How to Caulk Your Bathtub

I’m going to be honest. This post is not going rank real high in the excitement category. There’s no clever re-purposing, admirable up-cycling or stunning transformations. But this post is a must if you’re a homeowner. Caulking is today’s topic. Or more specifically, re-caulking, which is even higher on the yuck scale than caulking.

My son, Ross, mentioned that he needed his bathtub re-caulked. And I’m always looking for projects to post about, so here we go. There’s a right way and a wrong way to re-caulk…this I’ve learned from experience. And I can pass my nightmare experiences on to you so you can avoid making the same mistakes.

Here’s our before picture. The caulk in this bathtub had cracked over time and had mildewed, turning this once almond-colored caulk into a lovely shade of apricot. If you don’t replace caulk that has cracked, water can seep into the cracks, and you can have rotting behind your tub. This can also turn your bathroom into a penicillin factory. And no matter how clean your tile and tub are, it’s hard to feel clean after showering with mildew growing at your knee caps.

How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Those of you who aren’t really into home improvement projects may be wondering if you can just caulk over the nastiness. Yes, if you like to caulk. Because you’ll be caulking over it again and again within a short time because it won’t adhere for very long to the old caulk. Then when you come to your senses and decide you’d better remove all the caulk and start again, you’ve got three times the caulk to remove. Not to mention it looks ridiculous when you pile layers of caulk on top of each other. If you’re going to do something, do it right the first time (per my HGTV idol, Mike Holmes).

So we begin by using a couple different tools. We use a utility knife to cut through the old caulk, being careful to hold the knife flat against the tub so as not to scratch it. I’m not going to lie. This really isn’t all that fun. Caulk can be pretty stubborn as your knife rolls right over the top of it, slashes it, sinks into it and chops it like a freaking Ninja, only to discover that it looks untouched after all that slicing and dicing. It just sits there. I would compare the frustration level to that of trying to open one of those produce bags at the supermarket. You just gotta keep plugging away.

 How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonILg

Then we use this super-nifty razor holder to do a little more detailed cutting and cleaning. It works like a charm to clean off the tile and the top surface of the tub.

 How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Once we remove all of the old caulk, we give everything a good brushing with an old toothbrush to get all the crumbs out of the cracks and off of all our surfaces. Getting all the old pieces of caulk cleaned up is important because particles that end up in the fresh caulk will be pretty ugly. Once crumbs get in the fresh caulk, there’s no way to remove them unless you wipe off the caulk and start again.

Here’s the area after the caulk has been removed, and the surfaces have been cleaned and dried. Caulk will not stick to dirty or wet surfaces (old caulk classifies as ‘dirty’ the way I see it).

 How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Here’s the caulk Ross bought. We actually took a string of the old caulk to the hardware store so we could get a color match, and the color “almond” is spot on!

How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Important tip; be sure to get water-based caulk so you can wipe it with water to spread it, and so you can easily clean up any excess. And just as important; be sure to purchase caulk that is meant for bathrooms, so it will resist mold and mildew. Years ago I caulked my bathtub with some caulk that I had on hand. It wasn’t made for bathrooms, but my finished job looked beautiful with the bright, white caulk I used. It turned black within a month or two. Then guess what. I had to start all over again. (Mike Holmes would have made an extra trip to the store and bought the right stuff in the first place.)

A caulking job will be much less of a mess if you don’t cut the hole in your tube too big!! Start small. You can always cut the hole bigger. If you apply more caulk than you need, it makes a horrible mess. The smaller the crack, the smaller the hole you need.

How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Also note that the cut needs to be at a 45 degree angle.

 How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

A tip if you’re purchasing a caulk gun is to make sure you get a gun with a poker on it, so you can poke a tube that hasn’t been used in a little while to get your caulk flowing again. I’m also not a fan of the guns that you have to push a button to stop the flow of caulk. It’s much easier to just stop squeezing the trigger. This caulk gun is the best one I’ve ever owned.

How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

When we caulk, we hold the gun at a 45 degree angle so our angled cut in the tube fits flat against our surface. If we don’t hold the gun at the correct angle we’re gonna know it. Our bead of caulk will come out in pieces and won’t adhere properly. It should be one beautiful, steady, intact bead, not a bunch of little worms.

How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

We move the gun at a slow but steady pace, squeezing the trigger gently and consistently. Then we smooth the bead with a wet finger asap. We caulk only one side of the tub at at time, smoothing the entire length of each side of the tub without lifting our finger. If you lift your finger before smoothing the entire length of each wall, you’ll have a lap mark where you stopped and started.

Caulk sets up very quickly, so we don’t dilly dally with the smoothing! We keep a container of water to dip our fingers in for smoothing. If we don’t have water on our finger, the edges of our bead will be jagged instead of nice and smooth. The edges of the smoothed caulk should disappear into the surfaces being caulked.

We keep a couple of rags nearby to wipe our hands. We don’t want to get caulk on our clothes because if we do, it’s there to stay.

Caulk has to stay dry anywhere from 24 to 36 hours after application, depending on the brand. That being said, you may want to shower before your caulking job if you only have one bathroom–or you could just go the stinky route if you’re mad at your family. I know someone who was getting their only bathroom remodeled one summer, and they would go outside after dark and take a bath in a wading pool in their back yard. I’m not promoting naked back yard kiddie pool bathing, I’m just throwing out some options.

So that’s all there is to it! It probably took two of us about an hour or so from start to finish for this little project. It looks so much better. Here are our before and after pictures.

How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

How to Caulk Your Bathtub / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

If you’ve never caulked before, no worries! If you’re a homeowner, you really should learn because I promise caulking is in your future. This is one of those DIY projects that nobody should be afraid to try. Reason being, if it turns out not-so-great, with your bead all layered-looking like frosting on a cake (don’t laugh, I’ve seen this more than once), never fear. You remove it, and try again. There’s enough caulk in a tube to caulk a bathtub several times, and a tube of caulk costs roughly $5. There’s quite a range of prices on caulk guns, but be warned that you get what you pay for when you’re talking caulk!

I was mortified when I started as an apprentice painter, and found out that caulking was going to be a routine part of my job because I had tried it before. I remembered years prior watching our siding guy caulking our window trim thinking how easy it looked. Well…I was in caulk up to my elbows, literally, when I tried it for the first time. What I didn’t know was that it just takes a little practice. Cut a small hole in the nozzle, smooth with a wet finger and all will be well.

This post was written by Tracy Evans who is a Certified Home Stager, Certified Redesigner and Journeyman Painter servicing the Central Illinois area. Feel free to visit her website at to view her portfolio for more before and after pictures of her projects. And if you enjoy gardening, you may want to visit her gardening blog at MyUrbanGardenOasis.


4 thoughts on “How to Caulk Your Bathtub

  1. marsha schierbeck says:

    how did you know this was a job I have to do?  I have done it before, but you reminded me of how to get every thing ready to work.  Thanks


  2. Tracy Evans says:

    You’re welcome, Marsha! And I think lots of people have this job to do. It’s just one of those that’s hard to get motivated to do.


  3. Dee Winterland says:

    I need to hire you to do this at my house. Will this work between the bottom of the tub and the floor?


    • Tracy Evans says:

      As long as the floor covering is in good shape. For example, if you have linoleum that is curling, you’re wasting your time caulking unless you can get the linoleum glued back down first. I wouldn’t let it go too long because water can get in any cracks in the old caulk and ruin your sub-floor. I’ll bet your husband could handle caulking it, but if not, give me a call and I’ll see what I can do!


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