Because plumbers use several materials described as “tape,” the term “plumber’s tape” often causes confusion among homeowners and do-it-yourself builders. Although professional plumbers use “plumber’s tape” to refer to a strapping material, retail store employees and amateur builders might use the term to describe thread seal tape. While both types of tape are essential parts of many plumbing projects, they differ greatly in application and installation. If you learn about both the plumber’s tape used as strapping and the plumber’s tape applied to pipe threads, you can choose the right supplies for your plumbing job.
Plumber's Tape Definition - Although confusing, the vague term plumber's tape technically refers to a strapping material. Typically manufactured of either plastic or metal, plumber's tape is a thin, flexible strip coiled into a roll. Perforations dot the center of the strip and serve as screw or nail holes. Although builders or store employees might occasionally refer to thread seal tape as "plumber's tape," plumbing supplies manufacturers nearly always use the term to refer to strapping.
Plumber's Tape Applications - Plumber's tape supports a pipe or secures a pipe in position. The most common application of plumber's tape is drainpipe support, particularly drainpipes suspended below floors. Plumbers cut a portion of tape from its roll, wrap the tape around a pipe and drive a screw or nail through the tape's holes and into a framing member, such as a floor joist. Although commonly used to support drainpipes, plumbers tape can support nearly any type of pipe. However, do-it-yourself builders must remember that local building codes might restrict the use of plumber's tape on gas plumbing or water supply lines. Additionally, certain metal combinations result in corrosive reactions, such as combining copper pipes with steel plumber's tape.
Thread Seal Tape Definition - Regularly and inaccurately called plumber's tape, thread seal tape consists of a thin film of polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. Applied in a different form to non-stick kitchenware, PTFE excels as both a sealant and lubricant. The tape is slightly slick and stretchy, and manufacturers wind it around palm-sized spools. Manufacturers typically package tape for water supply plumbing in blue spools, and tape for gas plumbing in yellow spools.
Thread Seal Tape Applications - As suggested by its name, thread seal tape seals the space between the threads that join threaded plumbing pipes and fittings. However, whereas thread seal tape encourages a watertight seal between National Pipe Thread, or NPT, components, thread seal tape can interfere with the the seal between the threads of flared or compression fittings. Thus, plumbers never wrap thread seal tape around the threads of flared or compression fittings. However, many household plumbing pipes and fittings have NPT threads and require thread seal tape. Copper and plastic water supply lines, drainpipes and gas lines are among the plumbing materials that typically require thread seal tape.