As an apprentice plumber in 1972, we used Teflon tape to seal the fine threads on chrome or brass tailpieces. It was kept under lock and key in the office and we were required to sign out a roll and return it at the end of the workday! Laughable by today’s standards as virtually every single mechanical contractor will have multiple rolls of Teflon (PTFE) tape of varying sizes, thicknesses and possible colors in their toolbox or bag — depending on local codes and inspector requirements. I’ve been on a quest, for some years now, striving to learn about Teflon, its origin and who exactly produced the first roll of Teflon tape.

A young chemist, born on June 26, 1910, in New Carlisle, Ohio, would change all of our lives, and I do mean everyone. His family was not wealthy but managed to send him to Manchester University in Indiana, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He then attended Ohio State University and earned a PhD in organic chemistry in 1936. He began a lifelong career with DuPont soon after graduation and was assigned the task of developing new refrigerant blends for the HVAC industry.

He and two assistants, working on new refrigerant blends at DuPont’s Jackson Laboratory in Deepwater, New Jersey, had developed an experimental refrigerant that was contained in a pressurized cylinder overnight. The following day, April 6, 1938 — just two years post-graduation — Roy J. Plunkett attempted to discharge some gas from the cylinder, but nothing came out. Plunkett asked his two assistants if they had exhausted the new refrigerant blend, but both denied having accessed the cylinder. Plunkett hoisted the cylinder and it was heavy enough that he was certain product was inside. Shaking the cylinder had no effect, so Plunkett carefully, and slowly began unscrewing the valve. After no gas was forthcoming, Plunkett removed the valve and thinking perhaps the opening was clogged, rammed a rod into the cylinder. That had no effect, so Plunkett next turned over the cylinder and banged it on the table. Only a small amount of white powder spilled onto the table.

Completely baffled, at this point, the team elected to cut the cylinder in half. Inside was a lump of a white substance that was completely foreign, but Plunkett immediately recognized it had certain properties that would be useful. It was the accidental invention of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon, one of the most versatile and widely used non-stick materials in the world!

Teflon tape, also known as plumber's tape or PTFE tape, is a ubiquitous yet often overlooked product that plays a crucial role in various industries, particularly plumbing. Whitford Corp., a company founded by William Skidmore in 1969, invented Teflon tape. The tape was developed as a solution for sealing pipe threads in plumbing applications. Whitford Corp. is known for its expertise in coatings and surface technology, and Teflon tape quickly became a widely used product due to its effectiveness in preventing leaks and its ease of use.

The tape is primarily composed of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a synthetic fluoropolymer renowned for its non-stick and high-temperature resistant properties. PTFE is extruded into thin, flexible tape that exhibits exceptional tensile strength and chemical inertness, making it ideal for sealing applications and it is NSF/ANSI 61 rated for direct contact with potable water.

One of the most common applications of Teflon tape is in plumbing. It is used to seal pipe threads, preventing leaks in joints and connections. The tape acts as a lubricant during assembly, facilitating the tightening of threaded fittings while providing a watertight seal. Whether in residential, commercial, or industrial plumbing systems, Teflon tape is indispensable for ensuring leak-free connections.

Teflon tape offers several key benefits that contribute to its widespread use and popularity: leak prevention; chemical resistance; temperature stability; easy application; and it is, today, inexpensive.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sean Comerford, manager of technical applications with Oatey Co. in Cleveland, Ohio, about pipe dope (thread sealants) and Teflon tape. Although I’ve been retired from actively working in the PHVAC trades, I checked my mechanical room/workshop before meeting with Comerford to see how many Oatey products I had on hand. Among the Oatey products, there were purple and clear PVC primer and both cold weather and regular solvent cements, Teflon tapes of various colors and thicknesses, as well as several types of pipe dope. I had a long 48-year relationship with Oatey products!

I knew Oatey was a venerable company with excellent products and asked Comerford how Oatey got started. Believe it or not, the first product launched in 1916 was lead roof flashing for plumbing vents. Here’s a link to the company’s history:

I found it fascinating that Comerford worked in the service side of plumbing for 19 years before applying for a job at Oatey. A midnight clogged sewer call in a multi-story apartment building with raw sewage spewing forth from a lower floor bathtub and 4 a.m. return home led Comerford to his computer where he noticed a job advertisement at Oatey, which led to his interview — by a master plumber at Oatey no less. As Comerford told me, “Having folks who were actively working in the plumbing trade ensures we can guide and influence product developments that will greatly benefit those active in the trades, specifiers and engineers.”

Growth at Oatey has been driven not just from outstanding products development, but also via acquisitions. Although an old company, by any standard, clearly the management team at Oatey is very progressive with a keen eye on innovation.

The Fix is in! Comerford says, “We also have a podcast, called ‘The Fix,’ hosted by Katherine Lehtinen, senior vice president of brand and digital marketing, and Doug Buchan, licensed master plumber and technical applications manager. Doug is the master plumber who interviewed me!” You can listen to the podcast at

Teflon tape is a versatile and indispensable product with a wide range of applications across various industries. Its ability to create watertight seals, resist chemicals and high temperatures and facilitate easy installations makes it a preferred choice for sealing pipe threads and fittings.

Comerford adds, “There’s more to Oatey than just products, we also offer live hands-on training. We have a three-room home with framed walls where all the plumbing is exposed so visitors can see our products in actual applications. Visitors often remark that they now see places where the installed products can, and will, benefit both them and their customers. We also have online videos our customers can view for product applications.”

As for Teflon tape, Oatey has a wide range available to suit virtually every application:

“Need a bulletproof thread sealant? Look no further than Hercules Megaloc, a multi-purpose thread sealant made with DuPont Kevlar,” Comerford says. “One of its unique properties is it can be easily washed off with plain soap and water. It also comes out when washing your clothes!”

I can personally attest to the fact that most thread sealants do not come out of clothes when washed! (See my column in Plumbing & Mechanical for additional information on thread sealants.)

Teflon tape is a versatile and indispensable product with a wide range of applications across various industries. Its ability to create watertight seals, resist chemicals and high temperatures and facilitate easy installations makes it a preferred choice for sealing pipe threads and fittings. Whether in plumbing, automotive, aerospace or industrial settings, Teflon tape continues to prove its worth as a reliable sealing solution, demonstrating the enduring legacy of innovation and utility established by its creator, Roy J. Plunkett on April 6, 1938.