Caulk is a basic necessity for any homeowner. It’s one of those household essentials, like duct tape or scissors. As one of those just-in-case DIY supplies, caulk is handy for a variety of projects and repairs. The last time caulk saved the day at my house, it was because the kitchen sink decided the water pressure was too much for the pipes!
When it comes to a lot of things in life, it’s OK to skimp. Most mid-range products are about the same quality, so you won’t see a big difference unless you have a professional use for them. This is not the case with caulk. Luckily, none of the ones you’ll need are likely to break the bank. Most will add maybe $5 to your shopping list. However, knowing what project you’ll be using the caulk for can help you maximize your money, all $5 of it.
There are many different kinds of caulk, but two of the most common are silicone and acrylic. The most versatile option you can get is silicone caulk. You’ll be able to use it for everything from windows to bathtubs because it’s flexible, shrink-proof and waterproof. Acrylic caulk, however, is not shrink-proof or flexible. That means after you use it, it’ll last for a bit. Then it’s likely to crack and gape, leaving areas for wind and water to get through.
This process can eventually lead to water damage, especially if you used acrylic caulk somewhere with a lot of moisture or large temperature variances, like the bathroom. That’s the last place you want water damage. However, acrylic caulk is easy to use and pretty forgiving, and it works well for wood areas like windows and doors.
Once you have the caulk, you need a way to apply it. Don’t just buy a tube of caulk and assume you’ll be fine. Like buying canned food and not getting a can opener, it’s just not going to work out well. Make sure to buy a caulk gun with your first tube of caulk. You don’t have to buy one for each tube, but you definitely need at least one. If you use your hands, you can get some of the caulk out, but it’s not going to come out well, and it probably won’t seal the area properly. Plus, it’ll look like an absolute mess. Don’t do it.
Once you’ve got your materials, you can get to work. Most people know to caulk around their plumbing fixtures, doors and window frames. Less common areas that usually need caulk include crawlspaces, basements, attics and electrical wiring. Make sure you check everywhere in your home and figure out all the places you’ll need to update. Once you have a list and your materials, you’re ready to start!
To caulk an area correctly, you have to start with a bare surface. That means getting a razor blade or X-Acto knife and cutting out all the old caulk, or softening it up and cutting it free. Don’t skip this step! Afterward, wash and dry the area. It needs to be bone-dry before you try caulking it again, so make sure you do a thorough job of it. While the old caulk is out, check the area underneath. If it’s wet or water-damaged, you may need to replace it first. A damp substrate can keep new caulk from thoroughly drying, and any damaged area is a bigger problem waiting to happen.
Once that’s all set, you can get to work using the caulk you bought! Cut the tip of the tube to fit the space you need. A bead of caulk is all you want to have coming out, so make sure you don’t cut the end too small or too large. Remember, you can always make the cut bigger, but you can’t make it smaller once you’ve got a big chunk missing. If you want a really professional look, take the edges down with a bit of sandpaper for a smooth finish.
Once you’ve got the bead of caulk laid, use your finger to swipe down and clean up the line. It sounds messy — and it is — but it’s important. Pressing the caulk into the gap is what seals the crack completely, locking the water or air out. That’s the whole point of caulking the space in the first place, so make sure you get your hands dirty. Of course, if you don’t want to touch it, or if you have an allergy to something in it, there are smoothing tools available.
Once you’ve got your caulk smoothed in, all you have to do is let it cure. Make sure you check the drying times on the package, and add half of that before you use whatever you just caulked. That’s it! You’ve successfully caulked something! Now, get started on the rest of your to-do list.