How to Remove Fittings From Copper Pipes

Residential water lines are most commonly made of extruded copper pipes and fittings, joined with a molten solder and flux that cools to seal the connections.
Whether you are removing a copper water line to salvage the piping or completing a repair on the pipe, removing the existing fittings is often part of the job. Disconnecting soldered fittings from copper piping requires concentrated heating -- also referred to as “sweating” -- the fitting to melt the solder holding the fitting in place.

Step 1

Protect any wood framing near the fitting being removed with a piece of sheet metal or other non-combustible material. You must heat the copper pipe and fitting slowly with an open flame and take care to prevent combustion of any wood or other materials nearby. If necessary, wrap the copper pipe 4 to 6 inches away on each side of the fitting with a cloth rag soaked in cold water to help prevent unwanted heat from radiating to nearby fittings.

Step 2

Attach a spreader tip to the burner of a propane torch. Set the flame length to burn approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch beyond the opening of the tip.

Step 3

Apply the propane flame to the length of the copper fitting in a back-and-forth motion to heat the fitting and attached piping evenly.

Step 4

Heat the fitting until the exposed solder begins to liquefy. The dull finish of the solder will become shiny and chrome-like when it is sufficiently softened to separate the fitting. Immediately grip the fitting with adjustable pliers while holding the pipe. Twist the fitting back and forth to pull it loose from the pipe.

Step 5

Repeat Steps 3 and 4 to remove additional fittings. Clean the residual solder from the pipe ends with a piece of plumber’s emery cloth for reuse.

Things You Will Need

  • Work gloves
  • Breathing mask
  • Small piece of sheet metal (optional)
  • Cotton rags (optional)
  • Propane torch with spreader tip
  • Adjustable pliers
  • Plumber’s emery cloth

Warnings

  • Copper heats quickly and cools slowly. Wear work gloves while you are heating the pipe and removing the fittings.
  • Although alternative solder metals are becoming more common, copper solder still typically contains some amount of lead, so wear breathing protection when heating the solder to remove the fittings.

About the Author

Paul Massey has been writing since 2009, drawing on a 35-year career in the construction industry. His experience includes 15 years as a general building contractor specializing in architectural design, custom homes, commercial development and historic renovations.