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Discover the flexibility of caulks and sealants

Posted on April 25, 2019 by Marc Hirsch — 1 comment

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Both caulks and sealants are intended to fill gaps, but they perform differently. Learn about the
differences between the two, and discover their individual properties, applications, and

Caulk is an old boat-building term; sealant originated in home building. Some manufacturers use
caulk as an all-purpose term and sealant to describe their high-performance products. Most
often, the terms are used interchangeably.

The main difference between a caulk and a sealant is elasticity1. Sealants are made from flexible
materials, making them ideal for areas prone to expansion and contraction1. They are also
somewhat waterproof, while not all caulks are. Some industry experts do not differentiate
between the two; but they do distinguish between adhesives and sealants.

Caulks are fairly rigid when dry, and are intended for use in areas with minimal expansion and
contraction1. As stated, they are not necessarily waterproof, so they are a better fit for use

They are not intended for areas exposed to high moisture levels, such as around kitchen sinks
and in bathrooms. In building construction, a material that has the adhesive and cohesive
properties to form a seal (ASTM C 717-07a) is known as a sealant.
One- and two-part systems
There are one-part and two-part systems. One part cures with the interaction of the environment
(moisture) or liberation of a component. A two-part system involves a physical mixing
immediately before application and a chemical cure between the 2 constituents.

Applications and chemistries

Water-based caulks are the easiest with which to work because they apply without difficulty, are
paintable, have little odor and clean up with water. They effectively fill gaps in baseboard and
trim, as well as interior window and door frames.

Since they are water-based, their application is dependent upon the weather with respect to
temperature for interior use. For latex caulks, the ideal curing conditions are above 40° F (4° C).
For exterior use, surface temperature is critical at application and during the full cure cycle to
ensure optimal performance.

Vinyl latex caulks

Within this category, there are sub-types of caulks with specific characteristics. Vinyl latex caulk
has a useful life of around five years and is most suitable for small cracks in baseboards and
small gaps around windows. Vinyl latex is non-flammable and paintable but is not very flexible. It
hardens over time due to its vinyl chemistry, which lightly cross-links. It can also yellow
somewhat over time.

Acrylic caulks
Acrylic caulks are paintable and can be cleaned with water. However, their limited elasticity
makes them susceptible to cracking in areas that experience large temperature swings. They are
more durable than vinyl acrylic caulks.

Acrylic caulk adheres to most surfaces and is best used on wood and masonry. It can be painted
shortly after application and is available in pigments as well, allowing it to match many surfaces.
It remains effective for 10 to 15 years, however, it is not recommended for an area that is subject
to excessive water collection such as tubs or sinks. Acrylic caulk is flexible and maintains that
flexibility over time.

Tub and tile caulk

Tub and tile caulk is a specialty performance caulk. It has an added mildewcide to protect against
mildew growth in kitchens and bathrooms where moisture can be excessive. Many formulations
are a combination of an adhesive and a sealant. Other products utilize Ag+1 ions for their
antimicrobial properties.

Siliconized acrylic caulk

Siliconized acrylic caulk is a type of sealant that combines silicone with acrylic latex formulas for
improved water resistance. This medium-performance, water-based caulk can withstand greater
movement than acrylic latex. It can be used interiorly or exteriorly with good adhesion, even to
glass and ceramic tile. This caulk also comes in a variety of colors as well as clear formulas.
Like the former water-based sealants, it applies easily (best applied in temperatures above 40°
F), is non-flammable, paintable, mildew-resistant and cleans with water. It can endure moderate
temperature changes and has a total life expectancy of about 25-35 years.

Silicone sealants
The flexibility of silicone sealants allows them to keep a watertight seal, even in areas subject to
wide temperature swings. They are not paintable, and over-applications must be cleaned with a
solvent or scraped off after setting. Strong fumes may result when silicone sealants are freshly
applied because of the liberation of acetic acid (acetoxy) or amines (amine and aminoxy),
depending on the chemistry.

They are good for use around bathtubs and sinks because they are water resistant with excellent
adhesion to smooth surfaces such as metal, glass and tile. They also resist mold and
mildew growth. Silicone sealants do not generally adhere to masonry and do not adhere well to
wood. However, they remain flexible after curing and are not affected by UV sunlight.

The following is a typical silicone sealant formulation, provided by Gelest2, based on many of
their raw materials:

Polydimethylsiloxane, OH terminated 50,000cps 65.9 Polymer
Polydimethylsiloxane, trimethylterminated, 1000cps 20 Plasticizer
Methyltrioximinosilane 5 Cross linker
Aminopropyltriethoxysilane 1 Adhesion promoter
150 sq.mfg surface area fumed silica 8 Filler
Dibutyltin dilaurate 0.1 Catalyst
Total 100

UV resistance
Contrary to some beliefs, most sealants have reasonably good resistance to UV sunlight in either
clear or pigmented products. However, there can be a misconception that clear sealants resist
UV poorly. In actuality, the UV radiation mostly passes through and degrades the interface of the
sealant and substrate, which can result in sealant adhesion failure.

Polyurethane foam
Polyurethane foam is a sealant used for a variety of jobs, most often around electrical outputs,
pipe penetrations and in large voids or openings where the elements can breach a structure. It
expands to fill gaps, holes and voids, and is good for insulation purposes.

Polyurethane foam also comes in different expansion rate formulas. It is easy to apply, cures
quickly, is paintable and offers good adhesion. It is not overly resistant to UV and should be
protected by painting.

Butyl rubber sealants

Butyl rubber sealants are solvent-based with a life expectancy of only two to ten years due to
their inherent chemistry. However, they are a good choice for sealing against water in lap joints,
such as gutters and for metals and masonry, as well as outside for chimneys.
They are the best waterproofing sealant for below-grade applications, such as foundations.

Synthetic rubber
Synthetic rubber is a relatively new caulk category. It is perhaps the most flexible product on the
market. Synthetic rubber cures clear and is ideal for exterior joints that typically expand and
contract. It can be applied in adverse weather conditions (wet and cold) and stretches and
recovers easily without breaking.

It’s also great for use on roofs, wood siding and joints that frequently show movement.

Modified silicone polymer sealants

Modified silicone polymer sealants deliver excellent performance on vinyl, fiber cement,
aluminum and wood siding. They combine the best characteristics of polyurethane, silicone and
water-based products, offering permanent flexibility.

They also can be applied in wet weather, low temperature applications and around exterior
windows, doors and vents. Modified silicone can be painted with latex paint. They are one of the
more expensive choices of sealants.

Some of the critical and required performance testing includes the following:

 ASTM C834 and C920 compliant sealants

 ASTM C794 Adhesion-in-Peel
 ASTM C719 Cyclic Movement
 ASTM C793 Low Temperature Flexibility

Need help researching caulks and sealants?

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sheets, and request samples from global suppliers.
How to Prevent Sedimentation and Settling
During Storage

Most paints and inks contain solid particles,

being pigments and/or fillers. Two instability problems, flocculation (the gluing together of
separated particles) and sedimentation, can occur with solid particles that have been separated
from each other and that are distributed in a paint or ink. In this article, learn about the basics of
sedimentation and how to prevent it.

Sedimentation defined
Sedimentation is the process of solid particles sinking during storage because of gravity. In
extreme cases, particles can cluster together on the bottom of the can because of sedimentation.
This highly undesired phenomenon, resulting in the formation of a hard or rubbery sediment, is
called settling.

The basics of sedimentation

Figure 1. Sedimentation of a solid particle in a

liquid caused by gravity.

In general, solid particles in a liquid are pulled down because of gravitational force. The cause of
this phenomenon is that many solids have a density that is higher than the surrounding liquid’s
density. The process of particles sinking (sedimentation) causes problems during storage. The
speed of sedimentation is governed by a few properties, shown in Figure 1.

The sedimentation velocity of a solid particle having perfect spherical shape in a Newtonian
liquid, shown in Equation 1, was derived by Sir George Stokes.

Equation 1. The sedimentation velocity of a

spherical particle in a Newtonian liquid.
In this equation ‘g‘ is the gravitational acceleration.

The most important factor, governing how fast a particle will sink, is the density of the particle,
or, to be more precise, the difference between the density of the particle and the density of the
surrounding liquid (ρp – ρl).

The second factor is size: big particles sink faster than small particles. The sedimentation
velocity of a spherical particle is proportional to the square of the radius of the particle (r2).

The third factor is the viscosity of the surrounding liquid (η). A liquid with low viscosity results in
faster sedimentation.

The equation is valid for smooth particles of spherical shape. A fourth factor, governing how fast
a particle sinks, is the shape of the particle.

Preventing sedimentation

Figure 2 – Physical network preventing


In order to understand how sedimentation can be prevented, take into consideration that
sedimentation is mainly a problem that occurs during storage of a paint or ink. During storage,
the system stands still and the main force acting on the system is gravity. The only way to
prevent particles from sinking is by assuring that a three-dimensional physical network is present
in the system during storage.

The physical network must be strong enough to give the material a so-called yield stress, also
called yield value or yield point. When a material has a yield stress, it implies that during storage,
at low shear stress, the material behaves as an elastic solid. This implies that the material has an
infinite viscosity during storage. The solid particles are ‘frozen-in’ and sedimentation is

Rheology additives
A physical network can be created in a paint or ink by using a suitable rheology additive, often
referred to as anti-settling agent. The additive is used to prevent sedimentation and settling.
The physical network has to be strong enough to resist the gravitational force during storage. On
the other hand, the network must be weak enough to be broken down as soon as sufficient shear
force is applied. Many rheology additives are developed for a wide variety of paints and inks.

A few examples of rheology additives, used to prevent sedimentation:

 Fumed silica consists of small solid particles that build a physical network in a material
at low shear stress. Many fumed silicas are available, including Aerosil® products from
 Certain solid particles with a platelet shape can form a house-of-cards structure in a paint
during storage. Well-known are the smectite clays, like the Bentone® products from
 Special polymers, designed for the purpose, can also build a physical network in a paint
or ink, for example: polyurethanes, polyacrylates, modified urea’s and cellulose ethers.

Need help researching rheology additives?

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suppliers. Get access to free samples today!

Bio-based materials
The interest in bio-based materials for paints and inks increases. Two bio-based additives that
are used to prevent sedimentation during storage of waterbased paints are of special interest:

 Xanthan gum is a high molecular weight polysaccharide that is fully water soluble. A
commercial xanthan gum for waterbased paints is Vanzan® from Vanderbilt Minerals.
 Microfibrillated cellulose (MFC) consists of a three-dimensional network of natural
cellulose fibrils1. MFC does not dissolve in water. The cellulose fibrils are present as
finely divided solid cellulose branches suspended in water. The physical network is
obtained via entanglement of the fibrils, in combination with hydrogen bonding, thus
giving a high yield stress in water-based paints. A commercially available MFC product
is Exilva® from Borregaard.

Adding less than 1 percent of a rheology additive will be enough to fully prevent sedimentation
during storage of a paint or ink, provided that the right additive is selected for the system.