Caulk Removal TIPS
- Remove old caulk with sharp tools
- Some solvents can soften silicone caulk
- Isopropyl alcohol softens non-silicone caulks - Flammable
- Watch Caulk Install VIDEOS Below!
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DEAR TIM: The caulking in several places in my bathroom has mildewed. I've tried unsuccessfully to stop the mildew growth. I want to install new caulking. How do you easily remove caulking? What kind of caulk can I install that will not support the growth of mildew? How can I STOP mildew growth in my bathroom? Andrea Z., Hobe Sound, FL
DEAR ANDREA: Welcome to the club! Many homeowners, including myself, have battled unsightly caulk joints in bathrooms, kitchens and other high moisture locations for years. I have good news and a little bad news. You can now purchase mildew-resistant caulks to eliminate future mildewed caulk problems. The bad news is that it is going to take some effort on your part to remove the existing caulk. Fortunately there are some solvents you can use to remove caulk, but they're not easy to work with. See below.
Mold Spores Everywhere
Bathrooms, and kitchens are ideal locations for mildew growth. Mildew spores are everywhere in your home. They float in the air and settle on everything.
For mildew to blossom and grow it just needs two things: water and food. Bathrooms - especially tub and shower areas - provide ideal growth conditions for mildew. Daily showers and baths supply water that often ponds at the locations where you frequently use caulk. These areas are often the last to dry out as the water evaporates.
Body oils, soap films, shampoos, and other hair care products almost always contain ingredients, or food, that provide mildew spores a continuous, delectable smorgasbord. Certain caulks actually contain organic ingredients that mildew eat.
How to Stop Mildew
To stop mildew growth in your bathroom, you just need to cut off the water supply to the mildew spores and keep all surfaces clean. Sadly most people don't have the diligence and discipline to do what's needed. After each shower, you must use a squeegee to get as much water off the walls and any other surfaces in the shower area. If you have a shower curtain, shake it to get as much water off as possible before using the squeegee. Use the squeegee to pull the water to the drain.
Leave the shower curtain or shower door open to allow air to get into the space. Leave the bathroom door open so house air can lower the humidity in the bathroom. Use a high-quality bathroom exhaust fan to get as much humid air out of the room as possible. I happen to LOVE the Fantech bathroom exhaust fan.
Caulk removal begins by softening the old caulk. There are some solvents you can try. 3M makes a caulk-removal solvent they say works on all caulks. Be patient with them as it can take a while for them to soften the caulk. The older the caulk is, the longer it may take for the solvent to work.
Once you have allowed the solvent to work, you manually scrape out the bulk of the old caulk. You can use a razor blade or any other type of cutting or scraping tool that will not hurt you or the materials adjacent or beneath the caulk. If you decide to use a razor knife of any type, I suggest you wear medium duty leather gloves to protect your hands during the removal process.
Here's a unique tool that is made specifically to remove caulk. It has a stainless-steel guide and cutting plow to get caulk out of corners. Be sure to always read reviews about any tool before you invest in it.
There are other caulk-removal hand tools out there. Some are made for flat seams instead of corner seams. CLICK HERE to see a wide assortment of caulk-removal tools.
When using a caulk-removal tool, feel free to incorporate some water as a lubricant. The water will help to minimize scratches to tile or plumbing fixtures. Work slowly and carefully. Remember, the more power you exert while scraping or cutting, the more control you lose over the scraping tool.
Alternative Caulk-Removal Solvents
If you don't want to try a specialty off-the-shelf caulk remover, there are products you may already have in your own home. Experiment first with plain water. If the original caulk was a non-acrylic water based caulk, soaking it with water saturated rags for three days can soften the caulk remnants.
Water-based acrylic caulks and those made with polyvinyl acetate resins can often be softened by soaking them with isopropyl rubbing alcohol. The alcohol swells the old caulk molecules and helps to lift them from the surrounding materials. Be careful when using the alcohol as it is a flammable substance and often burns with little or no flame.
Silicone caulks are the hardest caulk to remove. Some of my readers have had success with WD-40. You can also scroll up and try the 3M product I mentioned earlier.
Multiple applications of strong alkaline compounds like sodium or potassium hydroxide can soften silicone caulk. Oven cleaners contain this chemical.
DANGER WARNING: These chemical compounds are dangerous and can often burn you or the materials surrounding the caulk. Apply these carefully to the caulk with a cotton swab. These compounds can dull plastic laminate tops, acrylic and fiberglass tub and shower units and many other bath and kitchen materials. You must work slowly and carefully.
Once the old caulk is removed, purchase new mildew proof caulks that are widely available. These caulks often contain vast quantities of mildewcides - chemicals that leach from the caulk over time and poison the mildew spores. Some of the caulks come in beautiful colors and offer lifetime guarantees against mildew growth.
You can minimize mildew growth in bath and shower areas by cleaning them on a frequent basis. Cleaning and rinsing all surfaces with clear water will remove mildew food sources. You should also keep tub and shower doors and curtains open after you leave a bathroom. Leave bath doors open as well to speed the drying process.
WATCH THESE TWO VIDEOS to see how to install your new caulk: