Your project calls for caulk, but you can picture yourself at the home store facing a towering wall of caulk tubes that all look alike. We've all been there. The good news is, there's a right caulk for the job; you just have to look through the weeds and, sometimes, misleading labels to find what you need. This overview of the main types of caulk will help.
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Acrylic Latex Caulk
Acrylic latex caulk is the general-purpose workhorse. It's inexpensive and fast-drying and is useful for many different applications. Most importantly, it can be painted. This is why it's sometimes referred to as "painter's caulk."
Use this caulk for filling small gaps and blemishes in wood trim and for sealing joints between wood parts that will be painted. While the label may claim it's suitable for wet areas, it's best to stick to dry areas or on parts with may see moisture (like exterior trim and siding) but will be protected by a complete coating of paint.
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Latex Caulk with Silicone
Latex or acrylic caulk with silicone added offers somewhat more moisture-resistance than standard latex caulk. It's also a bit more flexible and durable, thanks to the silicone. You can use this in the same places as standard latex caulk as well as for exposed (unpainted) applications that need only moderate waterproofing.
While this caulk is commonly called "tub and tile" caulk, it's not as good as pure silicone for tile and bathroom fixtures.
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Pure Silicone Caulk
Pure, or 100%, silicone is the premium caulk for jobs exposed to water. Silicone caulk is expensive but worth the cost due to its flexibility and long life. Most formulas are mildew-resistant and have inhibitors to slow discoloration (but all caulk gets ugly over time). The only big downside is that it's not paintable. But that shouldn't be a problem for its normal applications. If a silicone caulk says it can be painted, it's probably not pure silicone.
Use pure silicone for sealing around plumbing fixtures, such as sinks, toilets, and faucets, and for any caulk joints on the tile in wet areas. It's also a general-purpose sealant and waterproofer for things like holes in exterior walls, sealing around pipe and wiring penetrations, and filling gaps between exposed materials of almost any type. Finally, pure silicone is a pretty strong adhesive and can be used as a glue for things like undermount sinks or fixtures attached to stone and other hard-to-glue materials.
Silicone will work on roofs and windows or doors, but it's not the best option for those applications. Instead, use a high-quality roofing sealant for roof work, and use a high-quality window and door sealant (not latex caulk) for installing and sealing windows and doors (it lasts as long as silicone and is paintable).
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Butyl Rubber Caulk
This sticky, messy caulk is primarily for outdoor use. It's a great sealant for metal and masonry and for joints that might move due to expansion and contraction. A good example is gutters. It also fills larger joints well when used with a caulking rod or backer rod. Many formulas are paintable.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Also called fireplace caulk, refractory caulk is a high-temperature sealant good for filling small cracks in brick, concrete, and other masonry materials, specifically in masonry fireplaces and chimneys. Use this only for minor repairs, such as filling small gaps between bricks in a firebox. It's not suitable as a masonry replacement or for significant repairs.
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Masonry Repair Caulk
This flexible caulk is primarily used for sealing cracks and expansion joints in driveways and other outdoor concrete surfaces. It's also suitable for filling and repairing cracks in masonry-stucco walls. Many formulas today are made with polyurethane (or other urethane blends), and some contain sand to provide a masonry-like texture.