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Got Gaps? Check Out These Caulking Tips

Oseye Boyd
Written by Oseye Boyd
Updated January 28, 2019
caulking gutter with caulk gun
Caulk has a shelf life of one to two years. Test for freshness on a non-porous surface before starting your project.
Ray Mata

Caulk seals gaps between joints, keeps water out and stops drafts. Learn about the different types of caulk and get tips on removing caulk.

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Caulking may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of home improvement projects, but it’s definitely an important one. Caulk seals gaps between joints, keeps water out and stops drafts.

Old caulk doesn’t perform as well as it should, and it’s downright ugly. Peeling, cracking or black mold spots are indications that it’s time to pull the caulk gun from the holster.

Where to use caulk

Bathtubs and sinks are a no-brainer, but consider using caulk to seal dryer vents and fan covers, furnace vent stacks, window and door frames, baseboards, flashing, skylights, gutters and downspouts.

Types of caulk

Just as there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there’s more than one type of caulk. Don’t let the number of options make you dizzy while standing in the aisle of the home improvement store. Many argue silicone is the best all-purpose caulk, but the right type depends on the job.

Acrylic. This clear caulk is elastic, making it ideal for filling small spaces. It cleans up with water and dries fast. Acrylic caulk typically lasts about five to 10 years.

Butyl. This man-made, rubber caulk isn’t suitable for moving joints or sealing gaps where two different materials meet. Pros recommend it for gutters and chimney flashings, exterior joints, and for sealing concrete, blacktop and asphalt. Butyl typically lasts 10 years.

Latex. Sometimes called “painter’s caulk” or “latex/acrylic caulk,” latex caulk works best in gaps that don’t expand or contract. You can paint over latex caulk, and it’s easy to apply and remove. It only lasts about 10 years, and it deteriorates when exposed to direct sunlight and extreme temperatures.

Silicone. Silicone caulk is long-lasting, creates a watertight seal and withstands direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. It’s flexible so it’s well suited for gaps that expand and contract. Silicone caulk typically lasts about 20 years.

How often should you caulk?

For new homes, check the joints after one year because new homes settle, loosening caulk between the wall and joint. Periodically check older homes for areas that need re-caulking. Depending on the type of caulk and environmental conditions, caulk typically lasts five to 20 years.

Removing caulk

Commercial products are available to soften caulk and make removal easy with a utility knife. Removing thick caulk may require needle-nose pliers. Use the hook of a painter’s five-in-one tool to remove any remaining bits.

Helpful caulking tips

1. Caulk has a shelf life of one to two years. Test for freshness on a non-porous surface before starting your project. The caulk should stick, exit the cartridge smoothly and cure in the time frame stated on the label.

2. New to the wonderful world of caulking? Try your hand on newspaper first.

3. For acrylic and silicone, use a caulk smoother for a clean look. Don’t have one? Use a moist finger or Popsicle stick.

4. Bigger isn’t always better. It’s easier to start with a thin bead of caulk and add more if necessary than to use too much and try to remove the extra caulk.

5. Caulking a bathtub? Fill it with water first. The extra weight causes the tub to shift or sink a little. You want enough caulk in the gap so it won’t crack with movement or additional weight.

6. Planning to paint over caulk? Choose white caulk over clear.

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