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November 30, 2007

Tips for caulking or recaulking a bathtub


096d_splish It’s well known in my social set that you haven’t really tested your destiny until you’ve hacked the mildewed caulk out of a soggy bathtub joint. At that nadir, that desperate plunge to the bottom of the job jar, you discover your true mettle. If you have a mettle already. And if you don’t, this job will supply you with one. 

Normally the bathtub is a place of reflection and self-pampering. And leg shaving. But now you’re here for a different reason.   You've noticed your caulk peeling for weeks, maybe months, staring eye-level at it every time you recline in the tub.  Now that once-white caulk is spawning black feathers of mildew growth.  It's time to act, but you want the job to last a long, long time.  I can help.  


People have improvised with many sharp and spiky objects to remove caulk, including slot-head screwdrivers, kitchen knives, garden implements, carpet blades, nail clippers, spatulas and scissors. None of them work well.  

096c Thankfully, the tool inventors of the world have come up with some modern solutions, but there are still issues. For example, if the last person to apply the silicone sealant was endowed with a generous nature, the bead of caulk is likely to be rather full-figured. Which means specialty tools like the Caulk-Away tool (available nationwide in all hardware stores and home centres) need backup from old-fashioned razor blades.

Another possible problem is that the installer of the vertical tile on the tub wall made the weirdly common error of actually GROUTING the joint between the bottom row of tiles and the bathtub itself. This is irritating. That space should have been left open to receive caulk, not grout.  Because grout doesn’t flex, and it doesn’t seal. Say it with me: Dang.

So if you have the grout-under-caulk problem you’re likely to be hacking out chips of grout along with the old caulk, making the job even more of a deep, stinging pain in the sternocleidomastoid.


Here are some tips:

Set aside some time on at least 3 consecutive days to allow proper drying and curing between steps.

Caulkawaypro Buy an inexpensive Caulk-Away tool at any home improvement retailer. If you can find the 'Pro' version of the Caulk-Away tool (pictured at left, it's got metal parts instead of plastic), you'll find the job goes faster.  Starting at one end of the tub, push the tool along under the old bead of caulk.

Clean up any remaining residue with a single-edge razor tool, available in the paint section at the hardware store.

Clean the joint with your vacuum’s crevice-tool attachment, then swab the joint with rubbing alcohol to remove soap scum, body oils and other ick.  (Rubbing alcohol dries quickly and leaves the surfaces impeccably clean so the new caulking will adhere well.)

Wait until the joint is perfectly dry. If the joint has been quite wet from a long-failing caulk job, put a fan on the joint and leave it running for at least 48 hours to pull all of the moisture out from underneath the tub.

After the joint is bone dry, fill the bathtub with water. Get into the tub, either nekkid, or wearing tall boots. Apply a fresh bead of silicone sealant to the joint. Use a premium quality mildew-resistant silicone sealant meant for use around tubs and showers (i.e. GE’s Kitchen and


silicone caulk

Caulkrite_toolSmooth the caulk with a wet fingertip. Or for a tidier job, use the Caulk-Rite tool, a small rubber spatula set in a durable handle. It creates a stunning bead with no mess or edge marks. You can also use masking tape to keep the joint narrow and elegant.

Don’t bathe or shower for a minimum of 24 hours to let the caulk cure.

NOTE: The most common error in tub re-caulking is failure to fill the tub first! Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon. When the tub is full of those 8-pound gallons, plus your own weight, the bathtub flexes, dropping down and away from the wall and pulling the joint open. If you caulk the joint when it’s as wide open as it can ever possibly be, it will ensure that your fresh caulk will stand up way, way longer to the vagaries of moisture and time.






Speaking of bathtubs, is there a way that I could keep dirt from back? it seems like whenever I clean the dirt in the inside of the bathtub, later the dirt comes back. I dont know why it keeps doing that, and I do not even see the point in cleaning it if thats gonna keep happening. And it seems like the dirt is coming from the drainage area. I cant seem to get rid of it. Mag do you have any ideas? Please help me!

take care


I had an issue keeping my bathtub filled with water. It kept draining so I filled uckets with water and put them in the bathtub in addition to the water. I also put celophane in the drain to try and stop it from losing water. Use a very big piece though because it could get sucked down the drain depending how much the drain is leaking. I highly recommend the sealant that does not clean up with water e.g. cleans up with mineral spirits . The corner finishing tool is great.


Hi Meg! How are you? I have a question for you. In a rented condo and want to remove carpet from greeting door to hall way outside the kitchen;the dirt of course in a sand coloured carpet untreated from in/out is okay.Want to put easy peel lay down flooring.
Need steps to remove carpet.
Walls a cream colour too;can't repaint but paint a white-cream to freshen up.(I can do--did in living room)Can you help?
Thank-you! Have a good day. Carolyn.


Useful blog post. I've tried the tools and they're ok but I still think it's just as easy to do with a Stanley knife and a finger.


Use white or cream colored fixtures. Colored fixtures tend to look very dated after only a few years. And while it is possible to switch out the toilet with very little effort, you will have a considerable demolition and cost issues involved with switching out a shower or bathtub.


Hi Meg,
I've been inspired by you for years :)
Currently kneeling beside a bathtub, 1/2 full of water (pants dripping) and wondering what to do about the soggy splodges of grout in the bottom of the bathtub. Any ideas? Do I drain the tub, hoping the grout won't go down & clog up the pipes, or do I just try my best to wipe it out with a rag before I drain the tub? Is there another option? I didn't realize I'd drop so much into the tub!


Hi Sharon,
The new caulking should cure in place overnight anyway, so leave the water in for now. When you say 'grout' I think you mean caulking? Try not to flush it down the drain since it could gum things up. When you drain the tub, put a porous rag over the drain to catch any stray caulking as the tub empties. Then wipe out any residue. You might need to use a putty knife to make sure you remove any gummy blobs cleanly from the tub surface. If you have a fibreglass tub, don't use a metal putty knife though (it might scratch the surface) - use a plastic putty knife (or grab a plastic spatula from the kitchen!). Hope that helps. Congrats on the tub job!


Hi Mag,

Your tips are extremely helpful!

I notice that you are suppose to let the caulk settle for at least 3 days, do you leave the bathtub full of water for the three days?

Thank you again for your extremely useful website!


Hi AN,
It seems to work fine if you just leave the water in the tub for 24 hours, but it your caulking brand insists on 3 days I suppose you might want to play it safe. Most caulking cures in 24 hours.

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