A good majority of the plumbing projects done in the home or commercially require some type of chemical to be used. From bonding agents to cleaners, from cutting oils to solder pastes they are all chemical in nature and if not used properly can be harmful to the installer or end user. Here are some common plumbing chemicals, their descriptions and how they are handled properly.
PVC Primer and Cement oh my!
PVC primer is used to clean the plastic of any dirt, it also softens the plastic to ensure a better bond between pipe and fitting. Some times the plumbing code in an area requires the primer to be colored purple as evidence of use. Here are some tips to use when applying primer.
Always use primer when joining PVC. I've heard people tell me "I've done some work with PVC and I never used primer". My response is always "If you knew the chemistry behind what happens when joining PVC, you would never consider not using primer." It is not just another product a manufacturing company wants you to buy. It is a must to ensure a proper and long lasting installation.
Wear gloves when applying primer. Primer is not super caustic but it will cause irritation with prolonged exposure.Wear eye protection when using PVC primer. Primer causes intense burning and irritation of the eyes and eye lids. I repeat wear eye protection when using.
Use in a well ventilated area. It has a fairly strong ether like smell and is highly combustible so keep it away from open flames. Here is a practical piece of advice. If you are doing PVC waste and vent piping in a small area like a crawl space and you have to use a torch to solder copper water piping make sure to use a fan to move the air around.
PVC cement is used in conjunction with PVC primer to glue together PVC pipe and fittings. If installed correctly the joint made with the primer and cement will be stronger than the pipe itself. You apply the cement with a round brush (usually in the can) in a circular motion coating both the pipe and fitting. There are roughly 4 different types of PVC cement. There are more but these are the ones that are used the majority of the time.
The Safety hazards are the same as when using PVC primer. Wear protective safety glasses and gloves when handling.
There is a Gorilla in the Room
It is worth mentioning that GORILLA PVC makes a unique two in one PVC/PRIMER in both clear and purple that obviously eliminates the step of using a primer by itself. The founder of the company wanted to develop a product that saved time but also did it's part in saving the environment.
Gorilla PVC is non-flammable, almost no smell and has low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) which makes it Eco-Friendly. GORILLA PVC is a premium product, one can of Gorilla PVC will be similar in price to one can of standard PVC cement and one can of primer together. GORILLA PVC comes in 4oz, 8oz and 16oz cans. GORILLA PVC is committed to helping the environment by always offering Eco-Friendly products. A thanks goes out to GORILLA PVC for the info and the handy fliers featured below.
OK there are a ton of fluxes out there and each manufacturer has their own unique products. The purpose of this article is to tell you what the product does, how it's used and some of the dangers if not used properly, we will not go into every single soldering product on the market.
The primary function of a flux used for soldering copper used in plumbing systems is to chemically clean the surface of the tube and fitting after the surface has been cleaned mechanically by using an abrasive like emory cloth, screen cloth or a Scotchbrite pad. Copper tends to oxidize quickly when exposed to heat so a secondary function of flux is to prevent oxidation. Here are some important characteristics you should look for when choosing a soldering flux.
Fluxes available for copper soldering are usually made of zinc chloride, some contain ammonium chloride with a petroleum base. Water soluble fluxes where introduced primary because if not all the petroleum flux is dissolved out of the joint by being burned out or washed away with system water it sits on the pipe and fittings and continues to be aggressive potentially causing a system failure.
Pipe Thread Sealants (AKA Pipe Dope)
Pipe thread sealants have several purposes. The first and most important is to fill in the imperfections of threaded pipe and fittings. If you cut a cross section of a threaded fitting connected to a threaded nipple you would be able to see the gaps in between threads. Pipe sealants fill in theses gaps.
The second but equally important function of pipe dope is it lubricates the pipe and fitting during assembly. Using a pipe thread sealant makes assembling threaded fittings quit a bit easier and if it is non seizing it remains fairly easy to take apart, even years after installation.
Pipe thread sealants have changed in the last 30 years, changes like adding PTFE polytetrafluoroethylene, I know thats a mouth full however it is more recognizable when referring to it by it's brand name Teflon. Traditionally the more PTFE inside the paste the better, however very recently Hercules has introduced Dupont Kevlar as an additive in their popular Megaloc pipe thread sealant.
There is quite a list of different pipe thread sealants on the market so here are some of the different types of pipe thread sealants and their uses:
But My Buddy Says Teflon Tape is the Best for Pipe Threads
This section wouldn't be complete with out talking a little bit about Teflon thread sealant tape. Teflon tape come in several different sizes and thicknesses. The most common thickness is 3mil and tapes usually come in 1/2", 3/4" and 1" widths. A general rule of thumb is the greater the thickness of the tape the higher quality the tape is and obviously the more expensive the product costs.
Some plumbing professionals use both Teflon tape first then they place Teflon pipe sealant over the tape. This is truly a matter of personal preference. One last bit of advice, both Teflon tape and pipe thread sealants should not be used on brass compression fittings. Quite a few plumbers feel they should use either products on all threads but compression fittings don't need pipe sealants.
Chemical Drain Cleaners
Although chemical drain cleaners can be effective in ridding a drain line of stoppages you must never forget you're dealing with powerful substances that can burn skin on contact and can result in possible blindness if splashed in the eyes. OK enough preaching, how do they work right? They can be effective if the right product is used in the right situation.
Acidic or Caustic? Liquid or Dry? Which Should You Choose?
Common waste line clog removers come in a couple different flavors. The first choice that you should be aware of is that the active ingredient in some chemical drain cleaners is hydrochloric acid (The Works) and others are made using sodium hydroxide or lye (Thrift, Draino, Liquid Plumr). They are the antithesis of one another chemically.
Both are designed to dissolve blockages and both can be very dangerous. I'm going to insert my opinion here, I am not a fan of drain cleaners in liquid form and the reason is two fold. Most people realize they have a stoppage when it's too late, the kitchen sink is backed up and holding water, the shower drain is clogged and holding water etc. If you pour a liquid drain cleaner into a plumbing fixture holding water, the water laying in it dilutes its strength by the time it gets to the blockage, many times its too diluted to breakdown the clog.
Now if the chemical doesn't remove the clog what are you left with? A plumbing fixture and a drain line full of acidic or caustic water. It makes things much more difficult for you or a plumbing technician to remove the dangerous water and rod the line mechanically. It is our professional opinion that whenever a drain line is completely clogged use a mechanical rod.
The next type of drain cleaners are sodium hydroxide based but they are dry and come in flakes, pellets or powder. This type of drain cleaner should only be used when a drain is still taking some water, it can be very slow but it has to be moving. The sodium hydroxide turns the blockage into a soap like substance and the substance washes away.
We cannot stress this enough, please be careful when using the the above products. The liquid form can splash. hitting exposed skin or eyes.
Enzymatic Drain Cleaners
Drain cleaners using good enzymes and bacteria to slowly eat away at any and all organic residue and waste in drain lines, disposals and septic fields are considered more of a maintenance product than an emergency blockage remover. However if used properly they work very well in fact if used on a regular basis your chances of having a back-up again are greatly diminished.
Some Examples of Other Uses for these Amazing Maintenance Products
If you know anything about septic fields you know that the field ends in a septic tank that fills up slowly over time and eventually needs to be pumped out. If periodic maintenance doesn't happen the septic field backs up and stops taking in waste. Naturally occurring enzymes and bacteria cannot keep up with today's household needs and these products far outperform natural bacteria. Enzymatic Cleaners live on eating organic waste and these are the only products that improve drain line performance throughout the drainage process. Drainage lines, leech fields and septic tanks, nothing escapes these useful natural cleaners.
Garbage Disposal Build-Up and Odors
Since organic waste is the reason for foul odors emanating from a garbage disposal using enzymatic cleaners is a natural fit. The by-products from grinding kitchen waste products like vegetables, bones, fat etc. stick to the walls and blades and over time these organic wastes rot, hence the nasty smell. Once a week maintenance with a dose of enzymatic cleaner will begin eating the wastes within an hour and over time the problem will be eliminated.
Although this may seem like a perfect opportunity for an Enzymatic cleaner the right conditions must be met to ensure optimal performance. Most grease traps in a commercial kitchen get a fair amount of use therefore waste flows pretty quickly through the trap. In order for these types of cleaners to work the waste water must be slowed and the grease must be cooled so it rises to the top. If these conditions can be met these types of drain cleaners can seriously reduce the amount of grease that would have to be removed.
Ejector pits are almost the perfect situation to use these type of drain cleaners. Ejector pits receive waste from basement toilets, showers, condensate lines, and kitchens. These wastes flow to the ejector. The organic wastes sit in the pit until there is enough water to engage the switch on the ejector pump to evacuate the pit. Periodic treatments will increase the performance of the pump because it doesn't have to work as hard and will seriously diminish odors coming from the pit.
The Basics About Water Heaters: Types, Parts and How They work
This is the type of water heater everyone has seen and most have in their home. Traditionally they are the most energy inefficient however new self condensing and power direct vent tank type water heaters have been developed by American/A.O. Smith that bring 95% efficiency to the consumer.
Here are some other common uses for enzymatic drain cleaners.
Some of the common company names or brand names of enzymatic cleaners, some you may have heard of others maybe not.
As with the others use extreme care when using these products. The use of safety glasses and gloves is always recommended.
This group of cleaners basically dissolves urinary salts, calcium deposits, rust, hard mineral deposits, scale and even concrete. It is made of hydrochloric acid and some specific products include corrosion inhibitors.
In the plumbing industry it's most common use is in urinals. If any of you had to chip or scoop out a clogged urinal you'd wish you had time to use a calcium dissolver. Another situation that arises is when certain trades wash their tools or equipment down a waste line and those tools/equipment have cement/grout, etc. on them. The build-up from this can stop up a waste line. Calcium removers/dissolver's can literally save the day by removing the blockage rather than cutting the pipe out.
Here are some of the brand names to look for when searching for these products.
Plumbers putty is one of the most important materials used in the plumbing field. Quite a few manufacturers make their own version however back in the 1940s there was only one manufacturer and how the product was developed is rather interesting. You see, back in the early 1900s wax rings hadn't been introduced yet so toilet bowls used to be set using window putty. However the problem with putties including window putty was that the oil separates from the base materials and stains most materials it comes in contact with.
A small chemical manufacturer named Industrial Paint and Varnish Co. was asked by a walk-in customer if they could make a putty that didn't separate and thus wouldn't stain. The company's Owner and founder Mr. Harry Lichten took up the challenge and in the early 1940s developed Stay Soft Stainless Plumbers Putty and it wasn't long after that he changed the company name to Blackswan. The same basic materials are used in todays putty, a combination of calcium carbonate, clay, petroleum and fish oil. Plumbers putty is used when setting most plumbing fixtures and trim i.e. toilets, kitchen sinks and faucets.
Hercules/Oatey SCS have just introduced STA PUT ULTRA that is non-staining for use with any surface material including granite, marble, soap stone, tile, grout, concrete and other porous surfaces. There is no oil in the product so its safe to use with plastics or rubber as well.
As with most of the above products there are quite a few manufacturers making plumbers putty. The following are a few of the manufactures names and the name of their product. It is worth noting, this type of putty is not recommended for use with marble, granite, limestone and plastic.
No-Hub Pipe Lube
No-hub adhesive pipe lube has two functions; one is that it lubricates the rubber gasket inside a compression type coupling so the pipe and fittings slide into the coupling easier, and two, upon drying it is an adhesive that helps in the sealing process. It is recommended to be used on all no-hub coupling installations. No-hub adhesive is pretty dangerous stuff, not only is it flammable but the vapors that are given off can be hazardous. Please wear eye protection and rubber gloves when handling this chemical.
Leak Detection Liquids / Dye
Tree roots are the cause of sewer headaches throughout the world. The fine filament roots from trees will find any source of water to feed including sewer lines. These roots will make their way into a sewer line and become a sort of net for any wastes traveling down the waste line. Rodding with a root cutter will take care of the immediate issue however the only way to control tree roots is to use a periodic dose of a root killer. Typically root killers are used after mechanical rodding is done to clear as much of the tree roots out of the line as possible.
Not All Tree Root Killers Are Made The Same
Most root killers are made with copper sulfate, the chemical is absorbed directly into the roots and they die pretty quickly. However copper sulfate is a pretty dangerous chemical and is banned in several states and is prohibited by Federal Law for use in streams, rivers and waterways that feed into those areas because it can be devastating to the environment if not used properly.
Copper Sulfate also corrodes metal pipes if not flushed adequately. In addition these root killers are poured into the system through a toilet or sewer cleanout and the compound sits in the bottom of the waste piping killing anything that touches the water. Do you know what happens to the roots that are at the top of the pipe? The roots that don't touch the killing compound? Those roots will again grow into the line making life miserable for a home or business owner.
There are a few companies that make a different kind of root killer however, Root X was the first to use the herbicide Dichlobenil. Dichlobenil is not caustic and is approved for use in all 50 states. Introduced in 1994, Root X was also the first to include foaming agents so the product foamed on contact with water filling the entire pipe thereby killing the roots at the top of the pipe where around 90% of the roots originate. Use with utmost confidence the stuff works real well. Roebic is another chemical manufacturer that manufactures a similar product and from all reports it works as advertised.
Pipe markers used in the piping trades are basically heavy duty valve action paint markers. Some of the differences when compared with consumer paint markers are:
La-CO industries has the most complete and respected line of industrial markers.
Describing marking paint is pretty simple. Most industrial marking paints are made in a wide range of florescent colors for high visibility and is a typical spray paint can with vertical application head very similar to a can of whipped cream. This head allows for the can to be upside down to mark floors or even bare ground.
As stated in the above regarding plumbers putty, toilets used to be set in putty to seal the opening between the bowl and the waste piping. Although piling a bunch of plumbers putty under a toilet usually worked eventually it was a very inexact science.
The advent of wax rings took most of the guess work out of setting a toilet. If the waste outlet was standard a standard wax rings worked great, if the waste opening was too low you could use two rings and that would do the trick. Wax rings are traditionally made of amber beeswax however there are several companies that make synthetic wax rings.
Plumbers grease can be petroleum based or silicone based both work well to loosen faucet handles or to help protect rubber parts from wearing out. Silicone does have an advantage in that it does not adversely affect rubber gaskets like petroleum grease.
Roofers cement is a petroleum base cement with fillers used for seams, patching and repair, gutters and roof flashings so why are we describing roofers cement on a plumbing site? There are actually a few applications that a plumber would use this product.
Cool gel is manufactured by La-Co Industries and is a heat barrier spray. We have no idea what it's made from because LA-CO keeps the formula locked down tighter than Willy Wonka's chocolate recipe. It is sprayed on to any surface that you don't want burned during soldering or brazing.
The gel when sprayed sticks to the previous spray sort of mounding or building on the surface. There are so many "Cool" features that this product presents, one of which is that it doesn't stain drywall, paint, wall paper, wood and fabric even when direct heat is applied. The gel literally evaporates within 48 hours of application. You can also spray Cool Gel on ball valves or shower valves or even other soldered fittings to protect the joints or internal parts of the valves from being damaged due to extreme heat.
Just to reiterate how powerful this product is, during a demonstration a LA-CO salesman sprayed a healthy amount on a piece of cardboard, the salesman then took a 1lb MAPP gas soldering torch and applied direct heat to the cardboard while holding the piece flat in his hand for about two (2) minutes before we had seen enough. We immediately turned the cardboard over to feel the backside and it was cool to the touch. This product is an essential in a plumbers' tool bag. It's cheap insurance when soldering in a dangerous area. It is safe and non toxic and will not irritate the skin. Please use safety glasses and gloves when using a soldering torch.
Epoxy Pipe Repair Wrap
This is a relatively new product brought to market by Fernco, the same company that manufactures coupling for the plumbing industry. It's brand name is Pow-R-Wrap or Repair and it is epoxy resin impregnated fiberglass wrap.
A putty is applied first to fill the crack or puncture in the piping, then water is introduced to the fiberglass wrap and it is applied over the putty and wrapped tight. The wrap is continually wound until it becomes sticky then it is left to set. It drys rock hard and will take a pressure test. This product can be used on plumbing, marine applications, auto repairs, etc.
Another LA-CO product that has been around for quite some time. It is used mainly on cast iron, galvanized or black pipe and fittings. It is applied like you are using a crayon to fill a gap. You run the Krak Stick over the leak working the wax like substance into gap until it is filled. We would not consider this a permanent fix.
This is an epoxy putting that is applied to a leak and allowed to set. It can even be applied underwater. When completely cured it can be sanded, drilled or painted.
Penetrating oil is another plumbing essential product. One example of a penetrating oil is the ever popular WD-40. It is used to penetrate rust and corrosion, loosen hinges and to oil and protect tools. There is an entire website completely dedicated to its uses. There are plenty of penetrating oils on the market today and most tradesmen have there own favorite. We're old school and still prefer the tried and true WD-40.
Liquilock is made by the plumbing chemical manufacturer Oatey and it is a white powder like substance used when changing toilets. There is always a small amount of water left in toilets when draining them down to change. You pour Liquilock in with the remaining water and the powder absorbs the water forming a kind of gel ball that can be easily removed. Any remaining gel will eventually dissolve when more water is introduced.
Cutting oils are used to cut and thread piping. These are used to facilitate the cutting and threading of pipe and to increase the life of the threading dies. Traditionally cutting oil comes in light or dark.
This concludes our Plumbing Chemical Guide thanks for reading and as always feel free to post any comments or additions you think should be listed.