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The best tricks: How to remove caulk

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Before many repairs and installations, you must remove old caulk. A clean surface is essential in keeping those cracks and crevices free of moisture and unsightly buildup. Here’s how to remove caulk and get rid of ugly residue for a fresh start and surfaces that look dazzlingly new.

caulking gun and window
Caulking windows and other areas can get messy. Learn the best ways to remove caulk and keep it clean.

How to remove caulk: What to know

Caulking is important for keeping bathrooms, kitchens, and other household areas clean and damage-free. Caulk is used to fill cracks and seal joints around windows, doors, plumbing, siding, and fixtures. This prevents air, water, dust, or other materials from infiltrating seals and keeps things tight.

Good caulking can be the finishing touch that makes a difference between a sloppy fix or a clean, professional installation. We recommend Loctite Polyseamseal Acrylic Caulk with Silicone, a high-quality acrylic caulk formulated with extra silicone for a durable, powerful seal. It sets quickly, is easy to apply, and locks out moisture, air, dirt, or any other penetrating materials.

But with time, even the best caulking can get dingy or lose its seal. Before undertaking many household projects, such as installing new fixtures or tiles, it may be necessary to remove existing caulk. It can be a time-consuming process, but it’s worth doing right.

How to remove caulk from a bathtub

Moisture, soap scum, and other types of build-up are inevitable in bathrooms. To refresh your bathtub’s look, or to prepare for installing a new one, you’ll have to strip away the old caulking. Peeling off that gunky old caulk can be a nasty job, but doing it right will result in a bathtub that looks sparkling fresh. Follow these simple steps for how to remove old caulk from your bathtub.

  1. Soften the caulk. One way to do this is with a commercial caulk remover. The remover will weaken the caulk’s inner structure, making it easier to pry the caulk away. However, caulk removers aren’t necessarily compatible with all materials, so be sure to heed your product manufacturer’s instructions. In these cases, you’ll have to physically remove the caulk.
  2. Strip the caulk. There are a few methods for doing this. You can use a utility knife or putty knife, slicing through the caulk and peeling it away. For multiple layers of caulk, needle-nosed pliers might work best. There are also specialized caulk removal tools designed to tear away caulk cleanly. The important thing is to exercise care not to dig too deeply and scratch your tub’s surface. And always take extra precautions when using sharp tools. Go slowly, use protective equipment, and be safe!
  3. Clean the surface. Once the caulk is removed, clean the area thoroughly of any scum or residue. For most surfaces, brush the area with a cloth dampened with  bleach, or a non-ammoniated cleaner, to kill mildew. More damage-sensitive substrates may require cleaning with gentler substances such as a denatured alcohol. When using caulk remover, be sure to check manufacturer instructions for details on best materials and methods for cleaning. Let surfaces dry completely before beginning to apply any new caulk. 

For a long-lasting, mildew-resistant seal in kitchens and bathrooms, go for Loctite Polyseamseal Tub & Tile Adhesive Caulk. This versatile, easy-to-use acrylic-based sealant creates a flexible, watertight seal that’s easy to paint or clean, making it perfect for bathtubs, showers, and sinks.

caulking bathtub
Removing old caulk from a bathtub can be a hassle, but it’s important for clean and fresh new seals.

How to remove caulk residue

Getting rid of old caulk can be challenging. Because caulk is meant to seal tightly and strongly, stripping it off can be a painstaking task, but it’s vital for a clean foundation for your new caulk. On top of all that, removing caulk can leave behind unwanted residue. Here’s how to remove caulk residue.

  1. Make it soft. Before chiseling away at that caulk residue, soften it as much as possible. For acrylic or latex-based caulk, you can use a commercial caulk remover to loosen the caulk’s bond with the substrate. For silicone caulks, use a liquid remover specifically formulated for use with silicone. For more sensitive materials, or if a caulk remover is unavailable, try mixing a strong powdered cleaner and warm water into a paste, then apply carefully to the caulk with a cotton swab.

    For painted, lacquered, or finished surfaces, denatured alcohol may work better than mineral spirits. Caulk remover may also be a good option, but always test solvents on a small, inconspicuous area first before diving in.

    Whatever substances you employ, always be sure to wear protective gloves and work in a well-ventilated area. Avoid spills and take appropriate precautions with any flammable materials.
  2. Clear it off. Start with a cutter knife, slicing the vertical and horizontal flanks of the caulked joint. Once the main triangular portion of the caulk is removed, clean the flanks using a damp abrasive sponge or scrub brush. If stubborn residue refuses to come off, scrape it with a razor blade, but exercise care not to scratch the surface underneath. Avoid using sandpaper, as the caulk will stick to the coarse grit and leave you with a gummy mess. Once the flanks are clean, you can continue with removal of sealant in the joint depths.

    If necessary, clean off mold or mildew with warm water mixed with bleach or ammonia-free detergent. Rinse surfaces thoroughly with warm water.
  3. Caulk away. Once the caulk residue is removed and the surface is dry, you’re ready to apply a new caulk. For a tough, strong multipurpose sealant for any job, look for Loctite PL Heavy Duty Sealant. It’s simple to use and creates durable, flexible seals that last a lifetime, both indoors and outdoors. Perfect for tubs and showers, sinks, countertops, tiles, trim, and baseboards, as well as sealing around windows, doors, and siding.

Check out this video to learn more about how to use Loctite PL Heavy Duty Sealant for all your caulking and sealing needs:

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caulking window frame
When household fixes gets messy, it’s important to know the best way to remove caulk residue.

Products used

  • loctite polyseamseal acws white 10oz cartridge
    Loctite Polyseamseal ACWS

    Provides a flexible, weather resistant seal. Paintable in 30 minutes.

  • loctite polyseamseal tub tile white 10oz cartridge
    Loctite Polyseamseal Tub & Tile

    Provides a durable bond and seal for kitchen & bath projects.

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