Plumbers grease is used in lubricating and protecting plumbing fixtures. Also referred to as faucet grease, since this is its most common application, it helps to lubricate O-rings and swivel points.
Plumber’s grease is waterproof and made up of silicone oil and silicone grease. It is similar to dielectric grease, though it is much thicker and lasts for longer.
When it comes to lubricating your faucets and O-rings, anything other than plumber’s grease will cause problems down the line. You should always use a high-quality (as pure as possible), Silicone Grease. If the silicone is mixed in high proportion with another grease it will not work as well or last as long.
Use as close to 90%-100% Silicone grease, as you can find. Other types of grease will either degrade the rubber parts or are too thin to be of any use. Danco, an O-ring manufacturer, supplies grease that is specifically made for these types of applications.
Applying plumbers’ grease is not a difficult thing to do as long as you have a few simple tools and a little bit of time.
Table of Contents
- O-Rings and Grease
- Issues with Faucets
- Squeaking and Squealing
- Handle is Difficult to Turn
- Fixing Your Faucet
- Accessing the Cartridge
- Longer-Term Solutions
- Related Questions
O-Rings and Grease
An O-ring is used to block a path that would otherwise allow a liquid or gas to escape. They are an essential part of all plumbing fixtures, as they stop water leaks. An O-ring is placed within a groove that secures it in place, lubricated with a silicone grease in order to protect it from friction, and compressed between two surfaces.
Most O-rings and faucet seals in appliances are made with Nitrile Butadiene Rubber. The only type of grease that is safe for use with these is Silicone Grease. All other types of grease will interact with the rubber and cause damage over time. Instead of helping to lubricate the O-ring, they will instead break them down until they are unable to do their job properly.
If you use Vaseline or oil-based greases, these will break down the Nitrile Butadiene Rubber. This usually happens within 6 months to 1 year. At that point, you will need to replace the O-rings and use a silicone-based grease to prevent this from happening again.
Other oils, like olive oil, WD-40, or 3-in-1 oils are much too thin and will not stay in place. WD-40 is useful in cleaning O-rings but will eventually dry them out and destroy their functionality.
Issues with Faucets
Common issues are squeaking or squealing and handles that are difficult to turn. This can happen from hard-water buildup, degradation of rubber O-rings, or grime.
When installing faucets, manufacturers recommend that you apply a plumber’s grease to the shower faucet regularly in order to clear out debris, prevent rust, and make the shower handle easy to turn.
To take care of this issue, you will apply plumber’s grease to the parts of the assembly that regulate the water flow. Depending on the type of shower or faucet system, these parts will vary. Most modern faucets use cartridges to start and stop the water, as well as regulate the water temperature.
Squeaking and Squealing
If you notice that your faucets are squeaking, it is probably due to dust and dirt that has built up in the cartridge behind the handle. Squeaking is the first sign that there is some kind of friction that needs to be taken care of.
It can also be a sign that the threads inside the faucet handle are worn out. If the handle was not greased properly, or a grease other than silicone grease was used, this could have caused the O-rings to degrade. Fixing this is a relatively straight forward process that involves removing the handle and taking out the cartridge to clean it.
Handle is Difficult to Turn
This is a more common issue if you use hard water. The minerals in the water will leave deposits that can interfere with the O-rings. Once you remove your faucet handle, check for any hard-water buildup. If you find some, you will want to clean these off before reassembling.
Start by cleaning your parts with CLR (Calcium Lime Rust, a household cleaner), or White Malt Vinegar. Soak the parts overnight and the hard-water deposit buildup will come off very easily. You can also use sandpaper to scrub off the deposits, though you may not be able to get into all the nooks and crannies as easily.
After soaking, use a toothbrush to clean these parts more thoroughly and dry with a paper towel or rag. Make sure that they are as clean as possible before applying any plumber’s grease and reassembling.
Fixing Your Faucet
Fixing a faucet that squeaks or is hard to turn is a simple DIY project that only takes a few minutes.
The tools you will need to be able to complete this task are:
- Plumber’s Grease
- O-Rings (optional)
Depending on the state of your O-rings, they may need to be replaced. It is good to have replacements on hand just in case.
Accessing the Cartridge
To stop your shower from squeaking you will need to take apart the faucet handle. This is very simple to do and will expose the cartridge that is behind it, allowing you access in order to grease it.
Step 1: Loosen the Handle
The first step is to loosen the screw that is holding the handle into place. This is often located on the back of the faucet. You will then remove the screws that are holding the plate on behind the faucet and set these parts to the side.
Step 2: Remove the Collar and U-Clips
The collar around the shower cartridge will pull right out and you will see U-clips around it. Taking your pliers, remove these carefully, and set to the side.
Step 3: Removing and Cleaning the Cartridge
After you remove the U-rings you will see the cartridge. Using your pliers, remove these. Wipe the cartridge and any areas around it with paper towels until clean. Spread plumber’s grease around the cartridge to lubricate it as well as any point of swivel, then reassemble the faucet.
Check the O-rings for degradation or any damage. Replace any that need to be with the same sized O-ring. Make sure to use silicone grease and no other, before reassembling.
Depending on your water type and the frequency of buildup, how often you may need to disassemble your faucet and reapply plumber’s grease is hard to say.
For a longer-term solution, you can start adding a softener to your water, this will help prevent deposit buildups. You can also install a filter between the supply line and your faucet to catch any sediments before they make it to the faucet.
Can I Use Vaseline to Lubricate O-rings?
No, this would be a poor choice as a lubricant for anything made from rubber. The petroleum-based jelly will eat away at the rubber, causing it to break down and lose its structural integrity. The O-ring will no longer be able to seal and will eventually fall apart within your faucet.
Is Plumber’s Grease Safe for Drinking Water?
Plumber’s Grease is a silicone-based grease that is safe for use with potable water. It is non-toxic and any amount that would get into your water is infinitesimal.