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How to Caulk a Bathtub

A Watertight Seal is Inexpensive and Will Save You from Expensive Repairs Later

© 2013 by Michael Spano; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.

Tubes of caulk and a caulking gun; photo © KSmith Media, LLC

On any given weekend you can find me in the aisles of my local home improvement store staring for hours trying to figure out exactly what tools and supplies are needed for my latest DIY project.

Recently, I noticed the caulking in my tub starting to crack and developing brown edges. I decided it was time to replace the old caulking. This is an easy task, if you follow the three basic steps:

  1. Remove the old caulk. This is the part of the job where you must take the most caution because you don’t want to scratch or damage the tub/adjoining surface.

    To begin with, carefully slice through each side of the old bead using your knife. Pull out what you can by hand. Next, holding your scraper at a proper angle to avoid scratching the surface, remove any remaining caulk.

    Finally, scrub all contact surfaces (not plastic though) using the abrasive pad soaked in mineral spirits. This will get rid of any silicone residue, which will prevent the new caulk from adhering properly.

  2. Apply the new caulk. Apply the blue painter’s tape on both sides of area to be caulked, about 3/8 apart. Cut the tip of the caulk tube at a 45° angle. The tip is angled; cut down only far enough so that the hole is 3/16” wide.

    Begin laying down a bead between the tape in a slow, smooth manner. You might want to practice somewhere first. Next, use a damp, lint-free rag to press into the joint and pull it along the joint using a continuous motion.

    This will mold the wet caulk into a concave bead. Now, remove the tape right away, one strip at a time. Be careful and use both hands so it will not touch any of the wet caulk.

    Finally, go back and smooth the bead again to get rid of any tiny ridges that might have been left by the tape.

  3. Let it dry. 24 hours is generally enough time to dry before allowing the area to get wet.

Now that you know what to do, here is a list of supplies and tools that will let you spend more time on the job and less in the aisles.

Tools Needed for this Project

  • A utility knife, glass scraper with a razor blade, putty knife, or an Exacto knife. Any of these will do the job.
  • Caulking gun for larger jobs, smaller tubes for small jobs.
  • Blue painter’s tape.
  • Disposable gloves and paper towels for clean-up.
  • Abrasive pad soaked in mineral spirits.

Caulking—Silicone or Acrylic Latex?

The best caulks for tubs, sinks, and showers are usually labeled “Kitchen and Bath” or “Tub and Tile”. They have been chemically altered to be mold and mildew resistant as well as stick to non-porous surfaces. They are usually silicone or acrylic latex.

  • Silicone Silicone is waterproof and very flexible but it is difficult to smooth and requires alcohol for clean up. When using silicone you must make certain than the area is completely cleaned as it may not stick to residues and emits a terrible odor until completely cured.

    It comes in a limited color palate of clear, white, and almond. Silicone is not always the best choice since it leaves behind a residue that is hard for anything to stick to, including new caulk. That is why it must be completely removed prior to new application.

  • Acrylic Latex Compared to silicone, acrylic latex is far more forgiving about the type and cleanliness of the application surface. It is easy to smooth and cleans up with water.

    It does shrink more and dry harder that silicone and therefore, will need to be replaced more frequently but it doesn’t leave an odor. Acrylic latex caulk comes in a varied assortment of colors to match any sink or glaze.

    This is the best choice if this is your first time or you are an inexperienced do-it-yourselfer.

Caulking Gun—Cheap or Professional?

Cheap caulk guns tend to extrude a messy bead while a professional gun provides consistent pressure and better feedback. Pro-level guns will make a world of a difference in getting caulk to look neat.

It is consistent and its pump action is predictable and much smoother. If you can afford it, splurge for a professional gun not one of the cheap solid blue ones. And after all, you can be sure you will need it again!

About the Author:

This post was written for I Can Fix Up My Home by Michael Spano with, your source for getting multiple NYC contractors to bid on your home renovation projects.

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