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Caulking Basics

 

Caulk is right behind vinegar as a necessary product to have around the house

Got a little mold sprouting between tub tiles? See a few gaps around the edge of your bathroom sink? Got a budding crack in the plaster? You've been ignoring all the little signs, right? You know who you are.

Those are the areas you already know need some help. Now that you are looking around, it won't hurt to make a close inspection around the outside of your house. Cracks let heat and air escape or enter, but also attract crawly critters that are looking for shelter.

Yes, it's time to purchase caulk and begin making some repairs. When you get to the store, read the labels on each type of caulk; make sure you're buying the right type for the project. They're all pretty inexpensive, so don't opt for the cheapest, low-end version if you're planning on sealing door frames or other outdoor cracks.

Check the length of warranty and buy caulk that is guaranteed to last the longest. Even if you won't be looking at it 50 years from now, it will remain more flexible and hold up better in the interim. Acrylic-Latex-Silicone-based caulk is probably going to be your best choice, but other types include silicone, acrylic, latex, and butyl. For gaps in chimneys and roof pipes, look for oil-based asphalt caulking.

Caulk really does dry up eventually, which is why you may feel those breezes wafting in around doors and windowsills. That is also why you can take a pick or screwdriver and knock some of it loose around the sink.

For sink and tub repairs, you'll need caulk suited for kitchens and baths. It will be resistant to mold and mildew. Make sure you clean the existing mildew with the appropriate cleanser. If any stains remain, be sure to avoid putting clear caulk on top of it.

Regular latex caulk is good for most other interior repairs. Make sure it is paintable if you're touching up around windows and doors. These caulks clean up easily with soap and water.

Do not caulk into gaps that are wider than one-quarter inch. Fill them in first with other materials, such as wood filler, bondo, or expandable insulation foam. On the other hand, a crack can be too small for the caulk to do any good. You'll need to widen it a bit to get a good seal.

If you purchase caulk in cartridges, you will also need a caulking gun. It's easy to use and great to have if you plan on doing a lot of caulking. If you're new to caulking guns, load it following the instructions and give it a practice run on a piece of paper. You want to tilt the cartridge at a 45-degree angle and squeeze with one steady motion.

You'll need to smooth the caulk bead when you are finished. Just wet a finger and run it across the caulk. Don't press too hard, the caulk will shrink some as it dries. Clean up any residue left on surfaces with water.

The caulk now has to cure before you can do anything else with it, such as painting or taking a shower. Curing times will vary - read the manufacturer's instructions.

Caulk will last in the tube for a year or two, so be sure to seal the tube when you're done. Now that you've become friendly with caulk, you'll find all sorts of uses for it around the house.

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