The Single Mom's Guide to Recaulking a Tub

Before becoming a single mom, I was glib about Recaulking Day. “Oh, Husband?” I would ask, “Could you recaulk the tub today, please?” And by nightfall, I had a new-looking tub! Easy as pie.

I have celebrated Recaulking Day precisely three times in my 12 years as a single mom. That’s how much I look forward to it. Recaulking Day is that rare day when I have both time and energy. It’s usually a Saturday, because why waste time and energy on a relaxing trip to the beach when I could be crouched in a tub chiseling away at mold? This Recaulking Day, I decided to share my celebrations as a how-to hub.

Assuming you have time and energy, begin by waking up early. You want to savor every moment, and your senses are sharpest in the morning.

Hopefully, no one has showered in the last 12 hours. If the tub is wet, wipe it dry. Or postpone Recaulking Day for another year or two – your choice.

Be advised that caulk can take up to 72 hours to dry. Those are not hours during which you can expect to emerge from your bathroom cleansed and sweetly perfumed.

Razor scrapers are inexpensive.
Razor scrapers are inexpensive.

Search your junk drawer, the hall closet, the shed, and between the seats of your minivan for the following:

  • A razor scraper. (Not the type you use on your legs.) This dangerous device is actually your friend. Make sure you have at least five extra razor blades.
  • A flat-headed screwdriver.
  • A tube of tub-and-tile siliconized acrylic caulk.
  • Rubber gloves, because you are a princess, after all.
  • A rag or two.
  • A dainty spray bottle filled with one part chlorine bleach to three parts water.

Firmly slide the razor beneath the old caulk.
Firmly slide the razor beneath the old caulk.
Cut the caulk from both sides.
Cut the caulk from both sides.

When you fail to locate these items, drink one cup of tea and visit the hardware store.

If you are over 40, place a soft towel on the side of the bathtub and have a seat. (If you’re under 40, someday you will understand.)

Starting at the edge of the bathtub, firmly slide the razor underneath the old caulk. It takes some pressure. Do NOT attempt to remove the caulk with the razor. Its job is only to cut the caulk free. I have read that you shouldn’t wriggle the blade back and forth to loosen the caulk. This is probably true, but I couldn’t find another way to loosen it sufficiently. That’s why I suggest buying five extra razors. Goggles wouldn’t hurt, either.

A simple screwdriver does the trick.
A simple screwdriver does the trick.
Your floor will look like this. Deal with it.
Your floor will look like this. Deal with it.

Once the caulk is loosened, use the screwdriver to pry it off. Remove the large pieces first. Toss them over your shoulder, onto the floor. You’ve observed good contractors make a mess. Now it’s your turn.

Next, scrape any remaining little pieces off with the razor. You want to remove all the caulk. If it’s hard to see what’s caulk and what’s tile, go for the mold. I think the mold grows almost exclusively on the caulk.

Oops! Dug away some grout. I filled this with caulk later and no one's the wiser. Well, except you...
Oops! Dug away some grout. I filled this with caulk later and no one's the wiser. Well, except you...

Sometimes, it’s difficult to distinguish caulk from grout. Grout is the crunchy stuff in the tile joints. It’s supposed to be permanent, so try not to remove any. If I accidentally snag some, I just fill it in with caulk later. That’s probably not the correct procedure, but it seems to work.

Briskly rub the area with the rag to remove any lingering shreds of caulk. You could also use a scrubby for this; but make sure the material is safe for your tub finish.

When you have removed all the caulk, stare at your tub for a while and remember what you are doing. Your bed will be offering you a nap. Don’t buy it. You have to keep going, because you want to be able to shower within the next week or two.

Next, hold your breath and spray the entire de-caulked area with your bleach solution. You want to KIIIIIILL THE MOOOOLD!!! before you replace the caulk. Be sure your bathroom is well ventilated. Leave for an hour, and then wipe the bleach solution away with a damp sponge or rag.

Let the area dry completely before applying the new caulk. You can use a hairdryer to speed things up.

Kinda like icing a cake.
Kinda like icing a cake.
Smooth it off with a damp thumb or finger.
Smooth it off with a damp thumb or finger.

To apply the new caulk, cut away the tip of the caulk tube spout at a 45 degree angle, and squeeze a ribbon of caulk into the tub-tile joint. Squeeze the tube just like a toothpaste tube. Don’t bother with those clunky giant caulk-gun things at the hardware store.

This stage is trickier than you’d think. Moisten your thumb and gently wipe the caulk at an angle, smoothing it off. Be very careful not to apply much pressure, or you will wipe off too much caulk. Carefully smooth the edges with the damp rag. Bring the caulk up the sides of the corners of the shower surround if necessary.

Smooth the edges.
Smooth the edges.
Caulk the corners.
Caulk the corners.

Correctly applied, the caulk “bead” will be rather small before smoothing; but I use more. The last time I celebrated Recaulking Day, I didn’t use enough in some places. It was much harder to remove, and I’m not sure it kept the water from running into the joint, which is the whole purpose of caulk. Use a damp rag to immediately wipe off any stray globs of caulk.

Good for another 12 years or so. I'll clean the tub properly when the caulk is dry.
Good for another 12 years or so. I'll clean the tub properly when the caulk is dry.

That’s it! Because your beautifully caulked tub needs up to 72 hours to dry, now would be a good time to go camping. Why hang around watching caulk dry when you could be relaxing with the kids at the beach?

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