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How To Caulk a Bathtub or Shower

Which Caulk Should be Used in a Bathroom?

Silicone and siliconized caulk are recommended for fiberglass surfaces and enclosures because it is flexible and more easily removed from fiberglass when called for.

However, in all other cases, an acrylic caulk (or acrylic-latex) is the best choice for most situations. While it dries harder and thus is more rigid, most situations do not require more flexibility than what is provided by acrylic. It cleans up more easily, is easier to remove and is highly mildew resistant. Also, most acrylic is paintable while silicone is not.

In any case, only choose caulks that are labelled as mildew-resistant and that are designated for bathroom tub & tile use.

How To Apply Bathroom Caulk

Caulk is designed to bridge a gap of no more than about one quarter inch. If the space between the tile or enclosure and the tub or shower pan is greater than a quarter inch or is particularly deep, the gap should be filled with backer rod. The foam rod is available in various sizes and is designed to fill gaps. Insert the backer rod and then apply the caulk over the top.

Caulk is available in squeezable tubes or tubes that require the use of a caulking gun. A caulking gun is inexpensive and we recommend its use because of the greater ease in maintaining a steady stream of caulk. Some people find the small squeezable tubes easier to use.

Cut a small hole in the tip of the tube of caulk. Too large of a hole will result in too much caulk being applied and a more difficult mess to clean up.

Start at one end of the seam, squeeze the caulk with steady pressure and once it begins to flow, move at a steady rate in order to get the smoothest looking seam. If the caulk tends to "gob up", speed up your pace while maintaining the same pressure. Attempt to do the entire seam in one single pass. It is best to start and stop at corners. It is better to apply too little than too much. As long as you work quickly, adding more caulk is no problem. Getting rid of extra caulk is a lot more difficult, especially when using silicone caulk. Have paper towels ready for clean-up.

If you want a really perfect result, you can apply painters tape on either side of the seam before applying the caulk. Once the caulk is smoothed, you can remove the tape to get straight, even edges. If you have dark grout or rough tiles, this may be a worthwhile step to keep caulk out of the rough surfaces and from leaving a visible and nearly impossible to remove layer of caulk.

Tip for smoothing caulk: Getting a smooth, even seam of caulk is an acquired skill. Here are a couple tricks of the trade to get the perfect finish on the fresh caulk. Use your finger at a shallow angle and drag it along the caulk in a smooth continuous motion. Don't squeeze out too much caulk, leave enough room under your fingertip for a generous amount of caulk to squeeze past. Don't let caulk squeeze out around the top and bottom of your finger. However, if you do, go back with a putty knife to carefully scrape it away afterward. If you applied too much caulk, have a small paper cup ready to scrape excess caulk off your finger. Go back and start at the beginning until you get one long continuous finish to the caulk. Finally, wet your finger tip often, the moisture helps the caulk to flow freely under your fingertip and leaves a smooth finish behind.

Tip: To save a partial tube of caulk and keep the nozzle from clogging, wrap the tip with a piece of heavy-duty tape, such as duct tape, and leave a little reservoir space at the tip. Once sealed, squeeze a little caulk into the reservoir tip. This technique can keep a tube of caulk usable for about a year.

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