Practicing Safe Storage (How to Caulk a Bath Tub)

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April 12, 2013 by stpaulhaus

Caulking a tub surround is one the easiest, cheapest, and most important projects in a bathroom; however, it can seem very daunting to do a perfect job if you have never done it before.  Caulk prevents water from penetrating the crevices between the tub and the wall board.

Water + wall = mold/mildew/rot/decay.

So you can see it is important to have a good seal.


There are two options in bathroom caulk:  Silicon or Acrylic latex

Silicon Pros: 

-longer lasting

-dries soft and flexible

-dries quickly

-moisture retardant

Silicon Cons: 

-dries very quickly (also a con because it can be harder to fix mistakes)

-only comes in the basic colors: clear, white, and almond

-cleans up with mineral spirits

-Strong smell until it cures

Acrylic Latex Pros: 

-Easy to work with and fix mistakes

-cleans up with soap and water

-Less smelly

-Many color options

Acrylic Latax Cons: 

-Dries harder than silicon and is not as flexible which can lead to cracks

-Does not last as long as silicon

-Not a moisture retardant; however, that doesn’t mean it is not effective in creating a good seal

No matter what option you choose, make sure it is very high quality and has an additive to inhibit mold and mildew growth.

I chose to use white silicon myself.

Great Tips I Have Tried or Read About:

  • Remove every bit of the caulk with a caulk remover tool, a razor blade, can opener, or putty knife.  Be extra careful that you do not scratch the tub or tile. 
  • Meticulous clean the location making sure it is free of all old, loose, dried and dirty caulk. Everything must be removed or the new job will not last long. After you THINK it is clean, use denatured alcohol and a non-abrasive pad to further clean and prep the area.  Trust. 
  • Fill the tub full of water. Strange, but important. The tub will be under a lot of weight when it is full of water (and a person) and it will stretch a bit. You want the caulk to be applied when it is stretched otherwise it can pull away when you decide to take the first bath.
  • If you don’t have experience with a caulk gun or a steady hand, use painters tape on either side of the bead (the wall and on the tub) to get a nice clean edge. Apply the caulk, smooth, then remove the tape.  I skipped this part, but it is definitely a good idea if you are concerned. Just remember to work quickly and remove the tape while the caulk is still wet. Once the tape is removed you will have to quickly and gently run a finger of the caulk again to re-smooth the tape edges. 

Even the ultimate home improvement guru, Tom Silva, uses tape. 

  • If you use silicon caulk, have a spray bottle filled with denatured alcohol ready. Lightly spray the bead of caulk before smoothing to help make it easier. If you are using latex, water has the same effect.  I did not try this, but it sounds like a great idea.
  • Have lots of clean cloths around to wipe your fingers on and for cleanup
  • Apply the caulk in a single continuous sweep. Do one wall at a time. Smooth the bead with our finger or caulk tool (I prefer a finger). Remove the tape. Move on to the next side and repeat.
  • Cut only a small opening at the tip of the caulk tube. It should be 1/8 to 3/16in or less (i.e. smaller than you think). VERY important. You will have to do an assload of cleanup if you cut the opening too wide. Also, the tip should be cut at a 45 degree angle.
  • Heed the manufacturer instructions for drying times before showering/bathing.
  • Keep the new caulk clean. A build-up of soap scum can lead to mold and mildew growth. Make sure to use compatible cleaning agents as directed. Some cleaners will actually increase mold growth in caulk.

For more detailed information about the entire process check out these helpful links. You can never go wrong with instructions from This Old House and The Family Handyman

  • If you aren’t quite ready to replace your caulk but it is gross with mold then look into cleaning the grout with this guys tips. The pictures are amazing. If our caulk wasn’t in such bad shape I would have tried it. 
  • When you are done replace the cap and properly store the caulk for future use per the manufacturer’s instructions. Mine did not come with a cap (most don’t). I had several tubes half used at the house and I happen to find these for $2 at Menards…

image image image image image

Always practice safe storage.

Anyone else out there in blog world have any good tips on caulk that I need to know about?


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