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Talkin’ About Caulkin’

If you’ve never held a caulk gun before, you should learn how if you’re going to become a homeowner. The number of areas in your home that need to be caulk-protected is enormous, from every window and door to the wet areas of the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry area. Caulk can also fill gaps in crown and shoe moldings, staircase treads, weather seals and more. 

Caulk is a sealant that can help prevent moisture and wind intrusion that can damage wood and drywall, but it can show its age by cracking, splitting, and shrinking. As heat and cold cause your home to expand and contract, you may notice drafts from windows or doors. Moisture can erode caulk in bathrooms and other wet areas, allowing mold or mildew to grow which is both unsightly and smelly. 

Improper technique, such as trying to caulk a gap that’s too large, applying fresh caulk on top of damaged caulk, using the wrong type of caulk for the job, or applying caulk in rainy or cold conditions can also cause caulk to fail. 

To get started, you’ll need the right kind of caulk. If you’re sealing windows and doors, indoors or outdoors, you’ll need acrylic latex caulk, otherwise known as painter’s caulk. You can paint on top of it, and it’s easily cleaned with soap and water. In wet areas which don’t require paint, such as between tile and tub or sink and countertop, you’ll need silicone caulk.  Silicone is highly water and mold resistant, but it can’t be painted. For that reason it comes in a variety of colors. 

You’ll also need a utility knife, scraper or putty knife and possibly needle nose pliers to remove old caulk, a caulk gun for even application, and a caulk finishing tool to smooth the caulk into the gaps that need sealing.  You may also need foam tape to press into areas with a 1/2 inch gap or greater. 

Gather your tools. Put on your paint clothes because caulking is messy work! Make sure you have everything you need before you start - knives, pliers, caulk gun, caulk, finishing tool, cleaning supplies, drop cloth, and a trash bag/receptacle. LoctiteProducts.com suggests that you may want to have a silicone remover or have WD-40 on hand to soften and coax stubborn silicone caulk from tubs and showers. 

Prepare the surface. HomeDepot.com advises starting with a clean surface. Cut out all the old caulk with your putty knife. Be careful not to scratch your tub or sink, or gouge the wood of your windows. In some cases, you’ll want to lay down painter’s tape to get a clean line and protect surrounding areas. 

Remove all the scum, dirt and debris. Clean the areas to be sealed with rubbing alcohol, disinfectant and bleach wipes for areas that harbored mold. Rinse with water, then dry. Sealant won’t stick to a wet surface. 

Load the caulk gun. Caulk comes in squeezable tubes for small jobs or stiff containers that require a caulk gun, which is easier to control for larger projects. Cut the nozzle at a 45-degree angle to the size of the “bead” or line of caulk you want to lay down. The larger the hole, the thicker the bead. Insert the caulk tube snugly. This is a two-handed job – one to hold the tube and the other to squeeze the trigger. Squeeze evenly, smooth the bead with a caulk tool or your finger. 

Wipe away globs and excesses with water and a damp cloth. Unless you’ve used a quick-curing caulk, wait about 24 hours before using the sink or tub.