how to remove old caulk - caulking tub using masking tape as guide

Prevent Water Damage: Replace the Old Caulk Around Your Tub!

While the sight of mildewed caulk may make you wish you could renovate the entire bathroom, the expensive and effort is often too much.

But caulking is all around your bathtub and bathroom fixtures for a reason: it prevents water damage behind your walls and under your floors. So, the easiest and least expensive solution for preventing a bathtub leak is to learn how to remove old caulk and replace it.

Why Should I Remove Old Caulk?

There are several great reasons for removing old caulk and replacing it. Here are several:

  • Old, damaged caulking is unsightly
  • It cures any dampness at the joints between bathtubs and floors/walls, where leaks often occur
  • Mold and mildew can grow on caulking that has been damaged
  • Most important, it will prevent further water damage to your home (which can be costly)
how to remove old caulk - missing and moldy caulk on bathtub
Obviously, most tubs don’t get this bad before caulking is required. But notice the caulking strip (a pre-made strip of caulking material) being used on the right. Although they’re easy to apply, these “convenient” solutions are not the best leak-proof, watertight solution. Take a little extra time to remove old caulk and replace it with fresh, new, silicone (or latex) caulking.

Prepare Your Bathtub to be Caulked

Here are two initial steps to take to make sure you get the best results.

  • Cover the tub drain so no caulk or other debris does not cause a clog later.
  • Get an old rag and bucket of water to help you clean and dry the surfaces you’ll be working on. During the caulking process, you need to keep the area as dry as possible, so the caulk sets and dries effectively.
  • Purchase caulk that is either silicone or latex. You will find silicone to be the better choice as it adheres well to smooth, glass-like surfaces (like most metal, ceramic, or plastic fixtures and drains on and around the tub). However, use latex if you’re caulking the tub where it meets the floor (if it is touching material that’s uneven or more porous like wood, brick, or unpolished stone).
  • First, gather some clean rags and a bucket of water. Next, you want to wipe down the work area to remove dust, dirt, and any loose debris. Make a mental note of any areas that might require special attention, such as sharp edges or rotten wood.
how to remove old caulk - gorilla cilicone sealant caulk
Which caulk should you use for your tub? We’ve found that Gorilla Silicone Sealant Caulk does a great job for DIYers. If you’re especially concerned with mildew, then try GE’s Advanced Silicone Sealant Caulk. Whichever you purchase, make sure to get the right color to match your bathroom or tub.

How to Remove Old Caulk Around Your Bathtub

If you experience mold, mildew, or leaks between your bathtub and wall, or between the bathtub and floor, follow these 4 steps:

1. Remove the Old Caulk

  • Cut away any cracked, peeling, or discolored caulk with a single-edge razor blade.
  • You can try using a box cutter or putty knife. If using just a razor blade, make sure to wear gloves and go slowly to avoid hurting yourself.
  • Be careful not to scratch the tile or enamel glaze on the bathtub. Consider placing painter’s tape just above and below the caulk to help minimize accidental cuts or scratches.
How to remove old caulk - step 1
How to remove old caulk and replace it. Step 1 – removal.

2. Prepare the Joint

  • The joint is the area where the wall (or floor) meets the tub.
  • Remove any remaining caulk, soap scum, or other residue (toothpaste, etc.) by scrubbing the joint with an old toothbrush or all-purpose cleaner.
  • Wrap a clean rag, dampened with alcohol, around the blade of the raze or putty knife, and draw it along the joint to remove any grit and soap residue.
  • This next part might make it tricky to reach the joint to do your work. So, plan on taking off your socks/shoes and wearing shorts. Fill the bathtub so that the weight of the water will open the joint as wide as possible.
how to remove old caulk - step 2 prepare the joint
How to remove old caulk and replace it. Step 2 – prepare and clean the joint.

3. Apply Silicone Caulking

  • To help form an even line, place the painter (or masking) tape on the edges of the joint before caulking.
  • Cut the nozzle of the cauling tube at an angle so that the opening is slightly larger than the width of the joint.
  • Position the tube at the end of the exposed joint and push the tube ahead of you, while slowly squeezing it.
  • Remove the tape when the caulking gets tacky.
how to remove old caulk - step 3 apply silicone caulking
How to remove old caulk and replace it. Step 3 – apply silicone caulking.

4. Smooth the Joint

  • Draw a wet finger lightly and evenly along the bead of caulking (a line of caulk is called a “bead”).
  • Let the caul dry for several hours before using the bathtub (even if the instructions on your caulking tube say it will dry sooner!).
how to remove old caulk and replace it - step 4 smooth the joint
How to remove old caulk and replace it. Step 4 – smooth the joint with a wet finger.

Alternatives to Caulking Around the Bathtub

Not every caulking job is perfect. If the caulking doesn’t hold (or pops out of the joint), consider this alternative to caulking around the bathtub.

Purchase a decorative, quarter-round ceramic tile at a plumbing supply store and install it over the joint. Now install it over the joint and make sure it stays in place by caulking it as shown above. Because you won’t be placing caulk directly into the uneven joint, the caulk on the quarter-round tile will adhere much better.

This is a better, and more reliable, solution than using a pre-fabricated silicone strip as shown in the photo above.

alternatives for caulking around the bathtub - quarter round ceramic tile
There are alternatives for caulking a bathtub, especially if the original joint doesn’t hold the caulk. This workaround solution also gives a touch of elegance to your bathtub.

Final Thoughts

Knowing how to remove old caulk is easy. We’ve all probably tried it once or twice before with varied results. The most important steps are purchasing the right caulk and preparing the area properly. So, follow the process above carefully for the most effective watertight, leakproof seal.

Call 1-Tom-Plumber

Don’t hesitate to contact us here or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) if you need help with any plumbing issue that might lead to water damage.

1-Tom-Plumber’s certified team of plumbers and drain technicians respond immediately to any emergency plumbing, drain cleaning, or water damage problem. We also handle the excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines. Our immediate-response team is available every day and night of the year, even on holidays.

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