What's wrong with my caulk?
February 29, 2012 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Why is the caulking coming off around my bathtub? Am I somehow showering wrong, as my property manager suggests?

Just moved into a new rental suite February 15. The property manager had a new tub and surround put in sometime in the first week of February. I know this is the case because we viewed the unit Feb 1, and returned February 7 to measure for furniture, and the nasty old yellow bathtub and cracked surround had been completely replaced. The new tub looked great and we were glad to see the work done.

Fast forward to today and for the third time I have had to call the manager because the caulking around the tub has gone all soft and come away. The first time it happened (Feb 18) it was a small area in the corner around a splash guard. The second time (Feb 22) it was the same area, plus the back end of the tub where your head is if you lie in the tub. This time it is a large chunk about 50cm long on the long axis of the tub, as well as the areas previously recaulked.

My manager is getting irritated with me for calling and today suggested that I must be doing something in the shower to damage the caulking. I am not doing anything untoward, just showering and getting out. I do not take long showers and neither does my partner. The manager then asked me if I am toweling dry the surround and tub after I shower. I said no and she immediately told me that was why the caulk was going soft and coming off.

The original caulk sat for at least ten days before we used the shower, so I assume it was dry/set/whatever. The new caulking we allowed to dry for 24 hours before showering, but it still came off. I told the manager this and she told me that new caulk has to set at least a week to set properly.

My questions are as follows:

1. Is it actually a thing that people should towel their tub and surround dry after showering? I've never done that in over 30 years of showering and this is the first time I have ever seen caulking come off.

2. Why does the caulk keep getting soft and gooey and coming off? Is it actually because I didn't let it set a week?

3. My plan is to just keep calling them if the caulking keeps going bad, but is there a point where this becomes my fault? Is there some kind of caulk care protocol that I somehow missed learning about while growing up? What's my due diligence here regarding taking care of brand new caulking?
posted by Sternmeyer to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 1. No. (Not unless you are someone who's hyper-vigilant about mold control.)

2. It wasn't installed properly, or the wrong product was used. Most shower/tub caulking would be completely dry in 48 hours.

3. Your landlord is full of baloney; this is not your fault.
posted by Specklet at 11:38 AM on February 29, 2012 [19 favorites]

1) You can but really this won't make that big a difference.
2) Because it's not getting enough time to cure properly or they are using the wrong type of caulk or there is moisture behind the caulk, or because they did not properly clean and treat the surface to be caulked. Probably all of the above.
3) You can (not saying you should) caulk this yourself properly for about 10 bucks and a bit of time, it's a reasonably good skill to have. Document your communication with them, sounds like a crap caulking job or a crap install of the tub. Properly cured 100% silicon caulk should not do this.

It's also possible the tub is not set properly and moving which is stretching and breaking the bond the caulk has with the wall, or the wall is moving such that it is doing the same with respect to the tub.
posted by iamabot at 11:39 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

You might be able to avoid all of this by recaulking yourself. Caulk is very, very cheap. You can buy an entire tube and the gun for under $20 (probably under $10). A tube will easily last your entire tenancy there, and it's very easy to do.
posted by zug at 11:39 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Before doing any caulking, get it in writing that your manager is permitting you to do the caulking job yourself and will not hold you liable. Either you'll be properly covering yourself or things will be fixed quite a bit faster.
posted by Saydur at 11:42 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with all of the above. I just recaulked my tub and it was amazingly easy. And I fail at everything. No, you shouldn't have to, but he clearly doesn't want to do it or just has no idea how to do it right. So just do it yourself to prevent more problems (leaks, mold) down the line.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:42 AM on February 29, 2012

Best answer: 1) No.

2) Likely it isn't adhering properly. Possibly the area wasn't cleaned properly. Possibly they aren't using the right type of caulking. Silicone caulk only needs, at most, 24 hours to cure completely, and even then you should be able to get it wet before that. Either the manager is BSing you about the need for caulk to set a week or they are using the wrong stuff (silicone caulk will smell strongly of vinegar as it cures).

3) This is not your problem.
posted by ssg at 11:42 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

she told me that new caulk has to set at least a week to set properly

This is sheer insanity. In reality, bathroom caulking sets fully in a few hours. I agree with just caulking it yourself and being done with it.
posted by mattbucher at 11:42 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

No, you shouldn't have to towel-dry the caulk joints. That's nuts.

There's a chance that your landlord has a box of old kitchen-and-bath type silicone caulk he's been trying to use up, and it is no longer any good. My understanding is that silicones designed for kitchen & bath use go bad in the tube after a while, and when they do, they no longer cure properly.
posted by jon1270 at 11:45 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

On re-reading, I'd suggest that there may also be an issue with movement of the tub relative to the wall. This may be due to a crappy job installing the tub. One thing you can suggest if the manager isn't already doing so, is the old trick of filling the tub before caulking (and thus weighting it and widening the gap so the caulk doesn't have to stretch when you place weight in the tub).
posted by ssg at 11:46 AM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

The manager then asked me if I am toweling dry the surround and tub after I shower. I said no and she immediately told me that was why the caulk was going soft and coming off.

Bullshit. Caulk doesn't do this without using the wrong caulk or something not being installed correctly.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:46 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Agree with everyone that this is not your problem, and with the subset of people who are saying you should just make this your problem, recaulk the tub with the right materials, and be done with it. It is very easy.

Also, who the fuck has the wherewithal to say--without laughing--that you're supposed to towel off the tub when you get out? Hats off to you, landlord; you are made of deadpan.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:52 AM on February 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I really don't think you should replace the caulk, even though you are capable of replacing the caulk (it is easy to do). I think you should make the property manager resolve this problem.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:55 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your landlord is high. Caulk exists precisely so you don't have to dry anything off. That's literally what it's there for.

Re-caulk it. It'd probably take you 15 minutes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:56 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you do go the DIY route, start here:


If you buy the caulk you are looking for 100% silicon bath/kitchen caulk. You want the cure time to be 24 hours. Typically this stuff is branded at 50 year lifetime. Do not get the caulk wet for 24 hours after applying it, and keep moisture out of the bathroom as best you can for that time as well.
posted by iamabot at 12:07 PM on February 29, 2012

Your land-lord is an idiot.

The easiest thing for you to do is just re-caulk it yourself. You can get caulk tubes at Home Depot that do not require a caulk gun. Just ask for bath and tub caulk. It will take 10 minutes of work.

The real issue is, however, what other problems were not addressed. Obviously your land-lord is willing to use utterly incompetent tradesmen - if they can't even get something as simple as caulk correct, what else have they rigged in that apartment over the years.
posted by Flood at 12:13 PM on February 29, 2012

I'd recaulk it but charge your landlord for material and labor. It's their job to do work correctly, not your job to fix his mess. My toilet broke a few months back and the super in my building installed a dirty toilet, used my towels to sort of clean up and generally left our apartment in disrepair. Called the building manager up and had them deduct the costs of cleaning and buying new towels from next months rent. It's not your problem that he's being lazy. If he doesn't like you honestly thats also his problem. Don't make it yours.
posted by jourman2 at 12:21 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd rip out their caulk and redo it, using the exact same color, and never say a thing about it. The amount of time it would take to do would probably be less than the amount of time it will take to argue with the asshole landlord about it, and having it done right will prevent mold which might in turn lead to problems getting your security deposit back.

I'd never admit to actually doing it, though, because if the landlord is that much of an ass who knows what they'll try to pin on you.

There are lots of different types of caulk, and probably somebody cheaped out and used the wrong kind -- possibly "window and door" rather than "tub and tile." Or it could have been old caulk; I've heard that really old stuff will never cure completely, and this is why it has an expiration date. Either scenario seems totally believable given a cheapass landlord.

When you do it yourself, after removing all the old caulk, clean the area completely using rubbing alcohol on a rag (old t-shirts work well), and let it dry completely for a few hours before applying the new stuff.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:22 PM on February 29, 2012

I *have* gotten into the habit of squeegeeing the shower/surround dry after a shower, just to prevent having to scrub it more often. It's well worth doing, but you certainly don't have to be hyper-vigilant about it, and certainly the water that remains is mostly around the joints. My caulk is fine.
posted by kcm at 12:25 PM on February 29, 2012

An additional point that I unhappily discovered; caulk has an expiration date. And if the caulk is exposed to more extreme temperatures it might go bad even before the expiration date.
posted by nobeagle at 12:58 PM on February 29, 2012

Best answer: Do not recaulk yourself. If this step was done wrong, quite likely other steps in the installation were done wrong as well.
posted by Ardiril at 1:08 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you do choose to redo it yourself, you can often do a neater job if you use masking tape to create a clean edge about a quarter of an inch either side of the gap. Keep a roll of toilet paper handy, because as you run your finger over the joint to apply the caulk, you'll need something to wipe it on. Also, keep a little bit of liquid soap handy. You can wet your finger with that and use it to smooth over any irregular bits when you're applying the caulk. Finally, there are caulks (at least here in the UK) that are usable within a couple of hours, and they seem just as good as the ones you have to leave for 24 hours or more.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:10 PM on February 29, 2012

I'm guessing that your landlord used the wrong kind of caulk. I had a landlord who (twice) tried to recaulk my bathtub with painters caulk rather than kitchen & bath caulk. The caulk he used dried to a puttylike consistency which would wash away in a few weeks. I finally bought a tube of the proper caulk and redit it myself.
posted by zombiedance at 1:15 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You've got a lot of good answers above, but I just want to say that I would never under any circumstances get involved with re-caulking it. Send your property manager a formal letter stating the problem and insisting that it be repaired. You're two weeks into your tenancy; if you fold now who knows what other shit will come down on you for the remainder of your lease.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:25 PM on February 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: If you re-caulk it yourself, and for some reason the problem persists (or there's a new problem like water gets into the wall and he blames you)...

...doesn't that turn it into your problem? Exposing you to a plausible landlord claim that first you messed up his caulking, then you messed up your ("un-needed if you'd just towel-dry the shower with lavender scented 3,000 thread-count towels!") repair.

(Plus, you would've gotten rid of the evidence of his initial shoddy caulking job)
posted by blueberry at 2:12 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks folks. I was considering recaulking it myself after reading a few links, but as Ardril, Blueberry and BlahLaLa mention, it seems like a bad idea to get myself into the middle when I am not exactly a handyman and a screwup could make me somehow to blame for future problems.

Over lunch I spoke with the manager again, this time face to face. She tells me it's only my apartment out of five that were redone in the last eight weeks that is having the problem, which is why she suspected that it was something I am doing. I asked her about the whole "toweling the shower dry" thing, and she said the reason she suggested it is because the caulk they used is apparently water-based and so can't have water on it for any length of time. This seems pretty bonkers to me, in a shower of all places.

Thanks for reassuring me that I am not crazy for thinking that my towel drying after the shower should be reserved for me and not my tub.
posted by Sternmeyer at 2:15 PM on February 29, 2012

...she said the reason she suggested it is because the caulk they used is apparently water-based and so can't have water on it for any length of time.

This is insane. It really sounds like they used acrylic (painters) caulk and are now trying to make it your problem. Bathtub caulk must be silicone-based.
posted by werkzeuger at 2:48 PM on February 29, 2012

There actually is latex tub caulk, which is technically water-based. But this doesn't matter: after it cures it should perform well. Unless, as mentioned above, it was installed incorrectly or has expired, etc.
posted by Specklet at 2:52 PM on February 29, 2012

Gah, and by perform well, I mean that you can have water on it till the cows come home and it wouldn't matter.
posted by Specklet at 2:57 PM on February 29, 2012

It may have been different in the past but these days bathroom caulk will set in a few hours. As an example, this 100% silicone caulk is shower-ready 3 hours after application (there is even a caulk that is shower-ready after 1 hour). If the manager is claiming you need to keep it dry for a week then you absolutely can not trust the quality of her work.

Keep calling when it comes off and maybe at some point they'll actually call a professional in to fix it.

Do you feel any part of the tub or surround moving while you're in the shower? That may explain some of the coming off, but even then silicone stretches so as long as it has bonded properly to the various surfaces it shouldn't be coming off. I know this because my bathtub moves a bit but the caulking doesn't crack or come off.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:58 PM on February 29, 2012

Caulking that doesn't cure within a few hours sounds like it's either expired or been frozen.
posted by CKmtl at 6:14 PM on February 29, 2012

... she said the reason she suggested it is because the caulk they used is apparently water-based and so can't have water on it for any length of time. This seems pretty bonkers to me, in a shower of all places.

Not bonkers.

Just completely, irredeemably stupid.
posted by flabdablet at 8:25 PM on February 29, 2012

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