Bath and Shower Caulking and Re-Caulking

This is probably one of the things I see most neglected in homes that I visit…..blackening, cracking and missing bathroom/shower caulk.  Although it may be a dreaded task, and virtually impossible from what I have witnessed to find someone who will do this for you ( besides it is really a necessary evil.  Cracks and missing caulk can lead to water or moisture getting behind the tile which can cause an endless list of issues for you if you wait long enough to tend to it. Well what can happen?…….how about mold, mildew, falling tiles and rot!!!!  I have to mention, although many new mass built builder spec homes and town-homes look great at first glance, at second glance you may notice your tile may be stuck directly to regular drywall in many cases, not even green board (an acceptable although not preferred backing for shower and bath tile). So this means if you are one of those homeowners, it is very very important to keep up on the caulking of your showers!   A real, or let’s say properly built,  tiled shower should consist some sort of cement based board product behind the tile to really assure a waterproof shower.  Although I don’t want to get into all of the factors that actually keep a shower wall from leaking and lasting, I want to get back to caulk!

I really wish someone would have just told me a few simple, correct steps to follow in caulking or re-caulking …but I learned the hard way, on my own.  But I am going to tell you some trade secrets you may have never known to assure a good caulk job that really took me years to figure out.


1) Before you re-caulk anything remove  ALL of the old caulking.  Don’t use a metal knife or tool, try to do it with something that won’t cut you or the tile if you slip….I often use a plastic putty knife while rubbing the caulk back and forth with a finger once it is loose. I even use a cedar shim or similar wood shim once in a while as a scraper, and now and again I very very carefully use a razor blade BUT be careful, a sharp blade can cut your fiberglass or porcelain tub/tile very quickly costing you even more money to fix.  The plastic tool option is really a much better choice.

2) Wipe down the areas to be re-caulked (or caulked for the first time) with rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol.  Acetone can often hurt tile and fiberglass, so don’t chance  that!  What the alcohol does is help remove any residue from soap build up or even construction/grout residues etc and allows the new caulk to adhere properly.

3) Now for the trick to a good caulk job, and it is not one of those caulk anywhere tools off of TV late at night .  It begins with a nice 30 degree angle cut on the end of the caulk tube that is only about an eighth or more in diameter and a spray bottle full of denatured alcohol.  Now start at the top of your project and caulk down, slowly and steadily making sure to get the caulk in the corner/edge you are trying to caulk.  Don’t stop and start a lot, just a nice steady movement down or across while gently squeezing the caulk out. Now when you reach your stopping point pull the caulk gun away, set it down and grab your spray bottle full of denatured alcohol. Spray the caulk lightly from top to bottom or side to side and then take your finger and slowly squish the caulk down or across. Keep your finger moving, the caulk will appear and feel very slick and this is just what you want.  Remember to wipe your finger off before going back to touch up any bumpy or funny looking caulk, it happens every time, and remember to use the denatured alcohol when things get sticky.  Now you have a nice, slicked looking continuous bead of caulk.  It may take some practice but this is really the best trick I have ever seen to a professional shower/tub/bath caulk job. And if you were thinking to yourself what do I do with the sprayed denatured alcohol that may be all over…well don’t worry it will evaporate or wash off during the next shower.  Just leave the caulk alone and follow the instructions on the tube for dry time. The less you touch it, the easier caulking will get for you, once you start if you have never done it before you will understand what I mean by this:)

In regards to what caulk I believe is best to use, you want to buy the highest grade 100% silicone caulk  you can get if you want my honest opionion.  Spending a bit more for anti microbial caulk (a recently added bonus in the last few years to bath caulk) is well worth not having to clean it as much.  Yes it is still going to get black after a while no matter what that tube tells you, but it really does help. In my opinion reaching for the $8 tube of caulk is well worth it.  Sure 100% basic silicone will still work  too if you are on a budget.  And one more secret, the fast dry time caulk is often harder to work with so again, just my opinion, stay away from anything that says it dries in under an hour, go with the 2 hour dry time.

Good luck and keep those fingers clean during any project as any chemical is not a good idea to have on your skin for long, if at all!