How to Caulk like a Pro

  • 01 of 07

    Tools and Materials

    Applying caulk
    Applying silicone bath tub caulk. Fotolia

    Like painting, caulking is one of the home improvement projects that people like to imagine they already know how to do. In reality, most people simply have never learned the correct way to apply caulk, and more often than not the job ends up being a mess. If you learn a few simple steps, though, your caulk jobs will look like they've been done by the pros. 

    Tools and materials:

    • Caulk (chosen for the intended use)
    • Caulk gun
    • Retractable razor blade scraper
    • Blue painter's tape
    • Rubbing alcohol (if using silicone caulk)
    • Several small cotton rags
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  • 02 of 07

    Choose the Right Caulk and Dispenser

    Hispanic woman holding caulking gun
    Tanya Constantine / Getty Images

    The first step is to evaluate your g project and choose the proper caulk for the job. There are a number of different caulks, colors, and dispensing methods from which to choose.

    Caulk typically comes in three varieties: latex, silicone, and butyl rubber. For dry areas, vinyl latex caulk works best. For wet areas, the nod goes to silicone caulk. For exterior jobs, butyl rubber works great. For interior home repair caulking projects, however, use either a latex caulk or silicone caulk.

    The type of caulk gun or dispensing tool you use is also an important decision. Caulks can be purchased in either squeeze tubes or cartridges that are loaded into a caulk gun. The pros typically use cartridges and a smooth-action caulk gun, both to save money and achieve the best results. 

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  • 03 of 07

    Remove Old Caulk and Clean the Surface

    caulk removing tool
    Caulk removal can be done using an inexpensive mechanical tool. Hyde Tools

    Removing the old caulk and preparing the surfaces is very important for an effective caulk repair. Here's how to prep the surfaces:

    1. Remove the old caulk with a handy tool called a retractable razor blade scraper.
    2. Use the razor scraper to get all the old stuck-on caulk off both adjoining surfaces, such as a ceramic tile wall and the lip of the tub or sink. Scrape it clean.
    3. Vacuum up the debris and vacuum the open joint. 
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  • 04 of 07

    Tape off Surfaces

    Painters tape
    RightFramePhotoVideo/Getty Images

    This is the secret to a professional looking caulk job and any amateur home repair enthusiast can do it! Without this step, you will end up with very wide caulk joints once you try to smooth the joint out after application. The use of tape to mask both edges of the joint allows you to set the width of the joint and protect the surrounding finish material from being smeared with caulk.

    Apply strips of blue painter's tape to mask off both surfaces at the point where you want the edge of the caulk bead to stop. Make sure the tape is straight and use long sections of tape, not short pieces. The joint will look best if you tape to create a fairly thinner joint, about 1/4 inch in total width. Press down firmly along the edge of the tape edging the caulk joint. The goal is to seal this edge so caulk cannot seep beneath it. 

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  • 05 of 07

    Apply Caulk

    Caulk gun applying silicone to granite sink
    BanksPhotos / Getty Images

    Once the joint is cleaned out and masked, you're ready to caulk.

    1. Open the caulk tube by cutting the tip at a 45-degree angle and puncturing the inner seal with a long nail or wire. Many newer caulk guns have a built-in snipper to clip the tip of the caulk tube and puncture wires to break the inner seal.
    2. Apply the caulk at a 45-degree angle between horizontal and perpendicular. Make sure to squeeze hard enough to force the caulk fully into the joint.
    3. Draw the tip of the caulk tube along the length of the joint, working a speed that is slow and consistent. The smoother the initial application, the better the end results will be. 
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  • 06 of 07

    Smooth the Joint

    The next step is to smooth the joint. Here's where the tape masking technique will make your job more successful. Without tape, smoothing the joint can leave you with smeared edges, but by using the tape masking technique, your caulk joint will be left with only a clean, sharp edge.

    1. Wet your finger with either alcohol (for silicone caulk) or water (with latex caulk). Also, dampen a corner of a cloth rag with either water or alcohol as appropriate. The alcohol or water will serve as a lubricant and thinning agent as you smooth the joint.
    2. Using firm pressure, smooth the caulk joint, working from one end to the other.
    3. As you finger becomes laden with excess caulk, wipe it off with the dampened rag and re-wet your finger.
    4. Continue the smoothing process until the entire taped section you're working on is finished.

    Tip: If you dislike the idea of getting caulk on your fingers, you can use a rounded craft stick (popsicle stick) instead of your finger to smooth the joint. Or, you can wear a tight-fitting latex glove while smoothing the caulk bead. 

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  • 07 of 07

    Remove the Tape

    Once the caulk joint is smoothed out, immediately remove the blue painter's tape used to mask the joint. Remove the tape away slowly, and pull it away from the joint at an angle, not toward the joint.