Techniques and Tips For Re-Caulking A Tile Countertop

Tile Countertop Re-Caulking Tips

By Troy Cantini

Many tile countertops have either grout or cheap latex caulks between the countertop and the seams.  Both of these materials can crack and get moldy over time. Many times sanded latex caulk is use in the countertop seams that looks just like sanded grout. If you can stick a metal object in this material and see that it is soft and pliable then it is most likely sanded caulking. If the substance is hard and brittle then grout has been used between the countertop seams.

recaulking tile countertop

It is much easier to remove old caulking then it is to remove old grout.  If you see that there is hardened grout there and it is extremely hard to remove then it may be better to just fill any cracks in the grout with a similarly colored caulk. If caulking has been installed between the countertop seams then the old caulking should be removed and replaced with new caulk.  Using grout in this area will not allow for movement between the two tile planes. Caulk is much more flexible than grout and less likely to crack when there is movement between the tile countertop and the backsplash. You can usually find a caulk that matches the existing color and texture of the tile countertop grout.

Over time caulk can start looking dirty, black and moldy and need to be replaced.  Trying to clean dirty or moldy caulk is usually impossible to do. Trying to simply put new caulk over the old dirty caulk will cause the new caulking to peel away in a short period of time. Removing the old caulk and replacing it is the only way to ensure that the new caulk will look good and last for a long period of time.

removing caulk

The first step when re-caulking a tile countertop is to remove the old caulk.  Removing the old caulk is best done with a razor blade scraper tool and a utility knife. The utility knife works best to cut through the old caulk so that the razor blade scraper tool can be used to scrape away the old caulk. After removing all of the old caulk some isopropyl alcohol or acetone can be used to remove any caulking residue that was left on the tiles.

There are three (3) main types of caulk that work best for re-caulking a tile countertop.  Each type of caulk has its advantages and disadvantages as far as the durability and look of the new caulk is concerned.

  • 100% silicone caulk is the most durable, mold resistant and easiest to clean type of caulk.  100% silicone caulk will not grow mold and mildew in it and will not trap dirt and other contaminates in it like other types of caulk. 100% silicone caulk has limited color choices and you may not be able to find a color that 100% matches the color of the existing grout. 100% silicon caulk will have a slightly glossy look to it that may not match the existing non glossy look of grout. Also 100% silicone caulk will be smooth and not have a textured look if the existing grout is sanded grout.

  • Sanded latex caulk comes in many colors that are manufactured to match the color and texture of grout.  Sanded latex caulk has bits of sand in it to give it a textured look of sanded grout. It also has a minimal sheen to it that matches the sheen of grout. Most grout manufacturers will supply a full pallet of sanded caulks to match their sanded grout colors. The properties of latex based sanded caulks make it much more susceptible to growing mold in it than 100% silicone caulk. This type of caulk should never be used in showers or other extremely wet environments. Sanded latex caulk will look better on tile countertops than 100% silicone caulk but they will more readily attract dirt and be more difficult to clean than 100% silicone caulk. If the tile countertop does not get exposed to too much water than a sanded latex caulk will work fine in most environment.

  • Unsanded latex caulk has the same properties as sanded latex caulk but it does not have bits of sand in it to give it a textured look.  Unsanded latex caulk will usually come in a full pallet of colors to match the grout manufactures existing unsanded grout color pallets. Unsanded latex caulk will have the same smooth texture of unsanded grout and is best used on tile countertops with thin grout lines that have unsanded grout. This type of latex caulk will not be as mold resistant and durable as 100% silicone caulk.

taping off caulking seems

Before caulking a tile countertop it is best to first tape off the areas of the countertop that will to be caulked.  Trying to apply an even bead of caulk freehanded will never give you straight and even caulk lines. You should tape off the countertop tiles about 1/8 inch up from the edges of the tiles that need to be caulked. Make sure that you apply the tape securely and in a straight line to make the new caulking look straight after it has been applied.

After you have taped up the edges of the tile countertop then it is time to apply the new caulk.  You should apply a generous amount of caulk to the taped off areas and force the caulking deep into the seams so your tile countertops will be as water tight as possible..

smoothing caulk with finger

After applying the new caulk you should smooth it with your finger along the taped off areas.  Make sure to push in the new caulk so it fills all of the the area that need to be caulked. If necessary you can add more caulk and force it into the caulk lines before removing the tape. Smooth over the caulk 2-3 times to ensure that it is forced deep into the caulk lines and that there are not any high areas of caulk along the taped of caulk lines.

caulking tape removal

After smoothing out the caulk then you should remove the tape one side at a time.  It is best to remove the top side tape first. Then re-smooth the caulk with your finger while the bottom side tape is still intact. Then you can remove the bottom side tape and smooth over the caulk line with your finger a final time. If necessary you may need to re-smooth some areas of the caulk line a second time with your finger to ensure that the caulking job looks professional done..

newly recaulked tile countertop

You should allow the caulk to dry for 24 hours before using your tile countertop.  Keeping the caulk dry by wiping it down when it becomes wet will help keep it from becoming dirty and moldy over time.

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