Your Handy Caulk Guide

Caulk | Home Inspector | MilwaukeeThe caulk or sealant on your bathtub, shower, and sink plays an important role in preserving your bathroom and preventing water damage and mold. With the right materials and our handy guide, re-caulking is an easy DIY project that can be done for low cost in a short amount of time.

But first, let’s understand the difference between caulk and sealant.

Caulk vs. Sealant

Often, the words “caulk” and “sealant” are used interchangeably to describe the material that fills the gaps around your bathroom fixtures. However, there are some important differences between the two materials.

Caulk and sealant are mainly different in their elasticity. Caulk tends to be a more rigid material when dry, and should be used in places that will not often expand or contract. Sealant is a more elastic material, perfect for those areas that do tend to expand and contract.

Acrylic caulk material is paintable, and messes or smears can be easily cleaned with water. However, caulk is more likely than sealant to dry out and may crack when exposed to temperature swings.

Sealants, usually made of silicone, create a watertight barrier no matter the temperature it is exposed to. Unlike caulk, sealant is not paintable and is more difficult to clean up in the event of a smear or mess; you would have to use a solvent or scrape the material off the wall after it dries. Sealant can also give off fumes, making it slightly more dangerous and uncomfortable in the application process.

Both materials are applied using a caulking gun.

Re-caulking Step-by-Step

Materials & Tools Needed

  • Razor/utility blade
  • Caulking gun
  • Vacuum
  • Tile silicone or acrylic caulk
  • Caulk softener
  • Rubbing alcohol

Step 1

Using a putty knife, razor blade, or utility knife, completely remove old caulk or sealant wherever you see gaps, cracks, or discoloration. Be sure to check the wettest areas, like the corners or base of the tub or shower. You may also want to use a caulk softener to help the removal.

Be sure to completely remove any old caulk off tile. Tile is durable, so don’t be afraid to use some elbow grease.  It is not easy to marry new and old caulk, so you will want to start fresh in any area where you are replacing caulk.

Step 2

After removing old caulk, vacuum up any dust or debris. Dab a paper towel in rubbing alcohol and use that to clean any remaining caulk residue off of the tile where you plan to reapply. Let dry completely.

Step 3

Gather your caulking materials – caulking gun and caulk or sealant. Use your utility knife to trim the end off of the tube of caulk, and a long nail to pierce the foil of the tube. Insert into the gun and start the flow of caulk.

Position the tip of the caulk gun at the beginning of the area where you would like to caulk and drag backward, moving quickly enough so that the caulk comes out in an even line. If you have some uneven areas, with more or less caulk than others, this is easily fixable (see step 4).

Step 4

To fix uneven areas, dip your finger in water and run it down the length of the new, wet caulk. This will force extra caulk into the gaps and create a smooth line. You may use a paper towel over your finger, but be sure to refold it several times to avoid transferring caulk onto the tiles.

If you encounter an area that needs more caulk, either wipe excess from another area or apply a thin line of caulk from the gun, immediately smoothing with your finger to marry it to the existing line.

Caulk and silicone often dry quickly, so use a razor blade to remove any excess material that may have gotten on the tiles. Be careful not to disrupt the watertight seal of the caulk on the tile.

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