To caulk or not to caulk?
June 15, 2014 5:49 PM   Subscribe

In an Australian rental unit, how likely is it that our landlords will expect the caulking in the shower to be clean at move-out, and if they will, should we do the caulking ourselves to avoid paying a handyman for this simple but tedious and probably time-consuming job?

We live in a rental unit in Melbourne. Of the two places we've previously lived in Australia, both in Adelaide, one had a really expensive move-out because the rental agency kept finding little things to ding us on (e.g. cobwebs on the swimming pool enclosure.) In the places in the US where I've lived, landlords usually write some stuff off as normal wear if you leave the house in an otherwise very clean condition, and in our other Australian apartment they didn't even care that we hadn't washed the windows (which seems to be a bigger deal here than in the US.)
So, the caulking in our shower is blackened and sort of gross. Is this the sort of thing Australian landlords hate or give a pass on? And given it was kind of expensive to get the cobwebs taken care of (we had moved to Melbourne by that point and couldn't just go over and sweep them up), would it be reasonable to put in the $3 for caulking and the hours of labor ourselves? The shower enclosure has a plastic floor, so the removal will require a certain amount of delicacy and take longer than it would for silicone on tile or porcelain.
posted by gingerest to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can never guess what the individual attitude of the landlord will be, but as someone who rented in Australia in the past - once we almost failed an inspection because we had failed to adequately wipe the dust off the upper surface of the ceiling fan blades (we got a threatening letter), and once when we moved out of a property, we lost a significant proportion of the bond because our dogs had left some slightly muddy footprints on the concrete of the patio, and the landlord decided that hiring a high-pressure cement cleaning crew was necessary to fix the "problem".

In short, yeah probably fix the caulking.
posted by Jimbob at 5:56 PM on June 15, 2014

If the caulking is still intact and only looks gross on its surface (blackened, as in your description, or slightly red-orangish from rust/mold/mildew), you may be able to clean it up adequately with bleach instead of going to the trouble of reapplying it.

I bleach the caulk around the edges of my bathtub every few months by soaking lengths of cotton coil (the kind that you would buy at a beauty supply store - like this) in bleach, and then pressing them into place over the caulk and letting it sit overnight. It gets rid of discoloration and leaves the tub looking much brighter and nicer than before, and it's much less labor-intensive than re-caulking would be. (I found this idea via Pinterest; it looks like the original post is here.)
posted by Austenite at 6:16 PM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check the inspection report from when you moved in and see if anything was noted on that about the caulk. That'll give you an indication of how far you can push "fair wear and tear".

Personally I'd have a good go at bleaching it and then argue the case if they object.

If you're really worried, ask your landlord for the contact details of their preferred cleaning service, get them in to clean, and then you can tell the landlord to take it up with the cleaning service if they don't like it. And lodge your bond return form as soon as you finish cleaning, but BEFORE the landlord does the final inspection - it's administratively complex to withold bond if your form was already lodged when the landlord objects.

the fact that I know way too much about working the rental system is a strong indicator that I need to get the hell out of it
posted by girlgenius at 6:56 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

In NSW they can and will hit you for mould. We call it grout here. And there are plenty of grout cleaners around but ExitMould at Woolies is pretty good. Or Domestos which is a thicker version of the same. You don't need to re-grout, just bleach it to buggery. It will stink, and don't do it wet, but it will work. Woolies also sell grout scrubbing brushes. They're great too.

(Edit: clarifying that caulk is called grout here. Mould is still mould.)
posted by taff at 7:21 PM on June 15, 2014

(In at least some regions of the US, grout is the hard, crumbly stuff that goes between tiles, and caulk is the softer rubbery sealant stuff. I was asking about the rubbery stuff.)
posted by gingerest at 7:48 PM on June 15, 2014

Yep, use bleach on the rubbery sealant, don't bother replacing it. Undiluted White King on a cloth should do it.
posted by Kerasia at 8:22 PM on June 15, 2014

As an australian I agree with your definitions of caulk & grout, gingerest.
I'd never dream of replacing the caulking in a property I was renting. Bleach it yes, but replacing it should be the owner's concern as general wear & tear.
I agree with asking the Agent for a list of their preferred cleaners & use one of them. It's expected that if you have carpet that you have to get it professionally cleaned, so if you're already forking out for that, may as well get the who place professionally cleaned & if there's an issue the agent can take it up with them.
Some owners/agents are pickier than others and can be pretty arbitrary in what they decide is/isn't an issue.
As long as it's clean, if think you're fine, but who knows how nutty your owner/agent is?
posted by goshling at 8:38 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh gingerest, you're correct. I thought you meant the hard stuff! Sorry.

Bleach may not improve silicon much. Have a go at it a few times. We re-siliconed our bathroom last year and had to be careful as our bath is really old. I found using a plastic spoon and plastic knife (IKEA brand!) was gentle enough to scrape the old stuff but not damage the bath. Actual caulking is easy and cheap if you read up the the various tips from in net. Use tape is my grand tip.

I also agree it's hard to know how hard line the agent will be.
posted by taff at 9:08 PM on June 15, 2014

Where are you? In my experience this varies a lot by state.

In WA we got hit for everything possible (including a brown lawn after a 48 degree day) and dealing with the landlord's agent was plain horrible.

In Melbourne, where I have rented a lot, I've generally had reasonable landlords who would simply write this off as normal wear and tear.
posted by deadwax at 9:12 PM on June 15, 2014

Yeah I've had an agent wipe her fingertips across the stovetop, then show the small bits of grease to my face as a threat against the bond. With Australian major city property managers, always assume a lack of goodwill.

You should have an inspection report filed somewhere with your lease. If it's got noted on it that there's mould in the shower, you're good to ignore it. If it doesn't, yeah you're likely to have to make good on that.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:32 PM on June 15, 2014

The thing with mould and caulking (aka sealant, aka gap filler) is that frequently the mould grows underneath the caulking. So the only way to get rid of the mould is to pry the caulk off and after you do that, it's not like it will restick. There are some which are mould and mildew resistant with anti-fungal/anti-bacterial qualities, but if it wasn't used in the first place, your sealant is going to eventually get mouldy.

Should you strip it off, bleach everything to hell and then reapply the proper stuff? I would say that's excessive to expect from a tenant, especially as this kind of home repair isn't exactly common knowledge. It's not like cleaning the windows, which anyone can do. If they tried to deny you your bond based on the crappy caulking, I'd invoke the fair wear and tear clause of the Residential Tenancies Act. But you could always contact Consumer Affairs and/or the Tenants' Union (contacts at the end of the PDF) for more experienced opinions.

I've lived in 5 different rental properties in Melbourne and have always gotten my bond back. Though at one place they did (rightly) pull me up on not having cleaned the oven - I'd somehow forgotten.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:03 PM on June 15, 2014

I agree that you should try cleaning the caulk before looking at replacing it. I highly recommend HG Mould Spray, if you can get it. It's magical. You just spray your problem area, and leave it. (Make sure the area is well-ventilated.) For me, this has totally replaced scrubbing caulk and grout with bleach.
posted by neushoorn at 12:31 AM on June 16, 2014

Thanks, everybody. I will defer the "best answer" until I've completed the experiments.
posted by gingerest at 4:37 PM on June 16, 2014

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