Caulk is the bead of rubbery stuff between your tub, shower or sink and the wall, or between your toilet's outer rim and the floor. It creates a seal that protects floors and walls from moisture. It also glues itself in place, which makes applying it an easy one step process. Over time, caulk can discolor or deteriorate, leaving your home vulnerable to water damage and mold growth.
The hardest part of installing caulk is removing the residue left by the old stuff. Without completely eliminating the old caulk, the new bead won't stick, so good preparation is important. In the old days, you had to remove caulk with a razor scraper, and it took a while to get it all up. Now, there are a number of products on the market that will soften old caulk and make it easier to remove. Treated caulk residue comes up easily with a putty knife. After the old caulk is gone, clean the area with paint thinner and let it dry completely. Now you're ready to move on to the installation process.
Using a caulking gun or standard tube of caulk takes a little practice. It's a bit like trying to draw a straight line using a tube of toothpaste. You have some choices here, though. Caulk is inexpensive, so you can buy extra and practice on a piece of plywood first. Be sure to cut the cone-shaped tip of the caulk cap on an angle and at a diameter that's large enough to accommodate the widest gap in your project.
If you don't have much confidence in your ability to lay down a smooth, even bead of caulk, there are caulk strips on the market that you simply unroll and press into place. They take the artistry out of the process but are a pretty foolproof solution if you want to do the job in a hurry and have a standard installation.
On the next page, well take a look at the challenges of fixing a leaking faucet.