. Both are commonly available in hardware stores.  Let’s look more closely at each type:

Pipe thread tape

Pipe thread tape is also known as “thread seal tape,” “PTFE tape,” “Teflon tape,” or “plumber’s tape.” It is used to help create a watertight seal between plumbing joints, as well as to lubricate the connection between the joints to make threading smoother and disassembly easier for future plumbing situations.

Silicone tape

Silicone tape is also known as “self-amalgamating tape” or “self-fusing tape,” due to its self-adhesive property. Unlike other tapes, it doesn’t stick to the pipe; only to itself. Silicone tape can be wrapped around a pipe leak to form a durable waterproof temporary seal.

When to Use Each Type

Pipe thread and silicone tapes have very different applications. Knowing which one to use is critical to getting a positive outcome for your plumbing problem.  Pipe thread tape won’t work on non-joint pipe leaks effectively, and you should never apply silicone tape to your pipe’s threads.

Leaking joints

If your pipe’s joints are leaking, it’s probably either because the connection between them has loosened or the tape or putty sealing the connection has worn out. This is common for older pipes.  Pipe thread tape can help with both of these problems. If you identify that your leak is coming from a joint, then pipe thread tape is your answer.

Fracture leaks

Hairline fractures and other leaks happen when pipes age or are somehow damaged. If the leak is clearly coming from the middle of a plumbing pipe, rather than a joint, then it’s probably a fracture. Silicone tape can help form a temporary waterproof seal to prevent water from leaking while you seek a permanent fix. 

How to use pipe leak tape

Here are some easy tips how to effectively use pipe leak tape for your leaky pipe problems.

Pipe thread tape for leaking joints

First, turn off the water. Then, unscrew the pipe joint that’s leaking. Pay attention to which way you have to turn the pipe to screw and unscrew it from the joint.

Next, remove the worn out seal and apply the pipe thread tape. Wrap the tape around the thread in the opposite direction from the direction in which you’ll screw the pipe back in. Wrap the tape around four to six times, starting from the second thread from the bottom. Make sure the tape is snug with the threads. When you’ve wrapped up to the end of the pipe, screw the pipe back into the joint and test for leaks.

Silicone tape for fracture leaks

For the first step, you will want to leave the water on until you locate the leak.  Once you have identified the location of the leak, turn off the water.  Dry the area of the pipe around the leak as well as you can and begin wrapping the tape around it. 

Wrap the tape as tightly as possible, overlapping several times. Give yourself some extra security by wrapping the tape around the area surrounding the leak as well. Make sure the seal you are creating is as tight on the pipe as possible for best effect.

Can pipe leak tape fix a leak for good?

Pipe thread tape can last for years. As long as the joint isn’t leaking, you can consider it a long-term (if still ultimately temporary) solution. Silicone tape, on the other hand, should only be used as a temporary measure while you seek more permanent fixes. You should use silicone tape to prevent a leak from getting worse or wasting more water while you call a plumber.  This is NOT a permanent leak fix.

If you are still having problems and you live in Missoula Montana, you might want to consider calling the plumbing professionals at Garden City Plumbing!

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