Tips for Caulking Bathroom Shower Tiles

Caulk is amazing stuff. It became a staple in our toolbox, much like nails and putty, during our home’s renovation. I find it incredible how much damage such an inexpensive tube of gunk can prevent! Caulking your shower tiles is a simple enough job as long as you’re prepared beforehand. If you’re replacing old, cracked, or discolored caulking, you already have a guide to follow for where to apply it. If this is your first time, you’re going to want to caulk all the lines where the tile meets drywall, in all the wall joints, around all the fixtures, and along the bottom of the tile where it meets the tub… basically anywhere water seepage would cause damage.

You will need:

Silicone (tub & tile) caulk
A decent, manual caulk gun
Shears or a utility knife
Painter’s tape or masking tape
Plastic sheeting
An electric cable cap -or- #2 nail & extra tape
A few old towels
Water available

Prepare your surface. Use a utility knife to cut away and scrape off the old caulk. Slice through the center of the seam and gently pull it off. Be careful not to cut the adjoining wall or scrape the tile or tub. Make sure the surfaces are clean, dry, and smooth before you begin.

Use tub & tile caulk. This is not negotiable. The general purpose caulk may be cheaper, but tub & tile is specially designed to withstand extended contact with water. An added benefit is that many brands have Microban added to the formula, which is an anti-mold and anti-mildew ingredient. Tub & tile caulk is silicone based, making it not as glue-like as latex based formulas.

Protect your work area by laying and taping up the plastic sheeting. I know this may sound a little overkill for a simple caulk job, but it could prevent a lot of work cleaning up caulk from surfaces that should not have been caulked.

Wear old clothing when you start, and be sure to use safety glasses.

If you are grouting your tile as well as caulking, remember- do not grout your wall joints or the seam from tile to tub! This is an area for caulk. Your tile needs to be able to expand and contract. Grouting the joints will cause premature cracking in your grout lines.

If you’ve never caulked before or if your mad skills with a caulk gun are a bit rusty, I highly suggest that you buy an extra tube and practice using it. Familiarize yourself with the pressure you need to apply to the gun to get the size bead you need. Get to know how the caulk gun works. I can describe it here, but this is something you need tactile experience with. Writing your name on a spare bit of wood or a trash bag can prevent hours of cleaning up and potentially costly mistakes.

Use tape to get straight lines. I recommend painter’s tape because it stays put yet removes cleanly. Lay down parallel rows of tapes on each side of the area you’re caulking.

Use tape to get curved lines. Yes, you can do this. Tear off little pieces of tape and apply them all around your shower fixtures, layering them to form a curved line. The distance that you put between the fixture and the tape is the width that your caulk line will be.

Have EVERYTHING ready before you start. Ah, I forget this one every time I do a home improvement project! Make sure your towels are easily accessible. Make sure you will have access to a water source for a quick clean up, if needed. Make sure you have shears nearby if you need to enlarge your bead hole.

Always start with a small bead of caulk. Remember that old rule- you can always add more but you can’t take it away.

Smooth it out with your wet finger immediately after applying, if you need to. Do not caulk all three walls and go back later to smooth it. The top layer will have dried and you will get ripples.

Immediately wipe off unwanted caulk from your fixtures using a slightly damp towel. Be extra careful to not touch any of your still wet caulk.

Allow PLENTY of curing time. Follow your tube’s directions on how long to wait before getting the caulk wet or painting (you will not be painting the caulk itself – silicone caulk does not accept paint as well as latex caulk). We only have one bathroom and needed to bathe before our curing time was up. That’s where that plastic sheeting can come in handy again. Tape it over your work area. You can punch holes for your shower head and faucet, but I wouldn’t recommend showering. Just bathe in the bottom of the tub from the faucet, there’s a lot less splashing that way.

Cap off any unused caulk by either inserting the #2 nail in the tube tip & taping closed or by capping with the electrical cap.

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