Every homeowner should have a tool kit outfitted with plumbing essentials. Sure, professional plumbers have trucks filled with specialty equipment, but most home plumbing projects and repairs can be completed with just a few tools, some replacement parts, and, of course, a little plumbing know-how.
The plumbing tools that homeowners should have on hand can be broken down into just a few categories:
- Tools for Clogs
- Common Hand Tools
- Specialty Tools
- Replacement Parts
Places to Buy Plumbing Tools
Nowadays, you can order nearly any plumbing tools or parts you need from major online retailers like Amazon and Walmart. However, if you're looking to shop in person, head to the following hardware stores:
- The Home Depot
- Ace Hardware
When shopping for parts and materials, support your local plumbing supply house whenever possible. Even if the big box stores have better prices, many local shops will match prices. Read on to find out what tools you may need to buy for swapping fixtures, clearing clogs, and many other plumbing projects.
Tools for Clogs
These tools are used for clearing clogged drains.
A sink auger (also called a drum auger or canister auger) is the ultimate weapon for breaking up and clearing clogs in sink and tub drains. Just don't use it on toilets—they call for a closet auger or toilet auger.
A sink auger consists of a flexible stainless steel cable with a corkscrew tip at the end. The cable is coiled within a drum canister and is extended into a drain to reach a clog and clear it. The drum has a handle, and there's a thumbscrew that locks the cable to the canister. When you insert the cable into the drain and turn the handle, the rotating drum snakes the cable through bends in the drain pipe, allowing the cable tip to penetrate clogs and pull them out.
Toilet or Closet Auger
The toilet auger (also called a closet auger or water closet auger) is used to clear clogs in toilets. You do not want to use a sink auger for toilets, or a toilet auger for standard drains, as the tools are designed for very different purposes.
A toilet auger has a long metal rod with a bend for reaching into the hole at the bottom of the toilet bowl. A rubber sleeve covers the bend to protect the porcelain in the toilet from being scratched. Once the tool is in place, you push and rotate the auger cable to snake it into or through the clog.
Flange Plunger (Toilet Plunger)
The flange plunger, or ball or toilet plunger, is a specially shaped plunger used to clear clogs in toilets. It works like a regular plunger but has a flange—an extended rubber flap below the dome of the plunger head—that helps seal around the hole at the bottom of the toilet bowl. With the bottom opening sealed, the plunger can effectively create the hydraulic pressure necessary to dislodge most clogs from a toilet.
Cup Plunger (Sink and Tub Plunger)
The cup plunger may be the most common plumbing tool in the home. It has a rubber cup-like shape and a wooden handle and is used to clear clogs in sinks, tubs, and showers. Do not use this plunger for clearing toilet clogs; that requires a specially shaped plunger called a flange plunger (previous slide). Some flange plungers, though, can be used as standard cup plungers when the flange is tucked up inside.
A drain-cleaning bladder is a handy tool for cleaning out clogs using water pressure. The tool hooks to the end of a standard water hose and the rubber bladder expands when the water is turned on. To use, you open your drain's clean-out access, place the drain bladder inside the clean-out, then turn on the water. The bladder will expand, keeping water from coming backward while propelling clogs forward with high water pressure.
Common Hand Tools
Here are common hand tools you'll likely find useful for many tasks.
Channel-type pliers are commonly known by the brand name Channellocks, and are also known as slip-joint pliers. They're similar to regular adjustable pliers but have extended adjustment sections as well as angled jaws, allowing you to grip pipes or other plumbing parts of almost any size. The long handles provide tremendous leverage for squeezing and twisting. You can use them to grip heavy steel pipes or to gently tighten large plastic nuts on sink drains. If you own only one specialty plumbing tool, this should be the one.
Adjustable Pipe Wrench
An adjustable pipe wrench is the quintessential metal plumbing tool. It provides tremendous leverage and grip. It is designed to grip round objects (such as pipes) securely by digging its sharp serrated teeth into the pipe with increasing pressure as the wrench is turned.
A pipe wrench leaves teeth marks behind and is not recommended for the removal of shiny fixtures or for small or fragile pipes, like copper water pipes. Pipe wrenches are primarily used on galvanized steel and iron pipe and on heavy-duty fixtures with rough finishes, such as outdoor spigots or hydrants.
A hacksaw is a handheld saw that's designed to cut materials like metal and plastic. The small teeth on a hacksaw's blade allow for ultra-clean cuts, while the handle and manual operation allow for much more control than powered alternatives such as reciprocating saws and grinders. This makes hacksaws perfect for accurately and cleanly cutting metal and plastic pipes.
Stubby screwdrivers in both flat and Phillips-head are an essential part of a plumber's tool kit. Unlike a traditional screwdriver, stubby screwdrivers can be used in hard-to-reach spots, which you're guaranteed to come across when working on your home's plumbing.
Often called Allen wrenches, hex keys are a type of driver with a hexagonal bit. From furniture to automotive plumbing and everything in between, hex bolts are used throughout many industries. Faucets and fixtures often use hex bolts and plugs for assembly, which makes hex keys a necessary part of your plumbing toolbox.
Specialty tools are specifically used for plumbing.
Faucet Valve-Seat Wrench
A faucet valve-seat wrench is a simple tool used to remove the valve seats on a compression faucet. Compression faucets, the oldest style of faucet, work by compressing a rubber washer against a valve seat in the faucet body. You might also need a compression sleeve puller.
When the washer wears out, the valve seat can become damaged and rough, preventing a complete seal. When that happens, you can remove the valve seat and replace it, using a valve seat wrench. If the seat is not removable, you must regrind it to a smooth surface using a reseating tool.
The tubing cutter is an essential plumbing tool if you're working with copper pipes. Copper requires clean, square cuts, and tubing cutters do just that—with much less effort than a hacksaw. It has a thin cutting wheel that cuts the metal and a flat pressure wheel that applies pressure when you turn the tool's knob. Clamp the tool onto a pipe and rotate it around the pipe, tightening the knob after every two or three rotations. The cutting wheels gradually cut through the material.
After making the cut, remove the burr on the inside of the pipe, using the de-burring tool (a triangular metal piece) that is fitted to the body of the tubing cutter.
PVC Tubing Cutter
Ratcheting PVC tubing cutters are like super-strong scissors for cutting plumbing materials like PVC pipes and PEX. The ratcheting mechanism allows for immense power to push the blade through the tough materials. The thin, ultra-sharp blade creates perfectly clean, straight cuts.
When it comes time to remove or install a faucet, a basin wrench is the only tool for the job. With its long handle and self-adjusting, locking jaws, a basin wrench can reach far past the bowl of the sink to access the hardware that holds the faucet.
Replacement parts are common pieces used for fixtures and components.
Faucet Packing, Washers, and O-rings
Faucet packing and rubber washers and O-rings are lifesavers for fixing leaky valves on sinks, radiators, and other old or traditional equipment. Packing is a graphite—or wax-coated string that you wrap around valve stems and pack under packing nuts to create a watertight seal.
Rubber washers and O-rings are sold in variety packs containing several different shapes and sizes. If you're fixing an old faucet and can't find an official replacement part at the store, a variety pack will have the part you need. It's handy to have one around because it might save you a trip to the store.
SharkBite Copper Caps
Keeping a few SharkBite copper caps on hand is a great way to stay prepared for leaky pipes. These cleverly designed caps push right over cleanly cut copper, tightly sealing the exposed end. This means, if a leak occurs somewhere in your water supply, you can cut out the damaged portion, seal the end with a cap, then turn your water back on for the remainder of your home until the leaking portion is repaired.
Plumber's tape is an essential material for preventing leaks at threaded plumbing connections. Often called Teflon tape (although it's not made with Teflon-brand material), plumber's tape is a thin white tape that you wrap around threads on pipes and fittings before twisting the parts together. It adds a bit of lubricant to aid threading and also helps to seal the joint to prevent leaks. Made with PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene), it is silky in texture and is sold in small rolls.
Plumber's putty is a soft, pliable sealing compound used to make watertight seals around faucets, drains, and other plumbing parts. This putty is designed to stay pliable rather than dry or harden over time, which is what helps maintain the seal. One of the most common uses of plumber's putty is to create a seal between a sink and a basket strainer.
How to Complete Your Plumbing Tool Kit
Now that you've got the plumbing tools, it's time to get to work. To ensure all your plumbing jobs go off without a hitch, don't forget to stash the following items in your toolbox:
- Nitrile Gloves
- Work Gloves
- Goggles or Safety Glasses
- Knee Pad
- Ratchet and Socket Set
- Stiff Putty Knife