Made of either latex or silicone, caulk is a flexible sealant used to fill joints and cracks between building components such as window frames, plumbing, and tile work. Caulking is used to prevent moisture and air from creeping into gaps because it remains flexible. This is especially important since building materials like masonry and wood can expand and contract at different rates due to temperature and other changes. Latex caulk is usually more cost effective than silicone, but it tends to show wear more quickly. Both types can break down over the years, making it sometimes necessary to replace caulk.
In order to remove caulk, it is first important to ascertain whether or not a backer rod was used during the original installation. A backer rod is a rope-shaped piece of foam used to fill in the bulk of a joint in order to support the caulk. If it was applied in a thin, surface layer, it will have remained flexible. If it was applied in a thick layer, it will likely have stiffened, making removal a bit more difficult. Regardless, if a backer rod was used, it is preferable to remove caulk and the backer rod at the same time.
When you want to remove caulk, it will be important not to damage the surrounding materials. For this reason, you'll need to consider the tools you use during the removal process. Never use a screwdriver to scrape adhesive filler as it can chip and lift surrounding tile and wood due to its head shape.
Many products are available that claim to help remove caulk; unfortunately, most are ineffective. The best plan of attack is to saturate the area with water as you work. There is no easy way to remove caulk and it can be a time consuming job, but water can help to soften the material and make it easier to handle.
The optimal method for removing caulk is to use needle nose pliers or tweezers. Get a corner of the sealant up, grasp tightly with the pliers, and pull it out in long strips. If the caulk is disintegrating, a razor may be used to carefully scrape out small bits of debris. Backer rods may be removed using the same method.
Once all traces of caulk have been removed, vacuum out the joint to ensure that no debris remains. If working in a high mildew area like a bathroom or kitchen, eliminate the possibility of bacteria lingering behind by washing the area with a bleach and water solution. Finally, you should probably wait 24 hours or so before applying new caulk to ensure the area is sufficiently dried out.