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How to Caulk a Tub Surround

How to clean out old caulk and apply new, durable caulk around the bathtub.

FH02FEB_CAUTUB_05-2Family Handyman
Don't put up with dark stains and mold in your tub or shower. You can replace old caulk in less than an hour at almost no cost. You can quickly hone caulking skills and come up with first-class results.

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Time
A full day
Complexity
Beginner
Cost
Less than $20

Step 1: Remove the old caulk and clean the joint

Photo 1: Loosen the old caulk

Push a razor scraper in all the way under both edges of the old caulk bead to release its grip. Don’t pry the caulk with the scraper because you could break off the razor blade.

Photo 2: Scrape out the old caulk

Scrape the loosened caulk out of the joint with the pointed end of a can opener or putty knife.

When the caulking around a bathtub starts to crack and become a cozy home for dark stains that signal mold, it’s time to replace it. The caulk is the watertight seal between the bathtub and the wall. Once the caulk’s integrity is compromised, water can invade the wall, causing rot in the framing around the tub. Pick up a 5.5-fl.-oz. tube of tub-and-tile caulk and you can clean and recaulk the tub in less than an hour.

Laying a smooth, clean-looking bead of caulk is tricky. If it doesn’t go right, you can wind up with sticky caulk all over the place and a sloppy-looking job. It takes a little technique and practice to lay a caulk bead like a pro, but this article will set you on the right path.

Before you recaulk your bathtub, you must completely remove the old caulk. Clean the joint so the new tube and tile caulk will bond properly, creating a watertight seal (Photos 1 – 3).

Step 2: Re-caulk the joint

Photo 4: Lay an even caulk bead

Pull the caulk tube down the tub/wall joint from the inside corner of the tub. Keep even pressure on the tube by pushing the caulk forward and folding over the empty portion.

Photo 5: Smooth with your finger

Dampen your finger in the tub and drag it over the freshly laid bead of caulk. Press the caulk into the joint with the tip of your finger and scrape away the excess with the sides of your finger (it may take a few swipes). Wipe excess caulk off your finger with a damp rag.

Photo 6: Include the tile corner joint

Caulk up the tile corner joint if the old caulk has cracked or deteriorated.

Fill the bathtub with water before caulking. The water weight will maximize the width of the tub/wall joint and prevent future stress and cracking. Once your caulk bead is dry, you can drain the water.

Laying a uniform bead of caulk requires constant pressure on the caulk tube. The bead should be sized so only a slight amount wipes off when you drag your finger over it. As the caulk tube empties, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to keep constant pressure on the tube and lay a uniform bead. Photo 4 shows the size of the caulk bead and how to repressurize a partially spent caulk tube.

Finish the bead and clean off any excess caulk as shown in Photo 5. If you’re having trouble smoothing the bead of caulk, try rewetting your finger or using a different one. The tile corner joint is just as important as the tub joint. Caulk it as shown in Photo 6. Allow the caulk to dry for 24 hours before using the bathtub.

Trim Tip for a Perfect Joint

Cutting the right size opening at the tip of the caulk tube is critical for a clean, smooth bead. A large opening will spread too much caulk into the joint and you’ll wind up getting it all over the place. It’s better to cut the tip too small at first because you can always recut it if necessary. Use a utility knife to cut the tip of the caulk tube at a 45-degree angle so the opening is about the diameter of a wire coat hanger.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Putty knife
  • Utility knife
You’ll also need these tools: razor scraper, can opener and non-abrasive sponge.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Caulk
  • Rags
  • Tub and tile cleaner