UNITED STATES—Redoing the caulking on a bathtub is a lot like marriage. The task is embarked on with great hopes and images of perfection, both omnipresent and taken for granted, held steadily before one’s eye. Then, afterward, one must face the reality.
The whole thing is so downright weird in our well packaged, standardized world. I must have been six or seven and this intrusion of the soft putty around the edges of the home tub were so makeshift and uneven, in comparison to the hard and tidy seams that came with the house. Now I wonder if that was done by a sloppy handyman, or if it was the work of my father, who was no handyman, who’d been cowed into doing it by my mother. (I can’t imagine him getting to hung up about mold and mildew). The new caulking was rough and homespun and frankly a bit of an eyesore. Now after my latest foray into caulking, my trowel is off to dear old dad. What he did on that tub was more than respectable.
I think even so basic a task as resealing the tub has gotten a bit more complicated, when such a nemesis is pitted against humanity, decay and blotches versus waterproof purity. Commercial forces have a hand in this, too. There’s a latex, water-based caulking that I used once to much better effect. I molded it with a spoon and it was pleasing to look at, but the people at Home Depot wouldn’t steer me to that. Silicon is the thing. It’s truly waterproof and guaranteed against mold for seven years.
I watched a couple of YouTube videos and they were in league with the silicon devil, as well as a chemical softener to loosen up the old caulk and totally remove it. These products imply chemicals that further the waterproof mystique and may cause birth defects. Nor should their fumes be breathed. Well, what the heck; guys who worked on my house before took pride in not wearing face masks.
When all the vile toxic substances have been properly applied, then you are to wipe the scar left around the tub’s top edge, let it fully dry, and then wipe it with rubbing alcohol. Let it dry and then wipe over all the tiles and the scarline with a vinegar and water mixture. All this rigmarole for an issue which qualifies as quintessentially ‘out of sight and out of mind,’ all the gooey and mildewed ramifications of an oft-used show-tub.
The application of the snow-white silicon was so out of control. Ironically, the king of waterproofers was itself watery. As the first strands came out of the nozzle, I quickly compromised my standards and found my best hope was to just finish the job and not fixate on the slurred lines. Beauty is function, I reassured myself. There is a beauty in getting the tub cleaned and relatively white every seven years, a beauty in having it restored for use after 24 hours. And when I gaze on the results, I concede it might be easier to turn the task over to a professional, but then again I wouldn’t be able to see that my caulking has a certain Henri Matisse touch.
Graydon Miller is the author of “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood” (on Amazon).