Whether you are working on a plastic shower tray or a tray that is built out of tile, one of the primary concerns for a shower is water saturation. If water is allowed to penetrate beyond the tray to the wood framing of the home, rot sets in, which eventually leads to costly repairs. For this reason, sealing shower pans and trays is part of the maintenance upkeep to keep your home in functioning order.
Understanding Shower Trays and Pans
Shower trays either come in plastic format or with natural stone tiles or ceramic and other man-made tiles. They are more commonly referred to as shower pans. Regardless of which style you choose for the home, there are numerous joints that must be sealed off to keep water from penetrating behind the unit. In the case of plastic pans this is just the joints where it meets the walls and floor, and around the shower drain, but with tile trays you have to worry about the entire floor and curb because of the grout joints, which are porous.
If you are working with a new installation, immediately begin the sealing and caulking phase of protecting the tray. However, in any other case you must first clean the tray so that your sealer and caulking adhere to the surface. A typical all-purpose tile and bath cleaner is sufficient for the job, along with a scrub brush for scrubbing and a sponge to wipe up the excess. Always follow manufacturer guidelines for soaking time with the solution, but as a general rule it’s simply a matter of soak, scrub and rinse.
All joints where the shower tray meets the walls or floors must be filled with caulking, not grout. The reason for this is because grout is porous, so even if the walls are tile and the tray is a plastic pan, you still need to caulk the joint where the pan meets the wall tile. For plastic pans, the best results are achieved with a transparent silicone caulk. For tile showers, a latex-modified or acrylic colored caulk to match the grout also works. Apply masking tape around the bottom edge of the wall tile (or other material), as well as along the edges of the shower tray where it meets other surfaces, such as the floor out front of the pan. Fill the joint with caulking and then wipe down excess with your finger, as well as smooth the joint as you go along. This smears excess onto the tape. After you tool all the joints around the perimeter, peel off the tape to finish the job.
Sealing a tile shower tray depends on the type of tile. Glazed tiles are non-porous, and only the joints of the tile need to be sealed. Non-glazed tiles as well as natural stone tiles need their entire surface sealed along with the grout. Choose between topical sealers that leave behind a protective layer that often adds a polished sheen, or a penetrating sealer that soaks into the materials to bond beneath the upper layer to block out water. Apply the sealer with a paint brush or spray bottle for full application, or use an applicator tip bottle from a home improvement store for grout joints only.