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How to Remove Caulk

Beth Asaff

Learning how to remove caulk from around your bathtub, sink or countertop can help you keep your home looking great for years, with little effort.

Where to Find Caulk in the Home

You are probably already aware of the bead of caulk surrounding your bathtub. You've probably spent some time cleaning it and know that it's softer than the tile grout, but firm enough to stay in place. But did you also know that there are multiple other areas in your home where caulk resides? Removing and repairing these joints on occasion can help your installations last a lot longer. Check for caulk in the following places:

  • Beneath a shower threshold
  • Between a kitchen counter and a tile backsplash
  • Between a bathroom vanity top and the wall
  • Around the edges of a drop-in sink
  • In any 90-degree angle of a glass tile installation

The Uses of Caulk

To better understand why you should remove old caulk and replace it with new periodically, it may help you to understand why caulk is used in your home. Caulk can serve a number of purposes, including:

Expansion Joints

An expansion joint is a space left open and filled with a flexible substance in case of house movement or settlement. Tile is a hard, inflexible substance and so is grout. Without caulk to expand and contract with heat and cold, and to move when the house does, your tile, grout or counters could pull away from the substrate or crack.

Glass tile in particular needs a lot of places for expansion and contraction, since it's so fragile. Caulk should be used wherever two areas of glass tiles meet to keep them from harming one another.

Moisture Barrier

Caulk also seals moisture and water out of cracks. Around a sink, between a counter and a wall and beneath a shower threshold, caulk keeps moisture from getting into areas it shouldn't. Without caulk that is in good shape, you could risk having your plaster, dry-wall and other areas damaged by mold, mildew and water.

Joint Filler

When a joint is too large for grout to fill, caulk is placed inside. Grout can shrink as it cures, pulling away from very large areas. So anywhere you have a tile installation that stops too soon from a wall, it will be filled with caulk, rather than grout, to keep it well sealed.

Tile and Surface Protection

When houses settle or surfaces move, two hard edges that rub against one another could do some damage if those two edges are not perfectly smooth. Since most tile has some degree of roughness to its edges, caulk is used at every 90-degree turn and at the edges of most tile jobs to protect the surfaces from damaging one another when the house moves or a surfaces settles.

Removing Caulk

If your caulk is starting to come apart, dry out or just look old, it's probably time to replace it. You can caulk any area yourself without too much trouble, and the first step to re-caulking is to remove the old caulk.

You'll need the following supplies to get the job done:

  • Caulk remover to soften the caulk
  • Utility knife
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Church key or can opener
  • Bathroom cleaner that kills mold and mildew

Once you have your supplies handy, you're ready to get started.

  1. Apply the caulk softener to the old caulk and let it sit for about 10 minutes to soften up the caulk.
  2. Cut through the old caulk with a utility knife; it should start coming up in chunks.
  3. Use the needle nose pliers to remove large chunks, or stubborn chunks of caulk by pulling them out.
  4. Drag the pointed end of a church key through the joint to reach any remaining caulk that might be left in the joint.
  5. Clean out the joint really well. Remove any debris, mold or mildew that might interfere with your new caulk.
  6. Allow the area to dry completely before you apply new caulk.

By making these kinds of home repairs yourself, you're saving yourself a lot of money and time. By removing old caulk to replace it with new, you could be saving yourself a lot of water damage and mold growth as well as a dirty looking tub or sink. Learn how to remove caulk in your home and know that you are taking an important step toward your home's continuing maintenance.

How to Remove Caulk