Expert Guide for Choosing the Right Caulk for Any Job
Admit it. You’ve been one of the lost souls standing in the caulk aisle, staring dumbfounded at the magnitude of caulk choices. This article will help you make sense of those ever-expanding choices and choose the right caulk for your project.
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Four Common Formulas
These types of caulk dominate the shelves at home centers. Labels don’t always tell you what’s in the tube, so we’ve included examples of each type in this article. But there are many more brands than the ones we show. All are available in various colors and paintable.
- Acrylic Latex: $2 to $5: Acrylic latex caulks are the easiest to apply and smooth out. They’re also the only sealants that clean up with water. Look for versions labeled “siliconized” or “plus silicone.” Adding silicone to acrylic latex improves adhesion and flexibility.
- Polyurethane: $6: Poly caulks are generally tougher than other sealants, making them a good choice for driveways and other areas that take a beating. But their gooey consistency makes them hard to work with. Check the label before painting; you may have to wait several days.
- Solvent-Based: $6 to $9: Many solvent-based caulks are great for roofing because they don’t degrade in direct sunlight and can be applied to wet surfaces. But they’re gooey and hard to apply neatly.
- Hybrid: $7 and up: Most hybrid caulks combine silicone and polyurethane for top-notch adhesion, flexibility and longevity. They’re easier to apply neatly than polyurethane, but not as easy as acrylic latex. Most aren’t labeled “hybrid,” so we’ve pointed out the hybrids in the various photos. Cost is a clue: High-quality hybrids are usually the most expensive caulks on the shelf.
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Exterior Siding and Trim: Choose a Hybrid or Polyurethane
On your home’s exterior, high-quality caulk is critical—it locks out water, protecting your home against rot and peeling paint. Although some inexpensive acrylic latex caulks are rated for exterior use, we recommend hybrid caulks because they offer better adhesion and flexibility. For matching the appearance of materials like stucco or rough-sawn wood, we like Vulkem, a textured polyurethane.
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Exterior Siding and Trim: Expensive Caulk is Worth It
The most common reason for using caulk, whether indoors or out, is to prevent water penetration—and serious damage. That’s why spending an extra five bucks on high-quality caulk is usually smart. Get exterior caulk on Amazon now.
Interior Painting: Choose Acrylic Latex
This is the one project for which it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money. For just a couple bucks, you can find a caulk that dries fast, is easy to work with, easy to clean up and can handle a little movement. Alex Plus is one good choice, but there are several others. If you have a large recurring crack in a wall corner or in a crown molding joint, choose a product with better flexibility such as a hybrid formula or Big Stretch acrylic caulk.
Interior Painting: A Superior Acrylic Latex Caulk
Like other acrylic latex caulks, Sashco’s Big Stretch is easy to smooth out and cleans up with water. Unlike other acrylic latex caulks, it offers great adhesion and amazing elasticity. We tested Sashco’s claim that it will stretch “more than 500 percent of its original size.” Claim verified. Depending on the color and retailer, Big Stretch costs $7 to $12 per tube. Get it now on Amazon.
Kitchen and Bath: Just Check the Label
Caulk in kitchens and bathrooms is often visible, so choosing a product that’s easy to apply neatly is important. It also needs to be waterproof and mold and mildew resistant. Choose a product labeled with those traits. Acrylic latex kitchen and bath caulks are the easiest to work with, but hybrids generally have a longer life span.
Kitchen and Bath: What About Silicone?
Years ago, silicone caulk was a good choice for many jobs. Today, there are better options for almost every situation. So why is silicone still so popular? Here’s what one manufacturer of caulks (including silicone) told us: “Silicone is what our customers saw their fathers use. It’s what they’re familiar with.”
Concrete and Masonry: Choose a Specialty Caulk
A caulk specially formulated for concrete and masonry will outperform general-purpose products. Seal cracks in concrete with durable urethane caulk. It'll keep water out and protect your foundation and walks from further cracking and eroding. You can do it in less than a half hour.
Concrete and Masonry: Self-Leveling or Not?
Most concrete and masonry sealants are polyurethane or hybrid formulas. But one acrylic latex product, Slab, also performs well, especially on concrete cracks that move a lot. Some concrete and masonry caulks are self-leveling and can be used only on level surfaces. Buy it now on Amazon.
Roofing: Consider the Elements
Any caulk that lives on a roof is going to get hammered by the elements. Choose a solvent-based sealant. Exterior caulking is a lot like interior caulking: Your goal is a neat-looking seal over cracks and gaps. But outdoor caulking deserves some extra attention. It will have to withstand all the extremes that nature can dish out. And when an outdoor seal fails, water gets in and serious trouble follows. So here are some tips for exterior caulking that lasts.
Gutters: 100 Percent Waterproof
It’s no surprise that a product designed to seal gutters needs to be 100 percent waterproof. But it also needs to be tough— tough enough to handle the abrasion from debris and ice in colder climates.
Gutters: Go With a Hybrid or Solvent-Based Product
Most gutter sealants do a good job on metal, but not all will adhere to plastic gutters. Be sure to check the label. Caulking is a quick and inexpensive way to keep rainwater and storm surge out of your house and strengthen vulnerable areas from high winds.