There's a right way to solder copper pipe—and a wrong way. Learn the difference so that your next bathroom or kitchen plumbing project is successful and trouble-free.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
You might also like: TBD
Keep nearby soldered joints from melting by wrapping a wet rag around them
Damp rag protects joints
Wet and wring out a 2-in.-wide strip of cloth and wrap it around the fitting you want to protect. The wet rag absorbs the heat and prevents the solder in the existing joint from melting.
Use MAPP gas to speed up the job
Lead-free solder melts at a higher temperature than the now-banned lead-based solder. MAPP gas torches burn hotter than propane, making them a better choice for modern solder. Five to 10 seconds of heating with a MAPP gas torch is all that’s required before you can feed solder into most 1/2- to 3/4-in. pipes and fittings. Be careful, though. It’s easier to overheat a joint with MAPP gas. If the flux turns black and the solder won’t flow into the fitting, the joint is overheated.
Use a flame protector
Don’t solder close to wood or other flammable material without protecting it from the flame.
These small flame-retardant blankets are available at hardware stores and home centers. You hang one behind the joint you’re working on to insulate the flammable material and help prevent fires. In a pinch you could use a piece of sheet metal instead. Wetting the area around the soldering job with a spray bottle of water also helps prevent fires. Keep a fire extinguisher handy as a precaution.
Buy new fittings
Don’t reuse old fittings. Recycle them instead. It’s time consuming and difficult to take apart and clean old fittings. And there’s a good chance they’ll leak. Buy new fittings instead. You’ll get better results in less time.
Use the proper amount of solder
Avoid excess solder
Don’t feed too much solder into the joint. It’s tempting to melt a few inches of solder into a joint as extra insurance against leaking. But excess solder can puddle inside pipes, restricting water flow, and can form small balls that break loose and damage faucet valves. Use about 1/2 in. of solder for 1/2-in. pipe and 3/4 in. for 3/4-in. pipe. Here’s a tip. Bend the end of the solder at a right angle, leaving a few inches below the bend. The bend makes it easier to gauge how much solder you’ve used.
Keep threads solder-free
Don’t get solder on threaded fittings
Solder drips can clog the threads, making it difficult to get a good seal when you screw on the matching part.
Follow these steps to avoid the problem
If the threaded fitting is positioned so that solder will run down onto the threads, solder the pipe and fitting at a workbench instead so you can keep the fitting pointed up. If you have to solder a threaded fitting where the solder will flow onto the threads, make sure to wipe excess flux from around the joint after you assemble the pipe and fitting. Extra flux can run down onto the threads, causing the solder to follow it.
Use tinning flux
Tinning flux works just like standard flux but contains a bit of silver solder powder that melts when heat is applied. The resulting thin layer of solder helps ensure a leakproof joint. Tinning flux is available at most hardware stores and home centers and only costs a little more than standard flux.
Keep pipes dry when soldering
Stop the water with a pipe plug
Don’t try to solder pipes with water in them. When you’re repairing or tying in to existing copper pipes, it’s common to find a small amount of water in them even after you close the valve and drain the pipes. Soldering a joint in pipes that contain even tiny amounts of water is nearly impossible. Most of the heat from the torch goes into turning the water to steam, so the copper won’t get hot enough to melt the solder. Stop the trickle of water with a pipe plug. Push the plug into the pipe with the applicator tube provided. When you’re done soldering, dissolve the plug by holding the torch under the spot where the plug is. Plugs for 1/2-in. or 3/4-in. pipe are sold at home centers and hardware stores.
An old trick was to stuff a wad of soft white bread into the pipe to stop the trickle of water temporarily. This works but you run the risk of clogging aerators and valves with the partially dissolved bread.
Assemble pipe in sections
Preassemble before soldering
Cut, flux and assemble a section of pipes and solder them all at once. Soldering one joint at a time is inefficient. Use pipe straps to support the pipes if necessary. Be careful to clean and flux the end of every pipe and the inside of the fittings before assembling them. Then just before you start soldering, press the pipes firmly into the fittings to make sure they’re fully seated. Start soldering at one end of the assembly and move methodically from one joint to the next.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
You’ll also need a flux brush, plumber’s sandpaper and wire brushes for cleaning pipes, and a flame protector.
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.