How To Caulk Your Bathtub, Shower or Sink

by Rachel Laurendeau on May 18, 2012

We’ve all stepped into a shower or tub to suddenly realize that there is peeling, grimy or moldy caulking in there with us, making it feel like a less than cleansing experience. Every once in a while (usually once a year) the caulking around your bathtub, shower and sink needs to be replaced, not just for aesthetics but also to ensure that water isn’t seeping into the joint and damaging your walls. It is a pretty straightforward DIY home improvement project but it can be messy and look imperfect if you aren’t careful.

Follow these 6 easy steps for a neat caulking job.

1. You don’t need many tools or materials for this job but it’s important to splurge the extra couple of dollars for a professional-quality caulking gun. It costs under $10 and will give you a consistent, predictable and smooth bead. Also choose a bathroom-grade caulk that is mildew resistant so that you don’t have to redo this every couple of months when your caulking turns black.

2. Peel out the old caulk. If it doesn’t come off easily, there are commercial softening products available that you leave on for a couple hours and then you can scrape it away using a plastic putty knife. Once you’ve removed the caulk, clean the area very well with chlorine bleach to kill the mildew. There’s no point in putting new caulking over old grime. Wipe off and allow the area to dry completely.

3. Load the caulk tube into the gun. Cut the applicator tip of the tube of caulk at a 45-degree angle, using a sharp utility knife or blade. Most tubes have lines on the tip indicating where to make the cut, start at the smallest size or even closer to the end than is indicated. A smaller bead is neater and easier to strike off if necessary. If you find the opening is too small you can always cut a bit more off the tip.

4. Point the tip of the caulk gun in position at the joint at a 45-degree angle. Brace the nozzle with one hand while squeezing the handle with the other and slowly draw the tip down the joint in one steady, straight motion. Don’t squeeze the handle again until the amount of caulk slows down considerably, but don’t wait until it stops. Keep going without stopping until you get to the corner.

Getting the timing and pressure right really is the trickiest part of the whole project but once you get the hang of it you should be able to create long straight beads. Remember to release the trigger lock when you stop otherwise caulk will continue to flow out.

5. Draw a moistened index finger with a bit of downward pressure along the bead of caulk as you go along to give a nice smooth, uniform bead. Have some paper towel or a rag on hand to wipe your finger as needed.

6. Let new caulk dry for several hours and let it cure for as long as the manufacturer’s instructions indicate, usually 24-36 hours. Don’t use the bathroom fixture until the caulk has fully cured.

All this being said, the last time I redid the caulking in my bathroom, I realized that my bathroom needed more than just a little caulk. I ended up pulling out and replacing the tub surround and called in a bathtub refinishing contractor to come repair and “re-glaze” my tub and sink. Refinishing is an affordable way to return your fixtures to their original beauty. So, if caulking isn’t enough for your bathroom either, consider talking to a tub refinishing expert about your bathroom fixtures.

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