Nobody likes to caulk. It is messy, time consuming, and the learning curve can be pretty steep. But it still needs to be done and you can save yourself a ton of money by replacing it yourself. We see many bathtubs, showers, sinks, and backsplashes that could use a new application of caulk or sealant. Properly sealed joints prevent water damage. They don’t have to look pretty to be water tight, and if given the choice between ugly and sealed, or pretty and cracked open, I suggest ugly and water tight 8 days a week. When applied cleanly a new application of sealant can freshen up and bring some brightness to a dingy looking part of the bathroom or kitchen. Here are some tips and recommendations to keep your next caulking project looking like you hired us to do it for you. If this seems too messy or you just don’t have the patience for it you can always give us a call.

Look familiar? You can make it look new again.

Look familiar? You can make it look new again.

Using the best material and properly prepping the surfaces will give you the longest lasting job. I like to use a silicone product and taping off the area you want to caulk because you can’t simply wipe siliconized products up with soapy water. If you don’t mind having to reapply every few years you can use a less durable latex based caulk. These products can be wiped up with a sponge or rag, but typically don’t last as long and can begin to mildew much sooner than the harder to clean up options. I suggest doing it right and doing it once. It takes some time to do it right but the results last for years.

Remove the Old Sealant

This is critical. You can not apply new sealant over the old sealant and expect to get clean results. Mildew will come right through the new sealant if you leave any behind. There are special scrapers and spray products designed to help remove old silicone sealant, but you can use stuff you may already have around the house. A plastic putty knife (metal is fine but more likely to scratch if you aren’t careful), utility blade or scraper, and some WD-40 or other penetrating spray to help remove the old stuff as well as any fancy products on the market. If you use a metal putty knife and a knife or scrapper blade, be very cautious, you could easily damage enamel or gouge other materials if you use too much pressure. Penetrating sprays like WD-40 do a great job of softening up and breaking down old silicone. Spray some on the joint and let it sit for a few minutes. Take a putty knife or scraper and very carefully slice into the joint from the top and bottom trying to peel away the bulk of the old sealant. Once you have most of the sealant out of the way you can focus on the stubborn bits that won’t let go. Use a dry rag or sponge to get as much of the debris out before you use a wet one. Try not to scratch up the surface of whatever you are caulking. Get every bit of old sealant out. This is the part that should take the most time and effort. Any shortcuts taken here will ruin the final results. If you used a penetrating spray to soften the old sealant, clean the area with soapy water to remove any of the residue. You don’t want the area to be slippery when you move on to the caulking phase. Once everything is removed and clean let the area thoroughly dry out before applying new sealant.

The Easy Way to Caulk

You can either use a caulking gun, or you can buy the nice little hand squeeze tubes. The squeeze tube style containers can be easier to handle around toilet bases and maneuvering around fixtures and tight spaces. Using a caulk for the kitchen or bath that specifically says water clean up will take the least amount of effort and be the most forgiving product during installation. These are typically latex based caulks and you will see the words latex or acrylic on the label. Latex caulks don’t contain volatile chemicals, which means you can smooth joints with a wet finger and clean up excess with soap and water. All latex caulks can be painted which is something to keep in mind if you may need to paint over the area being worked on. You may also see the word “siliconized” on some of these products. Siliconized latex caulks contain a small amount of silanes (a form of silicone) to promote better adhesion, but will not act like silicone when it comes to application or clean up. These are better products and cost more than the standard latex caulk. I would highly recommend a siliconized latex caulk if you choose this method because they hold up better with all the moisture found in the kitchen and bath.

Tape the area off like this for the most foolproof approach.

Tape the area off like this for the most foolproof approach.

If you use this type of product those little rubber tipped tools you find hanging from chip clips around the caulking section of the hardware store actually work great at creating a nice clean line. You can also use a sponge with a little soapy water on it after you have smoothed the line with a wet finger. If you want a really precise line, use tape to mask off a uniform gap, caulk as described here, and then immediately peel away the tape.

The Best Way to Caulk

DAP 3.0

DAP 3.0 Kitchen, Bath & Plumbing

Some of the high performance sealing products will result in the longest lasting seal. These materials are more likely to make a mess that you can’t just wipe away, but many are paintable and offer claims of 10 year mold resistance. I like using DAP 3.0 because it offers both of those attributes. If you are daring you can try using this product without taping, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have developed a feel for how it goes down. These types of products are not water soluble and require a solvent to clean them up. A time-saving trick is to apply denatured alcohol along the area to be smoothed out. A simple spray bottle filled with a little of the denatured alcohol allows you to spray a light mist over the area to be smoothed out. This prevents the sealant from sticking to the surface and to your finger, resulting in a really clean line. Some spray cleaners, like a foaming glass cleaner work really well for this as they contain a good amount of alcohol. You simply spray along the caulk line and smooth it out and the silicone doesn’t get all over everything. When the initial bead of caulk is made with the appropriate amount of material you can get a great result without taping first, but you do run the risk of things getting out of hand if too much sealant was applied first.

The safest bet with this type of product is to lay down some painters tape along all the areas to be caulked. Space two pieces of tape out around the corners leaving a small straight gap. Apply the caulk, smooth it out (using denatured alcohol or foaming cleaning spray) and then immediately remove the tape. Work at a brisk pace because these sealants begin setting up very fast. Within a few minutes they will cure to the tape resulting in a loose flap of caulk where the tape had been if you leave it down too long. Work one area at a time. If you attempt to caulk an entire tub surround it will surely begin to cure before you remove all the tape.

Ready to Give it a Try?

These tips should help you achieve professional looking results. If you don’t get the look you wanted, quickly wipe up the new caulk and start over. You will develop a better feel for the process and all it will cost you is some time. Caulking is necessary and time intensive, but it doesn’t require a great depth of skill. Having a professional dedicate the time to doing it correctly can be costly and I hope you these tips will give you the confidence to tackle this project on your own this weekend.