Silicone caulking is useful anywhere in the home where you need to seal cracks to keep out pests, air or moisture. Unfortunately, its ability to bond stubbornly to a variety of surfaces changes from a virtue to a liability when it goes somewhere you don't want it to go, like your clothing or a piece of upholstered furniture. Removing silicone from fabric isn't easy, but there are several techniques you can try.
Freezing Silicone to Remove It
Silicone doesn't become as brittle as conventional latex caulking when it's frozen, but it does become less flexible. If the silicone is on a piece of clothing, a curtain, removable upholstery or a small floor mat, try putting it in the freezer for a few hours.
Once the silicone is as rigid as it's going to become, spread out the garment or piece of fabric on a flat and solid work surface. Take a sturdy, stiff object such as a spoon, a nylon spatula or a windshield scraper and scrape repeatedly at the silicone until you've removed as much as you can. Don't use a putty knife or similar tools, as these are likely to damage the fabric.
Remove Silicone With Dish Soap
Once you've physically removed as much silicone from the fabric as you can with your scraper, it's time to turn to cleansers. Try mixing a teaspoon of color-free dish detergent in a quart of warm water and apply it to the affected area with a soft, absorbent cloth.
Dab and rub at the stained area, taking care not to make it too wet if you're working on a piece of upholstered furniture. Blot the excess moisture, clean the area again with fresh water to remove soap residue and then blot it dry once more. You may need to repeat the treatment a time or two to fully remove the silicone.
Remove Silicone With Chemical Solvents
A range of chemical solvents can help get silicone off fabric, especially if it hasn't yet had time to cure. Naphtha or mineral spirits may work, though they should be tested first on an inconspicuous area to make sure they won't damage the fabric. You can also try a commercial adhesive remover, some of which may work with silicone.
Contractors occasionally need to clean up silicone-related mistakes, so industrial suppliers sell solvents that will digest cured silicone, though it's possible that their effects on unwary or unprotected humans can be unfortunate. If you opt for one of these chemical solvents, work in a well-ventilated area, use gloves to protect your skin and be aware that many of the solvents are dangerously flammable.
Next Time, Take Precautions
Preventing a problem is always easier than fixing it, so the next time you use silicone caulk, it's worth investing a few minutes in prevention. If your work area is near window coverings, floor coverings or upholstered furniture, cover or remove these items as appropriate.
To protect your clothes, designate a set of sacrificial clothing by selecting old or already-stained items to which you won't mind saying goodbye in a worst-case scenario. Long pants and shirts with sleeves are best since they'll help you avoid the closely related issue of removing silicone caulk from your own skin.