In the main body of a tile installation grout is used in-between the tiles. However different materials naturally expand, contract, and move. These processes can cause tile grout to crack or even cracked tile if the grout is used where two different materials meet such as expansion joints. So instead you’ll need to use a more flexible and forgiving option: caulk.
Where It’s Used
Caulk is the best choice since it allows both the tile material and whatever it is up against expand, contract, or move independently of one another without any breakage. If the tile is installed correctly you will see caulk used where the tiles meet a wall, floor, counter, trim, or backsplash (normally called expansion joints) or where the meet fixtures and features like a shower, sink, cook top, cutting board, or toilet just to name few.
There are two main types to pick from, caulk made from silicone and the latex variety. Silicone is known for its flexibility and the fact that water can’t break it down or get through it. So, when installing outdoor tiles, tiles for a project in an area that will be wet like around tubs, or on materials that are more prone to movement a silicone caulk is the top choice.
Keep in mind that it is harder to clean up after installation so you will need to use solvent to help you do so. Some homeowners may find silicone a little more difficult to work with as well.
Latex caulk on the other hand is much simpler to use, like silicone is waterproof, and only requires some soap and water to help you tidy up the area when you’re finished working. There are also options which are a mixture of both so you get the increased flexibility of silicone but with the advantage of being easier clean like with latex.
Luckily for consumers today, caulk for expansion joints and around fixtures is available in virtually every color. This allows you to use it to match the color of the grout used in the surrounding tiles, the color scheme of your room, or even appliances. There are even sanded and unsanded options as well to help not only match the color of your grout its texture too.
Before You Begin
For smaller jobs you usually can get away with a squeeze tube of caulk. For anything larger though you’ll need a caulk gun and cartridge. Before you apply it for real though, you should practice either squeezing the tube or pulling the trigger of your caulk gun on a piece of cardboard or scrap pieces from your project until you are able to apply an even bead.
When you’re ready follow the joint and add your caulk in an even and steady manner giving you a bead of a few feet in length. Don’t overdo it though; you are better off applying it again if it’s not enough than using too much caulk at first. Then, use a damp finger to smooth it out. And lastly take a damp sponge and run it along the joint line to help get rid of any residue or excess caulk. If needed smooth over with your finger again.
Touching It Up
If the final result is smaller than the grout lines of your project you’ll want to add a little more caulk and then repeat the smoothing process. In the case that it is too large use some paper towel to remove the extra caulk and smooth it over again. It’s important that you make any changes right away so that you won’t have to remove everything and start again.
You now know the basics of caulk and how to use it correctly in your tile project. Whether around a sink, tub, in an expansion joint or any other location that needs a flexible and waterproof seal, caulk will get it done right.
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