Bathrooms and specifically showers and bathtubs are prone to leaks. Do you have a shower door that leaks? Maybe the corners of the glass enclosure leak every time you take a shower? If you answered yes, you may have water damage on your walls, baseboard or the floor outside the shower. The problem and solution to shower door leaks may be less complicated than you think once you learn about the new solutions for a frameless shower door.
Dealing with water leaks is a common problem for many of my handyman customers. They generally try to solve the problem themselves and ask for help when their repairs don't work. The challenge is figuring out what part of the shower door or tub is leaking.
Fixing shower doors leaks means understanding:
- What type of shower door do you have? Framed shower door, sliding shower door or frameless shower door.
- Where is the shower door leaking? At the bottom, on the vertical side with hinges or on the side of the frameless shower door opens?
- What type of shower base do you have? Precast shower pan with a lip (shown below)or tile base installed by hand?
Common Shower Door Leaks
Most showers I've inspected have leaked at the door or metal track that holds the glass. The leak isn't always noticeable but the damage it causes over the years is obvious. Sometimes there are stains on the walls, water damage on the baseboard or mold where the shower meets the floor just outside the glass door.
When you find water damage outside the shower door, the problem is typically due to an installation error. The shower door trim wasn't sealed correctly. The mistake is compounded over the years by handymen and DIY’ers adding more caulk to the inside of the shower, trying to fix the problem. It seems logical that to fix a leak you want to close the gaps where water can get out but that isn't always the right solution.
Using Caulk to Prevent Shower Door Leaks
The lesson here is there are times when “less caulk is better”. Yes, you want to thoroughly caulk the outside of the metal shower trim. But you don't want to caulk over the “weep holes” inside the shower. These small drain holes at the bottom of the metal track inside the shower allow condensation and water to drain back into the shower.
If you trap water inside the track, it will then find another escape route … and that's why we have so many shower door leaks. So caulking should focus on leaving the weep holes clear, as well as the corners inside the track. The faster the water can flow down the track and out to the shower drain, the quicker the shower will dry.
The type of caulk you use is also key to a long lasting seal. 100% silicone caulk is the only caulk that has stood the test of time during my time running a handyman business. It doesn’t shrink or crack unless it is in direct sunlight, and it stays flexible for a long time. Avoid acrylic caulk that hardens, cracks and is less successful in keeping out mold and mildew.
As a rule of thumb, clear silicone works best with metal trim and plumbing fixtures. White or grout colored silicone can be used to match the corners of walls, shelves and benches inside the shower.
Check to see that all rubber seals are in place and in good shape around the glass and the shower door. Each of these features plays a role in how the water is directed back into the shower, reducing the possibility of water splashing and getting through gaps in the door. These seals are inexpensive and easily replaced at a glass supply shop.
Buying Caulk Is Never Easy
Buying caulk is always challenging, so here are some general rules to follow.
- Buy caulking for the room or object you're going to caulk. For shower door leaks, you want a caulk that's meant for bathrooms and other “water areas”. Don't want to use a caulk meant for doors and windows.
- Read the label and identify additives like mold resistance. Use these to pick between two products that look about the same.
- Don't get fooled by the manufacturer's product names. They're used to grab attention but don't explain the product. Below you'll see two DAP products named “silicone rubber caulk” and “silicone sealant”. Reading the article, Difference Between Rubber and Silicone to understand the difference was more confusing. Next step, I called DAP and was told they're basically the same … confusing, yes!
- Color matters so make sure you buy – white if that's the color of your tile, toilet or bathtub. Otherwise you'll want to get a clear caulk where the color shows through.
Maybe you're used the traditional caulking tubes (upper left and center) that require a caulking gun to apply the caulk. Caulking guns aren't easy to use, so consider trying one of the new squeezable caulking tubes show below.
Solutions for Frameless Shower Door Leaks
Caulking is the traditional way to fix shower door leaks but what do you do when you have a frameless shower door? These new shower doors are more elegant and there's less metal to corrode but they're also more susceptible to water leaks. Don't panic though, as there are several different solutions to handle these types of shower door leaks.
First you'll want to identify where the water is leaking. Is water escaping through the gap under the shower door? Test to determine if water is also squeezing through the gap along either side of the shower door? Just tape a piece of paper or paper towel to help you spot where the water is coming from … to determine which of these solutions you need.
PS If you'd like to review detailed instructions on how to measure and install any of shower door solutions below, here's a detailed YouTube video from Dulles Glass & Mirror.
Frameless Shower Door Leaks Under the Door
If water is spraying out through the gap under your door, you'll want to install a frameless shower door sweep (click for more details) like the one shown here. Made from vinyl, the installation is easy – you simply slip it onto the shower door. Make sure you buy the size you need, or a longer sweep and cut it down. And remember to measure twice and cut once.
Frameless Shower Door Leaks on Either Side
If you find your frameless shower door is leaking up higher, then you'll need to seal the gap between the door and the adjacent glass wall. The shower door seal shown here can be used on either side of the shower door.
Frameless Shower Door Jam Can Stop Leaks
If the vertical gap where all/most of the water is escaping from your shower enclosure is where your shower door meets the wall, a frameless shower door jamb might be the best solution. Like the other solutions, it's easy to install this clear plastic jamb with the pre-applied, doubled-sided tape. You simply have to measure and cut the plastic to the desired length.
You now see that it's smart to do some detective work to identify what's causing your shower door leaks. There simply isn't one problem or one solution, so take your time figuring this out. All of these solutions are easy for most homeowners to do themselves and here are more tips to help you:
- Caulking Confusion: How Many Types of Caulk are There?
- Why & Where to Caulk Around Your Home
- Signs a Bathroom Remodel is Coming to Your House Soon
Thanks to Chad Walker, owner of the Texas Shower Company, who contributed the original article which has since been expanded to cover more shower door problems. Following in his grandfather's footsteps, Chad takes great pride in the work he does, giving back to his community by donating all reusable building materials to Habitat for Humanity. Visit Chad's web site at the TexasShowerCompany.
And if you discover that you have a different leak related to a tile shower, here's an amazing video on shower tile problems and how to avoid them.