Maintaining your bathroom as a dirt and mold-free environment means you have to keep up with caulking the shower. It’s also important to keep the wall behind it from sustaining water damage or allowing bugs, such as termites, into the walls, which could mean a huge and costly project later.
All of that can be effectively prevented with some expedient caulking. Whenever a good scrubbing doesn’t make the grout look fresh anymore or there is any space between the tiles or between the tiles and the wall or tub, it’s time to freshen up the shower caulking. There are several things to keep in mind when you do.
1. Prepare the Surface Properly
Even if you are using waterproof caulk (and you should), you don’t want to apply it to a wet surface, and you certainly don’t want to apply anything to a dirty surface where you could possibly seal the dirt or soap scum into the tiling, so wait until it dries after a shower and then wipe it down before you caulk.
2. Remove Mildew
Once the surface is cleared, you want to remove any mildew on or around the area you are caulking. There is a pretty universal cleaning solution that will remove the fungus. It starts with a three to one mixture of water to bleach, usually in quarts. A 1/3 cup of old school powdered laundry soap is next, all mixed in a spray bottle and applied to the area with the mildew. It needs to set until the mildewed area is white. Then, the solution should be rinsed off with water and then dried with a hair dryer.
3. Use Tape to Be Exact
To prevent any spread and to achieve a professional look, tape off the area you are caulking. Keep the narrowest line that will fully cover the space between tiles and tape next to it so only what you need caulked gets exposed. It will also make clean-up easier.
4. Use the Right Caulk
As mentioned above, you want the caulk to be waterproof. Then, you want one that kills mildew in case there is any in the joints you can’t see or you may have missed.
Avoid an oil based caulk, especially around windows, as it can cause fogging and damage the sealant. Choose a silicone or Polyvinyl Acetate (PVA) caulk. Silicone tends to last longer (up to 10 years) but it is sloppy and hard to remove if you get extra on the tile and/or your skin. PVA caulk is easier to use even though it doesn’t last as long, which also means it won’t stay on your skin either.
If you end up using Elastomeric latex caulk for some reason (it is harder to crack/may last longer), remember it does take 24-72 hours for this type of caulk to be ready for paint or water exposure. Therefore, if the shower you're working on is your only shower, you might want to make alternative plans ahead of time.
5. Reattach or Shore Up Loose Tiles
If you are using the PVA caulk (recommended), you can also use it to tighten any loose tiles instead of re-grouting, which can be pretty complicated. It’s easy and effective.
As long as you are careful with preparing the surface, curing it and letting everything dry, you can resolve many problems in the bathroom with these tips for caulking a shower.