Plumber’s Tape is a term used to describe two different items used in plumbing, which have entirely different applications. Plumbers Tape can either be a Teflon Tape used to aid in sealing threaded joints or, a strapping material with holes in it, used for securing and hanging pipes in place.
Teflon Plumber’s Tape is a thin tape that is made from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is a film referred to as Teflon which is the registered trademark for PTFE owned by DuPont, plumbers tape may not actually contain a DuPont product, and is available in a variety of thicknesses, widths, and colors. The thickness varies with the grade of Teflon tape you buy and is typically around .003” thick. The most common color sold is white Teflon tape but is available in colors usually coded to the application, but there is no difference in the actual material other than the color. Teflon tape is used for sealing tapered thread joints, which are very common in plumbing as pipe thread is tapered allowing it to tighten to a leak free connection. Teflon tape will not seal and aid in making a leak free joint on straight thread connections, unions, and compression fittings so it should not be used in those applications. The Teflon tape when wrapped around the threads of a tapered thread joint will fill in small gaps between the threads and compress when tightened making the joint leak free. Many plumbers will wrap the threads of a joint with Teflon tape, then apply a Teflon paste over the tape when making a connection when Teflon paste can be used. There are however, a number of applications where using Teflon paste should not be used as it can gum up components such as gas valves, and use should be avoided in those situations.
To use Teflon tape you first take the end of the tape holding it against the pipe with your thumb of one hand and wrap the tape around the pipe in the direction where the tape will not loosen as you tighten the joint. Hold the spool of tape in your other hand under a slight tension and make sure the tape goes onto the threads, stretching down into the threads, and laying flat without twists. Do not start wrapping right at the end of the pipe, but instead leave several threads bare, then apply the tape up to the end of the threads away from the end of the pipe. Typically a couple of wraps around each portion of the pipe thread are sufficient but that may vary with the quality of the pipe and fittings.
Plumber’s tape for strapping and hanging pipe is made from a variety of materials such as plastic, galvanized steel, and copper plated steel for use on different types of pipe. The plumber’s tape has holes in it for attaching it around the pipe with a bolt and nut forming a loop and for use securing it to joists, beams, and studs. When using plumbers tape on plastic pipe either a plastic plumber’s tape should be used or, something should be used to isolate the plastic pipe from the metal to prevent wear on the pipe. When using plumber’s tape on copper pipe, copper plated plumbers tape should be used to prevent corrosion from forming between dissimilar metals. You should consult the Plumbing Code that applies where you are located, to determine the distances allowed on various pipe materials, and pipe sizes, to make sure that your work complies with the code requirements.