Crumbling Shower Plaster

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My sister recently purchased an apartment that was probably built in the 1950s. In the bathtub/shower the tiles do not go up to the ceiling. They go up about six feet. On the walls in the shower above the tile, the paint has blistered and the plaster is eroding. I'm assuming the water from the shower is causing this. What is the best way to repair this? Thanks.

This is one of the most common "water-damage" repairs in a home. In the good old days, contractors would run the tile all the way to the ceiling, so this was a non-issue. It seems that once a way to save a buck is found, news travels fast and... as is always the case... the homeowner takes it on the chin!

The repair is a fairly simple. First, all the loose wall material should be scraped out. If there is any evidence of mildew... broad, darkened areas or scattered tiny black "dots" are a telltale sign... wash the walls down with a mix of one cup household bleach to one gallon of water. Even if there is no evidence of mildew, it might be a good idea anyway just in case your are the victim of "stealth" mildew! You can add a detergent such as TSP substitute to the mix, but read the label to be sure it is (1) safe for tile and (2) is compatible with bleach! Don't want any nasty chemical reactions stinking up the place!! Allow the walls to thoroughly dry... not using the shower for at least a day is preferred.

Now you have to assess the condition of the plaster walls. Holes can be filled with either patching plaster or plaster of paris. Plaster of paris is fast drying so it is preferred for small repairs. Though drywall compound can be used, it sometimes does not hold firmly in plaster for deep fills. Dampen the old plaster slightly and then apply the filler with a drywall knife. Level the patch... the first fill does not have to be neat, but it is important that the patch not be raised above the wall level because plaster is somewhat difficult to sand down. Once the plaster dries... an hour for plaster of paris and four or more hours for patching plaster... sand lightly and finish smoothing the wall with wallboard compound. Fill-and-sand until the wall is smooth as a baby's behind… or at least as smooth as you want!

Prime the walls with a quality primer... I prefer oil-based myself for damp locations... and then apply two finish coats with a paint (oil or latex) that is treated to be mildew resistant. Gloss, semi-gloss or eggshell finishes are all preferable to flat paint... they are more washable because they are more moisture resistant!

Once the paint has dried, put a thin, neat bead of mildew-resistant bathroom caulk around the top edge of the tile. This will keep any moisture from getting behind the tiles. Of course, if the tiles themselves are firm and the top grout shows no evidence of cracking you may be able to skip this step. If in doubt, caulk!

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