Do It Yourself: Recaulking A Tub-Tile Joint

Cracked or worn seal needs replacing, a guide to caulking old joints in your bathroom.

The seal between your bathtub and the wall or tile surrounding it has an important purpose. Any time two surfaces meet -called a joint- in a bathroom, there is the danger of water damage. Most tubs are surrounded by tile, and while both of these surfaces are waterproof, the joint between them is wide open. This joint is filled with caulk to make it waterproof; however, caulk doesn't last forever.

I learned this lesson the hard way - after considerable water damage had already occurred in my home. The caulk between tile and window along the shower wall in my bathroom failed, and allowed water to seep in slowly. Remember the drops of water that wore down the mountain? Well, these drops of water rotted away the backing board behind the tile, leaving me with a complete mess. Imagine a formerly tiled wall stripped away, down to the studs and concrete block on the exterior of my home. The tile was almost 20 years old and difficult to match, and it was months before we had everything repaired and back in use. All because I didn't know to check for broken caulk!

To determine if your caulk is doing its job and keeping the joint sealed and waterproof, inspect it closely. Caulk should be uniformly smooth and filled to the edges of the joint. If you notice mildew on your caulk, clean it carefully. Caulk that is mildewed and bleached and then scrubbed too hard can be damaged as well.

Once you determine that the caulk has to go, it is a relatively simple job to remove it from the joint. Use a sharp knife or a razor blade to loosen the caulk, and then pry it up. Use a scraper to get it all up, and then wipe with bleach if needed to kill mildew. Rinse carefully; remember that you do not want to put water in the joint. After the area had dried, wipe with alcohol to remove all traces of gunk. Let it dry completely. Now you are ready to caulk.

A trip to the local home improvement store will show you that there are a lot more choices than you really need when it comes to caulk! Professionals have their favorites, some with silicon, some without, but I have found that PolySeamSeal Tub and Tile caulk works well and cleans up easily. Read the labels on several products and pick the caulk that sounds best to you. While you are there, don't buy any of the fancy caulking tools that promise a smooth even finish. Believe me, I have tried them all, and found that the best tool is my right index finger.

Once you have chosen your caulk, get a small bucket of water, a sponge with a crisp edge, and some rags and you are ready to go. Plan some uninterrupted time, because caulk generally dries quickly. Fixing mistakes is much easier when the caulk is fresh, so you do not want to stop to answer the phone or door.

Adding too much caulk is a common mistake. Make a small cut to open your tube of caulk and you will have much better control. Start at the end of the joint, squeeze the tube of caulk as you pull along the opening to fill it. Wet you finger, and smooth the caulk into the joint. Use a damp rag to wipe excess caulk from your finger as often as you need to keep the caulk from smearing. Use the edge of your damp sponge to carefully wipe off caulk lines above or below the joint. If you need to add caulk to keep the joint level, do it quickly and blend it in with your damp finger. This can be tricky, be patient with yourself. Don't be afraid to wipe the wet caulk out of the joint and start over if you need to. Since you need to replace caulk every few years, you will get better with practice.

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