Caulk 101: Your Guide to Buying and Using Caulk

By: James Monahan

Caulk is your all-around wonder material.

It seals cracks and fills in any gaps and joints you have inside or outside of your house. Caulk is also used to help waterproof and weatherproof homes for those dreaded natural disasters. Using caulk is easy and it is very durable.

Caulk is useful stuff, it can be used to decorate or repair and, at the same time, it seals and protects. It is a wonderful preventative and is easily replaced when its better days are past.

Caulk is inexpensive and easy to apply relative to the damage it prevents. Learn to use your caulking gun, and learn which type of caulk is appropriate for different jobs. Applying a smooth bead of caulk is a skill that every homeowner should have.

Caulk can be used on almost any surface including bathtubs, tiles, plumbing fixtures, siding, moldings, skylights, window panes and windows, door frames, baseboards, flashing, foundations, concrete and mortar, blacktop and roofing baseboards, plaster walls, air conditioners, gutters and downspouts, fireplaces and wood burning stoves.

It is important to remember, though, that there are different types of caulks. Some may be more suited to the project and surface that you are doing than others. Also, keep in mind that, while acrylic caulks are slightly easier to use, they often deteriorate with exposure to water. If you plan to caulk an area that is exposed to water, then use a solvent-based caulk.

Latex versus Silicone Caulk

Latex caulk is easier to apply than silicone caulk. It also cleans up easily with soap and water. Latex caulk has less of an odor than silicone caulk and it is easy to remove when it needs to be replaced.

But Latex caulk weakens and loses flexibility in direct sunlight and temperature extremes and does not last as long as silicone caulk (under most circumstances). Latex caulk can be applied on porous or non-porous surfaces.

Silicone caulk requires mineral spirits for cleanup. It is more flexible and durable than latex caulk and it holds up well in direct sunlight and temperature extremes. Silicone Caulk works best on non-porous surfaces.

It doesn't matter if you're a novice or a pro, caulking really is quite simple to do. That is because caulk is almost always applied in the same way, so you don't need to learn any fancy, new techniques each time you want to use it.

You can buy caulk in either a squeeze tube or as a cartridge. Be aware, though, that if you buy a cartridge, you will also need to buy a caulking gun. Whenever you plan to do some caulking, make sure you have these items nearby: paper towels, bucket of water, mild cleaner or rubbing alcohol, sponge, caulk smoother and utility knife.

No matter what you are caulking, always make sure that the surface of your project is clean. A clean surface will help the caulk adhere better.

Things to do before you start applying caulk.

1. Remove any dust or dirt from your surface with warm water. Never use soap.

2. Remove any leftover caulk that may be lingering on your project's surface. New caulk may not adhere properly to the old caulk. If you're using a utility knife to do this, be careful not to scratch the surface. If there is any residue left, use a mild household cleaner or rubbing alcohol to get rid of it.

3. Be sure to remove any mildew from the area using a cleaner specially formulated for mildew.

Remember, caulk doesn't last forever! There should be an expiration date on the package. If not, then throw out any unused caulk after one or two years.

If you're not sure that your caulk is still good, then give it a test run on a non-porous surface. Does the caulk stick? Is it coming out smoothly? Does it set within the appropriate amount of time? If the answer is yes to all three questions, then your caulk is still good.

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James Monahan is the owner and Senior Editor of and writes expert articles about caulk.

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