How to remove caulk – from any surface

Discover how to remove caulk from bathtubs, sinks, showers and baseboards before applying new

Removing caulk from around a window
(Image credit: Alamy)

Removing caulk thoroughly is a must before you reapply it fresh around bathtubs, shower cubicles, sinks and even baseboards. It's generally easy to remove caulk, though sometimes stubborn bits can stay adhered to surfaces. When this happens, you will need special, but simple, tools and techniques to remove them – and you must do so thoroughly or your new caulk will not adhere well or evenly, resulting in a poor finish that will allow leaks to penetrate.

If you know how to caulk a bathtub, caulk a shower or even caulk baseboards, you'll know that it is the best way to stop air and water from leaking into places it shouldn't. Fresh caulk should last around five years, but when you notice the caulk is losing its effectiveness, shrinking, become discolored or cracking, then it's time to wipe the slate clean and reapply – though in order to do this you need to remove any existing caulk. 

How to remove caulk

We asked DIY experts' advice on how to easily and effectively remove caulk from your surfaces. This is their advice.

You will need: 

1. Soften the caulk

Using caulk remover will soften caulk to make the job easier. Simply squeeze a line of the remover directly on top of the caulk, covering all of it. Let this sit for as long as the brand of caulk remover recommends, this will normally be for a few hours.

If silicone caulking is proving resistant, you can heat and soften the caulk using a hairdryer. Making sure it is on the lowest setting, press the hairdryer to the caulk for around 30-45 seconds until it softens, being careful not to overheat the surface beneath. Work on patches about 10in long at a time.

To remove water-based acrylic caulk, you can also use iso-propyl rubbing alcohol; apply it, leave it to dampen and soften the caulk before removing it. 

2. Cut the caulk

You need to complete this next step while the caulk is still soft so do it straight after you complete softening it.

Using a caulk tool, utility knife or small razor blade score the caulk every 2 inches from end to end. It should be easy to then pull off each section of caulk with pliers.

3. Scrape off caulks remains

Use a glass scraper to peel off any caulk still hanging onto the surface. To make sure you don't damage or scratch the surface the caulk is stuck to during this process, keep the glass scraper as flat and parallel to the surface as possible.

4. Remove caulk from corners and crevices

There are always some tricky spots to reach when removing caulk which is why we recommend having some needle-nose pliers on hand to remove any remaining caulk. You may also want to use a hook tool to scape out anything that the pliers can't grip but be very careful not to scrape or scratch the surface beneath the caulk.

5. Scrub away the remaining caulk

Once you have removed all the caulk you can, use an abrasive bathroom cleaning pad (one that's no more abrasive than you would normally use to clean your bathtub or sink, since you don't want to scratch the surface) to clean the area of any caulk residue. 

That done, clean the surface thoroughly with bleach to kill off any mold or mildew. Rinse well then allow to dry completely before applying new caulk.

What's the easiest way to remove caulking?

The easiest way to remove caulking is to use a caulk softener on it before slicing through it at intervals and peeling it back with your fingers. Using a specialist caulk removal tool will then be really effective at removing most of the residue caulk, the remainder of which you can usually scrub away with a bathroom sponge.

What will dissolve caulking?

You won't be able to dissolve caulking, but you can soften it for removal with a caulk removal solution. The best are store-bought and made-for-purpose, though you can try a store cupboard standby such as vinegar, applied and allowed to soak into the caulk, to see if that will soften it. Always do a test patch first to ensure you won't damage or discolor the surface beneath. 

Lola Houlton
Contributing Editor

Lola Houlton is H&G's long-term intern. Currently student of Psychology at the University of Sussex, she began writing content for Real Homes around the subjects of children's and teenagers' bedroom, in particular covering the psychology of teens and their approach to tidiness. From there, Lola expanded her knowledge of a broad range of subjects and now writes about everything from organization through to house plants while continuing her studies.