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The Basics of Caulks and Sealants
Most people don’t buy sealants and putties as bathroom accessories, but given the work expected of sealants and their high visibility, it might not be a bad idea. The problem is that there are an awful lot of sealants and putties on the market, so choosing between them is difficult. Sealing basically performs two jobs in the bathroom: it seals against the penetration of moisture and provides a pleasant connection between the fixtures and the wall finishing materials. For the most part, careful detailing minimizes reliance on sealing for either function, but there are still cases where it is necessary.
Types of seals
While there are about a dozen types of sealants for home use, bathroom sealants fall into three basic categories: latex, acrylic latex (sometimes with silicone), and silicone.
Latex sealants are easy to apply and easy to clean because they are water-based and hold color well. I like to use them when painting with latex paint because they are cheap and easy to fill cracks and holes and can be painted over almost immediately. However, they are not very water resistant or flexible, making them a poor choice for general bathroom applications.
Acrylate latex sealants are more flexible than regular latex and are usually available in a fungicide-treated version for bathroom use. The fungicide gradually leaches out of the sealant over about 5 to 15 years and helps prevent powdery mildew growth during this time. These sealants are a little more expensive than regular latex sealants, but they can be painted on and work well as all-purpose sealants, making them well worth the extra money. Siliconized versions of acrylic latex sealants also exist, but the percentage of silicone is so low (usually less than 2%) that the performance of the sealant will not be noticeably altered. Most sealants that are tinted to match the stock colors of various manufacturers fall into this category.
Silicone sealants are available in tub and tile versions that contain a fungicide, and although they cost significantly more than acrylic latex sealants, their durability and flexibility make them good performers in bathroom environments. However, they have some disadvantages, including the fact that they are difficult to work with: They set quickly, need a well-cleaned substrate to adhere to, and are difficult to form into a smooth bead. Also, silicone sealants are generally not overcoatable (even the so-called “recoatable”), although the clear and white formula will cover most situations you’ll encounter in the bathroom. I’ve also noticed that some silicone sealants tend to get dirty easily, and when they do, it’s hard to clean them again.
Working with putty
An open tube with a seal is a bit like Pandora’s box, and it’s hard to keep the mischief inside from spreading everywhere once it’s opened. Part of the problem is that caulking is often treated as almost an afterthought. However, a few simple steps will make caulking less bothersome and improve its appearance and performance.
1. Prepare the surface. Silicone caulking is particularly difficult to adhere to dirty or contaminated surfaces, whether new or old. Old caulking should be removed from bathtubs and sinks and all surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned of old soap film and dirt before re-caulking. In severe cases, this may mean cleaning with detergent, which should then be cleaned with a water-soluble solvent such as isopropanol and allowed to dry. Alcohol also works well on soap film.
2. Prepare the sealant. The sealant should be processed at about room temperature, so cold pipes should be warmed up before use. Different sized joints require different sized pin holes, but in general, the smaller the pin hole, the better. Many caulking guns have integral nippers to cut off the tip, but a sharp knife or scissors will do a better job as they are more precise and leave a cleaner cut. A 45° cut allows the tip to be held against the joint without scraping the caulk, but a straight cut also works well, depending on the type and size of the caulk joint.
3. Work out the joint with a tool. I pushed the seal in front of the tip and pulled the seal out; in some cases you have no choice. In both cases, the idea is to avoid leaving voids and inject enough sealant into the joint. Covering the joint with masking tape facilitates subsequent cleaning and guarantees straight joints. Immediately after the application of the sealant, it will be necessary to work it, which will help improve adhesion, remove air pockets and smooth the surface of the joint. Special caulking finishers, plastic spoons and even tongue presses work better than your fingertips at caulking, leaving a smoother, more professional-looking finish. And having a few rags handy to wipe excess caulk off your hands and tools will help keep it under control.
4. Clean up. If you used masking tape to outline the joints, be sure to remove it before the caulk begins to overlap. Most sealants list the appropriate cleaning solvent on their labels.
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#Basics #Caulks #Sealants