How to Caulk like a Pro – 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 over this 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). That is on new, clean surfaces (or after proper preparation if previously caulked). Preparation however, can, in some cases, can take upwards of 4 hours.
After completion, you SHOULD NOT use the tub/shower for a full 12 hours. This will allow for a proper cure as a rule. However it can vary depending on brand of caulk and ambient temperature/humidity.
ONLY use 100% pure silicone caulking
It is specifically designed for wet environments like tub/shower area. The caulk should have a vinegary smell to it when open – this smell 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 a latex or “siliconized” latex caulk that is PAINTABLE. If all you have is clear caulk, you’ll end up seeing the paint colour through the caulk. Should you decide to repaint at a later date though, 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 caulking is usually best – provided there are no big gaps or ugliness in locations to be caulked. Otherwise you’ll see it through the caulk, in which case a color-matched caulk should be used.
Ultimately, 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.
First, clean the hell outta any area to be caulked (with high % content of rubbing alcohol or pure, white vinegar). Be certain to dry it completely afterwards. Another reason alcohol is better/easier is because it evaporates faster.
A hairdryer or heat gun works wonders to speed up the drying process, just be careful not to overheat and melt, burn and/or discolour any surrounding materials.
Do not touch the freshly cleaned surface before applying the caulking – to maximize bonding.
Remember, 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 prepped correctly. A 1/4″ bead is about average.
It is possible to apply a second coat if absolutely necessary, but only after the first layer has fully cured. Silicone won’t stick to itself, so you must have it bond to the surfaces on either side of the bead.
*WARNING, too much can make things really messy and is a bitch to remove.
If you do muck-up, you should wait until it has fully cured before attempting removal. More bad than good can come otherwise.
Caulking can be applied via a “caulking gun” with a rigid tube of caulk inserted, or with a softer, squeezable tube. The smaller, squeezable tube is best for tight areas where the standard, larger caulking guns won’t fit (like behind the faucet on many 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 (try to do this just ahead of the intended stopping point).
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). 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 tool.
If you get build up forming, it’s possibly 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 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!