Unless you’re a handyman who uses caulk every week for different home repair projects, you probably don’t realize that picking caulk is a lot like picking a new sofa. There are an endless number of choices and figuring out which of the many types of caulk to use can be challenging.
With caulk, you might not realize you used the wrong product until you have to replace it again. A friend has been asking me to write this article for years as she’s tired of removing the old caulk from her bathtub, applying new caulking and a year later, she’s got black mold again. Because there are so many different kinds of caulk on the market, the decision can be a difficult one. We'll focus on the two most common types of caulking used by homeowners, latex and silicone.
Table of contents
The most common types of caulk today are latex, silicone and hybrid latex silicone products that are combined to get the best characteristics of both. Many of these hybrid caulking products are produced for specific types of caulking jobs.
As it's often difficult to decide which type of caulk is right for your project, we first wanted to share this table that shows the various specialty caulks that are available for specific projects.
Specialty Caulks for Every Project
|Caulk Type||Projects||Key Features|
|Adhesive||Attaching pieces together and/or filling gaps||Prevents cracking as surfaces expand & contract|
|Blacktop Asphalt||Filling cracks in driveways & other asphalt surfaces||Forms a strong waterproof seal; Resists stains from gas, oil & deicing salts|
|Concrete||Fills gaps in driveways & sidewalks||Can get wet after application; Withstands extreme temperatures|
|Exterior||Outdoor trim & new window installations||UV resistant|
|Fire Retardant||Gaps around wires, pipes, HVAC ducts & vents, chimney / fireplace||Withstands high temperature, noncombustible & material rated to block fire|
|Gutter & Flashing||Roof vents, flashing, gutters & downspouts & other metal joints||Durable, flexible & withstands extreme temperatures|
|Kitchen & Bath||Sinks, countertops & faucets, bathtubs, showers & tile||Can get wet after application & mildew resistant|
|Mortar||Leaks / cracks on stucco, mortar, stone, brick & concrete||Blends with textured surfaces & withstands high temperature|
|Molding & Trim||Gaps between walls & boards; Crown molding, baseboard, etc||Quick dry time & paintable|
|Roof||Stops minor roof leaks||Flexible, waterproof & mildew resistant|
|Sanded||Large gaps in joints; Abut / match existing tile / sanded grout||Appears rough & grainy; Adheres well in wet areas|
|Window & Door Interior||Window & door maintenance||Doesn't shrink or crack|
|Unsanded||Fills very tight joints; Used to join tile & countertops||Smooth finish|
What are the Different Types of Caulk?
If you want to learn more about the different caulking materials, here are short overviews of the most common ones plus their recommended uses. To make it easy to compare these materials, we've got a table just below.
More traditional, latex caulks are popular for their durability when used where there's little movement. They last up to 20 years and they're paintable making them perfect for indoor use. Latex caulk doesn’t stand up to temperature changes well, so check the label before you use it outdoors if you live in a cold or very hot climate. Using the wrong type of caulk often means you have to redo your caulking.
Recommended uses for acrylic latex – include sealing joints around bathtubs and showers. filling cracks in ceramic tile, wood, glass, and most construction materials. It's also good for filling nail holes.
Latex Caulk with Silicone
Hybrid (often called high-performance) sealants, they offer the durability and water resistance of silicone plus the paintable attributes of an acrylic latex. They're ideal for indoor or outdoor painting projects where the caulk could be exposed to water or high moisture. It's also common for chemicals to be added to help these sealants stand up to mold and mildew.
Recommended uses for latex plus silicone (hybrid) sealants – are used in places where standard latex caulk is used. It's excellent around sinks, bathtubs, shower stalls, toilets and tile. Most are paintable and if you're looking to caulk around tile, you can find colors to match your grout.
100% (or Pure) Silicone
Silicone caulk is inorganic so it won't break down under prolonged exposure to the sun. It stays flexible after it dries, so it rarely loses it's seal or cracks as a result of extreme temperatures or rapid temperature changes. Silicone adheres well to any smooth surface except wood but needs to be cleaned using a solvent which can be messy. The downside is silicone can't be painted which is why clear (once it dries) silicone is so popular.
Recommended uses for silicone – include bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms and any room with high moisture levels because silicone caulk is water resistant and often contains a fungicide. However, silicone has poor tear and abrasion resistance so it's not a good choice in high-traffic areas.
Polyurethane, More Specialized Type of Caulk
Polyurethane was included in many of the websites I reviewed when updating this article so I decided to include it here. It's an organic compound that bonds well to most surfaces. It's very flexible and noted for its resistance to moisture, chemicals and corrosion. Like silicone it's difficult to clean up but unlike silicone, it's paintable.
Recommended uses for polyurethane – metal roofs, gutters and downspouts, foundations and other heavy-duty projects that involve water and/or chemicals.
|Acrylic Latex||Latex w/Silicone||Silicone||Polyurethane|
|Adhesion||Good to excellent||Excellent||Good||Excellent|
|Flexibility||5 to 10%||+/- 25%||+/- 25% to 50%||+/- 25%|
|Shrinkage||20%||10%||Little or None||None; Expands quite a bit|
|UV Resistance||Good||Excellent||Good||Low; Better if painted|
|Ease of Use||Easy to apply & smooth||More difficult to apply & smooth|
|Clean Up||Water||Water||Dry cloth if immediate; Solvent||Solvent|
|Yrs of Service||20 yrs indoors; 10 to 15 outdoors||15 yrs||20 yrs indoors; 10 to 15 outdoors||5 to 10 yrs; Best to paint to protect from sun|
|Cost||Moderate||Moderate to High||High||Moderate to High|
Note: Several sources were used to build this table:
- EnergySaver.gov/caulking – a website focusing on ways Americans can save energy.
- Inspectapedia.com – included a table on caulk and sealant performance in their review of sealants. Click through if you need detailed temperature (application and service) information.
Other Types of Caulk
As a homeowner, having a tube or two of latex or silicone based caulk in your tool kit will allow you to tackle 90% of home repairs. However, there are other types of caulk like butyl rubber, that many homeowners find daunting. These tend to be more specialized caulks used by professionals or seasoned do-it-yourselfers. There is a great article by Fine Woodworking, Making Sense of Caulks & Sealants which goes into more details on these sealants.
More Caulking Resources
To find out more about caulking around your home, check our other articles in the series:
- Getting started with caulk, read Caulking Basics: How to Pick the Right Caulk.
- Buying caulk, Caulking: How Many Types are There? … this article.
- For tips on how to caulk, read Learning How to Caulk.
- For more on home maintenance, read Where & Why to Caulk Around Your Home.
- For more technical details, read Fine Homebuilding's article, Making Sense of Caulks & Sealants.