How to Remove Old Caulk
Removing old acrylic caulk is usually as simple as running a putty knife under it. It will normally come flaking away from the old surface. If the latex caulk is not very old it may be a little more problematic. Using a razor knife will normally do the trick. (Use leather work gloves to avoid any cuts and scrapes.) Follow up with some scrubbing with an adhesive pad.
Removing Silicone Based Caulks
Caulks that are silicone based propose more of a challenge. Silicone caulks usually adhere much better to surfaces (especially smooth surfaces) and stand up to water and weathering. However, they can harbor mildew especially in damp areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. When the mildew cannot be wiped away with a cleanser, the caulk should be removed and replaced.
There are types of silicone caulk available that are mildew resistant. So keep an eye out for this type of caulk when replacing old caulk.
With silicone caulk in the bathroom, first try pulling the caulk from the surface with your fingers or a pair of needle-nosed pliers, once in a while it will be loose and peel easily away. However, removing caulk this easily is the exception not the rule. If it does not peel away, use a razor knife to carefully cut away the bulk of the caulk. Avoid using force as this type of knife can scar surfaces, including wood, plexiglass, ceramic tile and vinyl. Use pliers to pull off loose pieces.
When the bulk of the caulk is removed, there will normally be some resin still adhering to the surface of your sink or tub. If the caulk was made from polyvinyl acetate, soaking it with alcohol may help loosen it up. But with silicone caulk there are no common household solvents that will allow the homeowner to easily wipe it away. Some handymen recommend oven cleaner or sodium hydroxide, but these are dangerous to the user and can easily mar surfaces. To remove the pieces that cannot be taken off with the razor knife, DAP and a few other manufacturers make a special silicone remover. This remover works in about thirty minutes and is not harmful to most surfaces.
Many caulks are a mix of acrylic and silicone. Simply use your judgement on the approach to remove these caulks. Begin by scraping, use the razor knife, then try silicone caulk remover.
Before putting on new caulk, make sure that the surface is thoroughly clean, dry, and even sanitized to help remove the possibility of mildew growing under the new bead of caulk.
How to Remove Adhesive Caulk
Removing adhesive caulks becomes even more problematic as these are meant not only to fill cracks but to bind materials together. Depending on its composition, the adhesive caulk may be softened using a heat gun. (Be sure not to aim it at just one place, it can get very hot.) Chemical silicone caulk removers may be tried once the surface bearing the adhesive caulk is exposed. Alcohol or mineral spirits might also have an effect. As always when handling chemicals, be sure to protect the skin and eyes, and make sure the work area is well-ventilated.
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