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Tips on Neatly Removing Caulk

Removing caulk can be a messy experience, and lead to a lengthy amount of time spent if not done correctly. Here are a few tips to make removing caulk less of a hassle.

The particular project I am working on is removing and replacing the caulk at the bottom of a tub where it meets linoleum. Notice the crack, which allows water to enter and damage the sub floor. Time for some home improvement!
The particular project I am working on is removing and replacing the caulk at the bottom of a tub where it meets linoleum. Notice the crack, which allows water to enter and damage the sub floor. Time for some home improvement!
Here is the caulk removal tool I snagged at Walmart
Here is the caulk removal tool I snagged at Walmart

Items needed to remove caulk

First thing to do is to purchase or gather the items you will need to neatly and effectively remove the caulk.

Tips for neatest removal, but more time consuming:

  • Caulk softener and remover - if you want to ensure ease and neatness, a caulk softener would be the way to go. It isn't necessary to remove caulk, but could lessen the hassle and cleanup. The problem is though it softens up the caulk for removal and thus makes it neater for cleaning up, it does take a few hours to loosen up the caulk.
  • Sponge brush (optional) - this can be paired up with the caulk softener as it may be used to apply the softener to the caulk. Some caulk softeners are spray on or gel applications and do not need this to apply.

What I used for this project (though not all are documented in the photos):

  • Caulk remover tool - these little guys do a nice job getting the bulk of the caulk off and relatively inexpensively. I picked up this one at Walmart for $2.94. It has two tools, one for digging in and removing the caulk, and a straight edge for removing excess caulk.
  • Flathead Screwdriver / Utility knife / Paint scraper or 5-in-1 tool - one of these or a combination could work for removing the little excess leftover after getting a bulk of the caulk from the caulk remover tool. I prefer the flat head screwdriver as I feel it has more control and gets the caulk residue off better. Use discretion using these tools as it may scratch the surface if you are not careful.
  • Vacuum cleaner with hose - you can use this or a Shopvac to cleanup the caulk bits right away. This helps in being able to have a cleaner work area to see how clean your area for caulking is, as well as minimizes the time spent on picking up the millions of caulk pieces.
  • Mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol.
  • Washcloth - a quick wipe with a wet washcloth removes dust and debris to prep for caulk softener. The washcloth can also be used with mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol to get rid of the caulk residue.

Step 1 (Optional): Using caulk softener

Choose your own adventure time! You have chosen to use the caulk softener.

First thing to do is wipe down the surface of the caulk to rid it of dust and other debris, ensuring maximum contact for the caulk softener to work best.

Depending on the type of caulk softener you have purchased, you can either spray it on, apply a bead along the caulk itself, or use a sponge brush to apply.

Once again, depending on the type of caulk softener you have purchased, you may wait up to 2 - 4 hours for the caulk to soften up for removal.


This edged portion lays in the seam of the the two joints. In this instance it is where the tub meets the floor.
This edged portion lays in the seam of the the two joints. In this instance it is where the tub meets the floor.
Inserting the pointed edge into the caulk with the edged bottom laying in the seam.
Inserting the pointed edge into the caulk with the edged bottom laying in the seam.

Step 2: Using a caulk remover tool

For those who skipped using a caulk softener, this may be your starting point.

The caulk removal tool's best feature is its pointed edge that digs into the caulk and allows you to strip off most of it by moving along the caulk line.

Simply insert the pointed edge (it takes a little force depending on the hardness of the caulk), then lay the tool so the tools 'V' shaped edge lays in the seam and while pushing down, push the tool through the caulk by following the caulk line. If you have a trash you can toss the large pieces, or use your vacuum hose to suck them up as you go.

Post caulk removal tool. notice there is still some excess caulk. Using a caulk softener will lessen the amount of caulk that is left behind when using the removal tool.
Post caulk removal tool. notice there is still some excess caulk. Using a caulk softener will lessen the amount of caulk that is left behind when using the removal tool.

Step 3: Removing caulk residue

Using one of the flat tools we are going to remove the residue caulk. I don't care for the caulk removal tool's flat edge for removing residue, I find it doesn't work as well. However, it is plastic and will reduce the likelihood of scratching. I prefer to use a flat-head screwdriver for its control and thicker edge. Knife's tend to be easier to slip and cause scratches. Although these scratches may be covered by caulk, a loss of control could lead to visible scratches.

Remember: be careful with what you use as it may cause scratches depending on the surface!

Select your tool and laying it at an angle, gently and slowly scrape the residue away.

This is the part where a vacuum hose is handy as the residue will leave the most minuscule and pesky pieces to pick up.

To get a nice clean finish, use a washcloth and mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol to wipe down the remaining and difficult to see residue.

A completely cleaned and neatly done caulk removal. Break out the caulking gun, its time to caulk!
A completely cleaned and neatly done caulk removal. Break out the caulking gun, its time to caulk!

Step 4: Cleaning up the caulk

I typically vacuum as I go to avoid things getting messy and complicating a simple task. If you haven't done so, or have a bit of debris leftover, vacuum away!

If you don't have access to a vacuum with a hose you can always dispose of the large pieces by hand. Sometimes I carry a bucket with me to place the removed caulk in. You can also use a slightly damp paper towel to wipe up the small residue pieces you removed. The damp paper towel is better at getting these pieces than a washcloth, acting somewhat like a magnet.

Now that you have finished removing the caulk and wiped down the area, you must allow it to dry before caulking.

If you are new to caulking, check out my beginner's guide to caulking a bathtub.

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Comments 5 comments

theclevercat profile image

theclevercat 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Great Hub! The pictures are immensely useful. Voted up and useful.


missolive profile image

missolive 4 years ago from Texas

Wow Jared! Can I hire you?! :)

We have slowly refurbished our home and have enjoyed it ALMOST every step of the way. Removing and adding caulk is not the easiest thing in the world. You have described the steps very nicely. Great tips and excellent pictures. Well done and useful.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 4 years ago from Northern, California

Caulking has been a nightmare for us over the years. Always scratching the surface or leaving clumps of debris behind. Your hub addresses these issues and the pictures help to better understand the technique. Thank you for a real helpful guide for removing caulking!

Up, up, and Up!

Cheers~


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Great hub with very helpful step-by step pictures. Very useful.


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 4 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

I'm just about to travel down this same yellow brick road and recaulk around my tub, so I read this just in time! I probably would have used something inappropriate involving a Dremel tool and ended up with scratches. This method sounds better AND easier than anything I can picture with my Dremel. Thanks for a great article, Jared!

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