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Bathroom: The Basics of Bathroom Caulking

Is the grout cracked around your bathtub, in the corners of your shower or in other areas? Leaving such cracks untended can cause further deterioration and allow water to damage your subfloor or framing. While most are intimidated with the idea of caulking, the process is actually quite simple and can be mastered in a short time.

The important issue is to use the proper caulk for the area needing attention, and there are several options. When we speak of caulk many of us think of the white, gooey substance that seems impossible to use. And, while that is one of the options, using it is nothing to fear.

Proper caulking is a simple matter of patience and common sense. The first step is to determine the type of caulk to be used. Most tile grout manufacturers now make caulk to match their grout colors, and finding one of those is the best first option. For most bathroom applications the following guide should be helpful, with caulks listed in order of preference.

  • Cracks in ceramic tile showers: Caulk that matches grout color, silicone caulk, or acrylic with silicone.
  • Cracks where ceramic tile meets bathtub: Matching caulk, silicone, or acrylic with silicone.
  • Cracks around Formica, or solid surface counter tops: Silicone or acrylic with silicone.
  • Small cracks in ceramic tile floors: Matching caulk, silicone, or acrylic with silicone.

If there are large areas in your ceramic tile floor where the grout is cracked, you may have loose tile. Tap the tile lightly with a hard object and see if it sounds differently than the surrounding tiles. If so, the tile must be removed and reset, prior to re-grouting. Also, if there are large areas where the grout is cracked or missing, it may be best to re-apply grout instead of caulk. Grout can be purchased at home centers or tile supply houses and should be applied per manufacturer’s recommendations.

Prior to applying caulk, remove all debris and wipe with acetone or nail polish remover first. This will insure a sound surface for the caulk and will help it seal properly. Also, if using silicone caulk, acetone or nail polish remover is the only solvent that can be used for clean-up. For the acrylic with silicone you can use water for clean-up.

To apply caulk, use a good quality caulk gun (price range $6 - $8), cut the end of the tube with the smallest opening possible to match your grout opening (cut at 45° angle), puncture the seal in the neck of the tube (not all caulk has an inner seal), and begin caulking. Hold the gun at a 45° angle to the crack and gently squeeze the trigger, pulling the gun along the crack as you spread caulk. Apply only enough caulk to fill the crack and do about 12” – 18” at a time. Release the pressure (small trigger at rear of caulk gun) and slide your index finger along joint, pressing caulk into joint. Excess caulk must be removed immediately using a rag or sponge moistened with either acetone or water, depending upon the type of caulk used. Continue filling all cracks, working small areas at a time until complete. Your proficiency will improve with practice.


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