Tuesday, December 11, 2012

They're Grrrrrrrrrrout!

A few days ago, Mandy came to me with a inch or two long piece of thin white material that she found in the bathtub while taking a shower. Upon further inspection, we found that this piece had come from the joint of the bathtub and the wall-tile. And after even further inspection, we found that not only were these pieces of what we initially thought was caulking falling out, but that the joint was cracked the WHOLE way around the tub.

Now I'm no expert in bathroom construction, but I don't think six months is the expected lifespan of grouting/caulking considering that the tub and the tiling were both brand new.  So I thought to myself, "well, maybe it's grout...but who would put grout where the tub and the wall connect?!"

A quick google search later I found this piece on DIYlife.com, that advocates using tiling grout in the spaces one would usually use "tub and toilet" caulk, claiming "It's cheap, long-lasting, looks great, and is better at resisting discoloration due to mildew." But unless you actually read through the comments section, you would think it's a great idea!  (to think I actually learned something useful in a comments section!)  Turns out it's not.

The consensus among most contractors (from the previous article as well as on the forums of ContractorTalk.com) is that caulking should be used wherever two different materials meet (wood and tile, tile and metal, etc.) as the two materials will shrink and expand at different rates and this will end up cracking the grout.  Well, that certainly seems to be the case in our bathroom. Less than six months and we had cracks, small throughout all the grout at the joint with the bathtub.

So here's how to caulk a bathtub....(and some of the tips and catches I found)
  1. Clean out all old caulking (if re-caulking) or grout.
    • Grout should technically be removed with a grout saw (although I didnt!) to avoid damaging the tiles.
    • Caulking can be removed with a 5 in 1 painter's tool, or they do sell caulking removal kits at Lowe's that have plastic scrapers.
  2. Clean down all surfaces and allow to dry.
  3. Fill bathtub with water
    • Filling the tub exerts downward pressure so that when the caulk dries and the tub is emptied, the caulking will be compressed rather than caulking with an empty tub and the caulk being stretched when you use the tub)
    • Wipe down the tub edge just to make sure it's dry!
  4. Cut the tip of the silicon caulk tube at a 45 degree angle (or straight if that works better for your style)
    • Caulking for areas exposed to water HAS to be silicon, regular all-purpose caulking is NOT waterproof. 
  5. Using a caulking gun, apply a bead at one corner and continue along the length of the tub trying to exert constant pressure to keep the amount of caulking constant (definitely not as easy as it sounds!)
    • If you've not done caulking before and aren't sure you'll be smooth and even at applying the caulking, painter's tape is a great idea to keep the edges even and the caulking from getting all over the place (and it does!)
  6. Once caulking is laid down, use either a caulking smoothing tool (also sold at Lowe's) or a wet finger (water or mineral spirits) to smooth the caulking and press it gently into the joint.
    • Have a roll of paper towels around. The first time you lay down caulking, you will invariably have too much in some places.  It's very useful to have something disposable to wipe the extra caulking on as it is VERY sticky.
    • Make sure if you are using paint thinner or mineral spirits that they are compatible with your tiles/counters/whatever.  I had a MAJOR scare when there was some slight discoloration of our marble countertop in the bathroom, thankfully it is very mild and actually improved with time.
A good video summary (although they make it look quite a bit easier than it is) and some text-based instructions.

I did the bathtub and the second bathroom sink before remembering to take before pictures (you'd think I'd remember one of these times!) but I've got the master bathroom sink all cleaned out and ready to go so those pictures should be up shortly as well as the finished bathtub pics!


Xaparro said...

Hey, Juan! That's what we need to do!

Juan Chaparro said...

Well it's really rather surprisingly easy after the first time. I think the hardest part is laying the caulking on smoothly as it's harder than it looks to maintain constant pressure on the caulking gun.