Everything to Know About PVC Pipe

A pair of hands applying purple adhesive on the insides of a pvc pipe.

One of the most commonly used materials when plumbing is PVC pipe, but for beginners it can be tricky to master. There are specific PVC tools and adhesives you need to purchase, as well as some lingo to learn when it comes to PVC.

You will first need to map out and measure your desired project, so you know how much PVC to purchase. Mapping out how the project will fit together is difficult enough to plan, but you also need to learn how to properly construct the PVC pipes. Needless to say, learning to use PVC is not a simple task. Before you take on any kind of first-time PVC project, check out these basic tips.

PVC Pipe Thickness

A stack of pvc pipe in different sizes.

First, you need to decide which thickness of PVC pipe you need for your project. The pipe thicknesses are technically called “schedules.” The most common thickness is called schedule 40 and is usually white. Schedule 40 will work for almost any at-home plumbing job. The schedule 80 pipe has thicker walls and is typically light grey and used for higher pressured systems or industrial settings.

If you are using the PVC for any kind of creative structural project, schedule 80 is preferable for its sturdiness. You should also take into account the fact that schedule 80 PVC pipes are slightly more expensive than schedule 40 pipes.

PVC Pipe Shape

A box of pvc pipe fittings.

When you think of PVC, chances are you imagine a straight pipe. To create any different configuration with PVC, you will need to add pieces. The different bends or splits in PVC pipes can be made using pieces called "fittings." Fittings come in all shapes and sizes and can truly customize PVC pipes to your needs. There is a lip on each fitting that allows you to insert the PVC pipe to connect the two. For a straight connection between two pipes, you will need a “coupling”. “Elbows” give a U-shaped bend. “Forty-fives” are L-shaped pieces. “Ts” or “Ys” give your pipes a three-way connection. You can also use a “cross” for a four-way split. These are just your basic connection options.

Cutting PVC Pipes

A pipe cutter against a white background.

You can cut PVC pipes using multiple tools and methods. Your choice will depend on the tools you already have at home and what you are willing to purchase for your project.

One option is to cut the PVC using a hacksaw. To do this, you will need to secure the pipe using a clamp or vise. Using your hacksaw, saw through the pipe carefully. When you saw completely through, the edges of the pipe will still be rough. To even them out, you can use sandpaper or a metal file. You will need to ensure that the inside of the pipes do not have any burs, which can cause clogs once they pipes are in use.

Another more user-friendly tool is the pipe cutter. The pipe cutter looks like a pair of scissors made for pipes—and they work similarly to scissors. The pipe rests on the bottom half of the cutters, and a blade comes from the top to cut the pipe. This method will produce a cleaner cut than the hacksaw, with the added bonus of not having to file the edges.

Connecting PVC Pipes

Applying a purple substance to the inside of a pvc pipe.

To adhere the pipes together, you will need both a PVC primer and PVC cement. First, add the primer to the inside of the fitting lip and the outside of the pipe edge where they will connect. The primer will soften the plastic to ready it for the connection. Wait 10 seconds, then add the cement to the same areas. Next, quickly fit the pipe into the fitting, give it a firm push, and then twist it a quarter turn. The result is a strong bond, almost like welding the plastic together.

Be cautious not to get any PVC cement on your hands or arms. If the cement comes into contact with your skin, it will be extremely difficult to get off. Also, make sure the area where you are working is well ventilated, because the PVC cement gives off strong fumes that can be hazardous to your health.