Due to normal settling, the area around the bathtub in a brand new home may need recaulked after about a year. Ordinarily, however, the caulk around your tub should last at least five years. This oft overlooked chore is necessary whenever the old caulk starts to crack, chip or peel away from the bathtub, even if this happens before the prescribed five-year period. Sometimes caulk needs replaced because it has become stained or because mold and mildew are growing behind it. Before installing a fresh bead of caulk, peel or scrape away the old caulk and clean the area.
Why Caulk Matters
Caulk isn't sexy or exciting, but it is important. The caulking around your bathtub keeps water from leaking down inside your walls and causing damage. Not only can leaking water cause structural problems in your home, it can also affect your health. When mold and mildew get into the walls of a home, people are prone to get sick. Caulk itself can harbor mold and mildew as well if not replaced on a regular basis. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins)." Taking care of your caulk helps prevent mold and the issues associated with it.
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Tub caulking doesn't last forever, no matter how well you treat it. Cracks often develop in caulking because of the natural expansion and contraction a house undergoes as the seasons and temperatures change. Cracks formed where the humidity is high, such as in a bathroom, are an open invitation for mold and mildew to grow, often out of sight. To prevent this and extend the life of your caulk, use your bathroom's ventilation fan every time you bathe or shower. For extra air flow, consider leaving the bathroom window open a crack. Opening a window is crucial if your bathroom lacks a ventilation fan. If your bathroom has no fan, consider leaving the door open when you shower if you can do so without sacrificing your privacy. Wipe down the shower walls after your shower, as well.
Removing Old Caulk
To remove the old caulk, first apply a caulk removal product from the local hardware store and allow it to sit on the caulk for several hours. This will soften the caulk and make it much easier to remove. Use a caulk removal tool or putty knife to remove the old caulk and dispose of it in a sealed plastic bag, especially if it is moldy. If the caulk is excessively moldy, wear a protective face mask while removing it to keep from inhaling mold spores. Use a scraper and a rag wet with paint thinner to remove any stubborn caulk residue.
To disinfect the tub and remove any mold after caulk removal, mix together 1/3 cup of bleach and 1 gallon of water. Wipe down the lip of the tub with the solution and use a chiseled foam paintbrush to push the mixture into the void where the caulk was. Rinse the area with clean water and allow it to dry thoroughly before applying new caulk.
Apply a fresh bead of caulk around the bathtub once it has dried completely. For the best result, use mildew resistant caulk that is specifically designed for bathroom use. Employ a high-quality caulking gun to make the job easier and hold the gun at a 90-degree angle when caulking. Apply a steady bead of caulk and then run your index finger along the edge of the wet caulk to ensure it seals properly and has a finished look.
Before caulking, consider filling the tub half full of water. Tubs often shift with water and body weight, so caulking when the weight is in place helps to keep the caulk in place the rest of the time.