Tub and shower areas specifically
Like anything, practice makes perfect, and this is no different.
If you’re only doing it this one time, it won’t be perfect, but it will be far better than if you weren’t In-The-Know…
It would be best if you read this over a few times first and prepared everything you need beforehand.
A standard 30”x 60”, tiled tub/shower enclosure takes roughly 45 minutes to caulk well (like a professional) on new, clean surfaces (or after proper preparation if previously caulked), which in some cases can take upwards of 4 hours.
After completion, you SHOULD NOT use the tub/shower for a full 12 hours for a proper cure, as a rule (but this can vary depending on brand of caulk and ambient temperature/humidity).
ONLY use 100% pure silicone caulk (NOT silicone rubber) that is specifically designed for wet environments like tub/shower area (the caulk should have a vinegary smell to it when open – this is only temporary).
If joints transition between wet and dry areas (tub/surround to drywall or similar surfaces that can/will be painted/stained), use ONLY a latex or “siliconized” latex caulk that is PAINTABLE (particularly if all you have is clear caulk) because you’ll see the paint colour through the caulk, and if you decide to repaint at a later date you’ll still see the previous colour through the caulk.
*NOTE*, silicone CAN NOT be painted unless you peel, scrape, sand, apply primer/sealer and re-paint!
Clear caulk is usually best (provided there are no big gaps or ugliness in any location to be caulked – because you’ll see it through the caulk), otherwise use color-matched caulk if possible.
Done correctly, it leaves a nice, sharp line between surfaces/materials, without being seen.
You don’t want to highlight the caulking, it’s only there as a sealant (although some folks have been known to use it to cover poor workmanship).
Clean the hell outta any area to be caulked first (with high % content of rubbing alcohol or white vinegar), being certain to dry it completely afterwards (another reason alcohol is better/easier is because it evaporates faster).
A hairdryer or heat & strip gun works wonders to speed up the drying process, just be careful not to overheat and melt, burn/discolour any surrounding materials.
Try not to touch the freshly cleaned surface before applying the caulking to maximize bonding.
A properly caulked joint needn’t necessarily be large to create a good seal.
Use ONLY a MINIMAL amount of caulk – a bead of 1/8” is usually all that is required if the mating surfaces have been done correctly.
It is possible to do a second coat (if absolutely necessary), but only after the first layer is fully cured. That said, too much can make things really messy and is a bitch to remove.
If you do muck-up, wait until it has fully cured before attempting removal (if you are new to the process), or you can do more damage than good.
Caulking can be applied via a “caulking gun” with a rigid tube of caulk inserted, or with a softer, squeezable tube – which is best for tight areas where the standard, larger caulking guns won’t fit (like behind the faucet on most sinks).
If using a “gun” applicator; when stopping a “bead”, relieve the pressure on the drive piston by pressing the release lever at the back of the gun to minimize “oozing” of any caulk from the tube, and remember to place the dispensing tip over a piece of scrap paper or rag – just in case.
Before starting, remove any obstacles that can impede your access to the area to be caulked if possible.
Keep a couple of old rags handy for wiping fingers etc. as they are much better than tissues or paper towels because the latter will come apart and stick to your fingers during the process. Lint free cloths/rags are best. Also, keep a small container of water close by for “tooling” the caulk after application (licking your finger works too, but there could be an occasion when you forget to wipe your finger before sticking it back in your mouth and it’s not pleasant – trust me).
Start at the top and work downwards, beginning with the large back wall sides, then the end walls and tub joints. That way if there was/is any crap left behind after the cleaning process it won’t fall down into the fresh caulk. Once you reach the end of the joint (or meet the end of the first half of a longer joint), relieve pressure from the caulking tube and pull it away.
Put the tube of caulk down where the dispensing tip is on or above a piece of paper, tissue (or something disposable) so any drips or oozes don’t get on anything.
Only apply caulk to one joint at a time, “tooling” each one immediately following application. For longer beads/joints (such as the long horizontal joint where the back wall meets the tub or the long vertical corners of shower walls for instance), start from one end and work your way to the middle, stop, then do the same from the opposite end. Once you reach the spot where you stopped previously, just continue slightly past it (to blend it) while relieving pressure on the tube/trigger.
You will need to wipe and wet your finger before “tooling or blending” the 2 halves together.
DO NOT tool with a dry finger – UNLESS you are actually trying to remove caulk.
Wet a finger (you choose the appropriate digit – depending on the location, area and size of the joint) and very gently press it into the center of the caulked joint between the 2 surfaces, starting at one end.
Keep an even pressure across the bead on both sides of the joint and go as far as you can comfortably, stopping before you either have to change angle/position, or if you see/feel a build-up of caulking below your tooling finger.
If you get build up under your finger, it’s probably because you’ve applied too much caulk, too much pressure, had too little water on your finger, or a combination of 2 or more of the above. Wipe off the excess on a rag (being careful where you put it down and how you pick it up afterwards).
*If you remove your finger for any reason, wipe and wet it again (to be certain it’s clean before sticking it somewhere, or so it will glide effortlessly across the bead/joint.
When tooling, don’t be afraid to wet finger often, but don’t “soak” the caulk.
Once you have finished, don’t touch or get it wet again until fully cured.
Good luck, and happy caulking!