How To Caulk A Bathtub Neatly And Effectively

How to caulk a bathtub neatly and effectively.

When you're a homeowner, you get to enjoy all sorts of little tasks that renters needn't worry about. One such task is the occasional recaulking of a bathtub. Ordinary acrylic caulk is generally rated to last 15-40 years, depending on its type, but in practice it rarely lasts that long. After years of exposure to moisture, it can get hard and brittle or, alternately, mushy and moldy. In neither case will it act as a good barrier against water. Sometimes caulk falls prey to curious children, pets, or that insidious foe of all homeowners, mildew. Mildew usually won't compromise the integrity of the seal, but it's ugly and doesn't come off easily.

Whatever happens to it, caulk sometimes needs to be replaced. Your first task in this process is to prepare the seams where the bathtub and wall meet. Use a tool such as a knife, scraper, or screwdriver to remove as much of the old caulk as you can. Be as gentle as possible; you don't want to damage the porcelain of the tub or the tile surrounding it. Once this has been accomplished, remove the old caulk from your working area, then wipe down the seams with a damp cloth. When you're done, it's time to start caulking.

A word of warning: unless you're an expert, don't use the nifty strip caulking that comes in a tape-like roll. It looks handy, but it's a pain to install properly and comes off too easily. Good old-fashioned tube caulk still works best for most purposes. But take care - given its nature, tube caulk can be messy to use. Few household tasks are more frustrating than trying to remove hardened smears of caulk from porcelain and/or tile surfaces. If you want to avoid a difficult cleanup later, the best course of action is to do a neat job in the first place.

Here are the tools you'll need to caulk your bathtub in an efficient and orderly fashion:

1. A caulking gun

2. A tube of caulk

3. A sharp utility knife

4. A bead head

5. A bead cleanup tool

6. A damp rag (it should be disposable)

None of these items are particularly expensive; most cost one or two dollars, and even a high-quality caulking gun can be purchased for less than $10. We've all seen caulking guns; they're big hollow tubes into which you can insert a plastic tube of caulk. A long trigger provides the pressure for dispensing the caulk. Its best to get a gun that maintains a constant pressure on the base of the tube as you press the trigger -- this will help you form a consistent, professional-looking bead.

Bead heads are a fairly recent invention, consisting of a series of three or four cones which screw together. At the end of each cone is an opening, ranging in size from a quarter of an inch to a sixteenth of an inch; adding or removing a cone gives you a different-sized bead. Again, these tools can help promote a steady bead.

A bead cleanup tool is a plastic device about six inches long that is shaped like an "L" cross-section. One of the end corners is graduated so you can trim a notch the size of bead you want to create (don't worry, you can use the other end if you mess up the first notch - and if you botch that one too, the tools themselves are cheap). Once your bead has been laid, you can fit the cleanup tool into the angle between wall and tub and very easily remove the excess caulk.

You can follow these simple steps to neatly caulk your bathtub.

1. Using the graduated markings, trim an appropriate-sized notch in the corner of the bead cleanup tool.

2. Slice the tip off the caulk tube with your utility knife. If you plan to use the bead head, it doesn't matter how you remove the tip; otherwise, cut the tip at an angle so that it can fit flush in the seam between wall and tub.

3. Attach the bead head, if you're using one. It will screw onto the tube tip, creating its own threads.

4. Insert the tube into the caulking gun and pump the trigger until the caulk begins to ooze out. Wipe off any excess.

5. Place the tip of the caulk tube in a corner where two walls and the tub meet and, applying a steady pressure, lay the bead in the seam until you've reached the opposite wall or some other stopping point. Take it slowly, try to do an entire wall at once.

6. Use the bead cleanup tool to remove the excess caulk from the bead. You can do this by placing the notched edge of the tool in a corner and then following the seam with the tool until the seam ends. Hold the tool so that one side touches the wall, the other the porcelain; the notched corner should be flush with the bead. The excess caulk will accumulate in the L-bend.

7. Discard the excess caulk, then use the damp rag to carefully remove any caulk that has gotten onto the porcelain or tile surfaces. At this point, the caulk is moist enough to wipe up easily.

8. Repeat this process for all the other interior seams. Then, if necessary, caulk the exterior seams between the floor and the top of the tub.

9. If the caulk still seems a bit uneven, you can drag a wet finger across it before it dries. This will help smooth it out.

10. Allow the caulk to cure for at least a day (preferably longer) before using the bathtub.

Voila! Your bathtub is neatly caulked, and you've avoided the backbreaking task of scraping up excess caulk later on. With a bit of planning, you can use this same process for sinks, toilets, tiles, or anything else that needs a nice, watertight seal - and all for less than the price of dinner at a nice restaurant.

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