Do It Yourself: Recaulking A Shower

Prevent water damage around your tub and shower by renewing the caulk.

Want to prevent water damage around your tub and shower? This simple home maintenance job you can do yourself may save you a lot of money. I found out the hard way; let me help show you the easy way!

Did you know that behind your tiled tub and shower wall is a backing board that is attached to the wooden studs that support the tiled wall? The grout that is used to fill in spaces between the tiles will keep most water out, but where the tile meets a tub, wall, window, or other surface, grout is not enough to protect the underlying wall from water damage. This is where caulk comes in. Caulk fills in the space between the tile and whatever is next to it so that water cannot penetrate and damage the backing behind the tile. Sometimes, showers and tubs in new homes may not be caulked since the grout appears to fill in the space, but over time the grout crumbles.

Our shower has a large window overlooking a privacy-fenced garden. While cleaning my shower one day, I felt a tile wobble. One thing led to another, and within a few hours, I had removed rotten backing board and tile all around the window. Seeing the inside of my outside wall was a bit of a shock, but at least the studs seemed undamaged. Cleaning up the mess took several days, and completely repairing the tiled wall took several months. Needless to say, I now know to regularly check the caulk to be sure it is doing its job.

Start by really cleaning the area well. Use bleach to remove mold and mildew, scrape out the old caulk, and finally wipe the areas to be caulked with denatured alcohol to remove any trace of soap scum. I usually let it dry for several hours or overnight before I start caulking.

There are many kinds of caulk available. I usually get PolySeamSeal bathroom caulk from Lowes or Home Depot. Read the labels of several products carefully to get a sense of how easy it will be to apply and clean up, and then choose the one you like best. Don't waste your money on special tools to help you smooth the caulk because all you really need is your finger and a sponge. The other supplies you need are a bucket of water, a sponge, and some rags.

It can be really hard to get the caulk just right. I usually prefer to use clear caulk since mistakes are harder to notice, but sometimes only white will look right. Be patient, and don't be afraid to wipe all the caulk out of an area and try again. Applying too much caulk is a common mistake; I cut a very small opening in the tube so that I can carefully apply just what is needed.

Plan to complete the entire job at one time since caulk starts to dry quickly. Start at the end of one joint and squeeze a small amount of caulk to fill the joint, pulling steadily as you squeeze the tube. When you get to the end of the opening, wet your finger and smooth the caulk into the joint. When your finger gets too much caulk built up, stop and wipe it off, wet your finger again and pick up where you left off. While the caulk is still damp, use the edge of the sponge to carefully wipe off any lines above or below your joint. If you need to add a bit of caulk, do it quickly and smooth it in. Remember that your main goal is to protect your walls from water damage. Since caulk generally needs to be repaired/replaced every few years, you will have a change to improve the next time around!

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