We all know I’m not a professional contractor or tradeswoman, but when I do a project, I spend hours and hours researching and reading tutorials from people who are, in fact, professionals. I watch videos; I read blog posts; I devour tutorials so I, too, can learn how to do a particular project to the best of my ability. I’ve done quite a few tiling projects over the past few years and I get a bit better with each one, although I’m far from feeling like an expert!
For some reason, in 2018, Finn and I thought the best way to learn how to tile was to gut our entire bathroom and tile the entire thing ourselves.
We added marble basketweave tile to the floors and subway tile to the walls and shower and it was one of the hardest, but most rewarding projects we’ve done. We learned a lot about what to do and what not to do.
Our next tiling projects felt like a breeze compared to that bathroom. We used a gorgeous marble subway tile on our fireplace and I then added a green tile to a wall in our laundry room. All this to say, I’m not a professional tiler but I’ve completed my fair share of tiling projects. So when my mom asked me if I could take a look at her backsplash to figure out why the bottom was crumbling, I immediately knew that the guy who did it made a big tiling mistake. Let’s dive into it…
My Mom’s Backsplash
My mom made over her kitchen when she first moved into her condo. There was a blue subway tile as the backsplash that just wasn’t her style. She ended up choosing this white tile as her backsplash and it turned out beautifully. Her handyman asked his nephew to do the job and he did alright, but I kinda got the impression that this might have been his first time doing this type of project.
The tile looked good for a while, but the bottom grout line started to crumble where it met the quartz countertop. My mom was perplexed as to why this happened and hated the look of the crumbling pieces on her nice white counters.
Avoid This Tiling Mistake
Here’s the big tiling mistake that was made. When you’re tiling, you want to leave at least 1/8″ where the tile meets another plane, like the walls, corners, ceilings, counters, etc. This is called an expansion joint. Every home expands and contracts over the seasons, as humidity and temperature in your home change, and houses settle over time. You would usually use a spacer on the bottom where the counter meets the tile and in the corners for the expansion joint.
So, the man who did the tiling didn’t create a uniform expansion joint across the bottom or on the sides, which was tiling mistake #1. The second tiling mistake was that he grouted those areas instead of using caulk. Grout isn’t flexible and will crack if things shift, which is exactly what happened here. Caulk is flexible and it’s the perfect material to use in a space like this.
For your next tiling project, always remember that you want to caulk these areas, not grout them!
How to Fix Crumbling Grout
Luckily, we were able to rectify the situation and get rid of the crumbling grout in my mom’s backsplash and make it look ten times better. Here’s what we used…
- Silicone Caulk
- Caulk Gun
- Painter’s Tape
- Cup of Water
- Caulk Removal Tool
- Shop-Vac (this is the one we own and love) or Handheld Vacuum
The first thing we did was scrape away the bottom line of grout. It was pretty easy because it was crumbling anyway. I just used the flat side of my caulk removal tool to scrape it all away.
With the old grout out, we vacuumed up the debris and used rags to make sure everything was really clean. Then, it was time to caulk.
Choose the Right Caulk
Okay, so let’s discuss caulk for a second. When doing woodworking projects, you’ll always use acrylic caulk which is fairly easy to use. You can read more about my tips for that in this post. Acrylic caulk is also paintable, so you can paint right over it to match your walls or trim.
For a project that needs to be waterproofed, like a bathroom or kitchen, silicone caulk is the way to go. It is not paintable, but it comes in various colors along with clear. Silicone caulk is harder to work with than acrylic and it’s messy, but don’t worry, I have tips to get the job done right.
Side Note: I often get questions about what you do if there is a big gap that you need to caulk. In that instance, you can use what’s called backer rod. I used this in our guest bathroom vanity because there was a huge gap between the vanity and the wall and I needed to replace the caulk. You just take this rope and shove it into the crack and then caulk on over it! The backer rod gives a place for the caulk to rest and it’s incredibly easy to use.
Painter’s Tape to the Rescue
Because silicone caulk is so messy, you’ll want to use painter’s tape to get a clean and crisp line. ( Note: I don’t use painter’s tape when working with acrylic caulk.) I used the painter’s tape and taped the countertop and the bottom of the wall tile to create a small thin line for the caulk.
The painter’s tape will keep your work neat and will ensure that your caulk doesn’t get all over the tile or counters. Trust me, it’s worth the extra five minutes of time and effort.
My Best Caulking Tips
- Use the caulk gun to open the tube of caulk. It has a pointy thing on it and you just stick that in the hole to break the seal of the tube.
- Use sharp scissors to cut the tube at an angle. Some caulk guns have a tool built on them to cut the tube, but I find that it’s best to cut on an angle with scissors. If you look closely, there are measurements right on the nozzle of most brands of caulk based on how thick you want your caulk line to be. I like to cut to the 1/4 inch mark.
- Take your caulk and slowly run it along the line. I like to work in three to five foot sections at a time and I keep the caulk gun moving.
- You can then wet your finger and run it over the caulk line to smooth it out. Once you get the hang of caulking, you can have your finger follow the caulk gun while you caulk. This takes some practice, though.
- Keep a cup of water nearby. You’ll want your finger to be wet when you run it along the caulk to smooth it out so it doesn’t stick to your skin.
- Once everything is caulked, take a close look before removing the painter’s tape. If an area needs more caulk, add it now, wet your finger again, and smooth it out.
- Remove the painter’s tape, while the caulk is still wet, and do your best to not mess with the caulk. It can be tempting to run your finger over it again and again but trust me, that will only screw things up! It’s best to ensure everything looks perfect before removing the painter’s tape.
- The caulk should take about an hour to dry.
- This project didn’t use much caulk at all, so I used this little tool to save the remainder of the caulk for another project down the road. They’re inexpensive and work wonderfully.
My Mom’s Improved Kitchen Backsplash
The fresh caulk brings this kitchen back to its former glory. It’s now sealed nicely and should stand up to water, grease, and anything else that might splash on here.
Jan’s Kitchen Sources
Wall Paint Color: Benjamin Moore “Balboa Mist” // Cabinets: Benjamin Moore “Chelsea Gray” // Stools // Brass Pendants // Brass Hardware // Runner (Blush/Grey) // Accessories (Mostly HomeGoods) // Tile // Faucet // Sink // Shelves // Soap Set
So, for your next tiling project, I hope you now know what NOT to do. But if things do go awry, these steps should help you fix it and get good looking countertops once again.