Where the tub meets the wall, the tile seem is close to that area. Can I caulk the tub really wide and fat to cover this? Also, there is grout in this area, so it makes the area lumpy and imperfect. Any suggestions?
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Eileen, Ideally caulk around a tub should be used where ever there are two unlike materials abutting themselves. This is simply because of movement of the two unlike surfaces. A tub can flex and move as we enter, use it, and exit it. Although this movement is very slight on some it can be quite a bit on others.
When the tub and tile were installed they used grout as the method of sealing. While this looks fine for a while, the grout as you have realized has begun to crack where it meets the tub, and perhaps even begun to fall out. This is because the grout is like cement, does not flex or move. So this makes perfect sense to use caulk.
Caulk can be pretty flexible if installed properly and quite stiff and hard if not.
The trick is to apply it properly. And this can be done both on the vertical edges where the tub meets the wall as well as along the top of the tub were the wall tile comes down to the tub.
First off you need to remove as much of the grout that has begun to fail. You do this by using what is called a grout saw. This carbide scraping tool can be purchased in any of the big box stores in the tile area. It has a handle much like a screwdriver with a little metal blade attached on the other end. By rubbing this blade back and fourth on the grout it will simply grind it away. Once done you want to clean this area well to remove any soap or dust left over.
Then take painters masking tape and run it around the tile leaving about a 1/16" of an inch or so exposed on the side your going to fill with caulk. Then you simply use a good quality bath caulk that has Microban in it to help prevent mold development and fill the gap. Then using your finger. Dip it into a glass of water and smooth the surface out. The water will prevent your finger from tearing the new caulk and make it glide over the caulk to get a smooth finish. Once you get the hang of this you will make a nice finish to the sealant. A little will go a long way, and the result should be that the caulk will just slightly higher (about the thickness of the tape) once done. After doing all the caulking, carefully remove the masking tape being careful not to pull the caulk out. If you smoothed the caulk properly you will find that there will be a very slight raised edge to the caulk were it meets the tile. Then using your wet finger with very little pressure, wipe down just that edge to remove the high spot. Clean up wait over night and your ready to use the tub again!