Joint Compound vs. Spackle: When to Use Each

Learn key differences between these patches before your next drywall project

Open joint compound containers next to spreaders

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Joint compound and spackle are essential materials used when working with drywall. Both products are white, thick, and have a paste-like consistency. So, what's the difference between them? Can you use spackle instead of joint compound?

Spackle and joint compound perform similar functions and are often used together for installing drywall. While some people may feel they're interchangeable, they aren't. Joint compound can be used instead of spackle, but spackle isn't suitable for replacing joint compound. Read on to see how each is designed for different, specific purposes.

Joint Compound
  • Contains gypsum and limestone

  • Use in large scale wall projects 

  • Sold in larger quantities

  • Thinner consistency

  • High shrinkage when dry

  • Harder to smooth out

  • Contains gypsum and binding agents

  • Designed for small wall repairs

  • Sold in smaller quantities

  • Thicker consistency

  • Low shrinkage when dry

  • Easy to use


Click Play to Learn the Difference Between Joint Compound and Spackle

What Is Joint Compound? 

Joint compound is the same as drywall mud or just mud. It's comprised mainly of gypsum and limestone, but it also has other materials such as clay, mica, perlite, and starch. Joint compound has a spreadable consistency similar to mud, which is how it got its common name. However, the consistency depends on the specific type of joint compound.

Generally, it's used for big wall repairing projects or new drywall installation. Joint compound can also be used to fix small holes, smooth out dents in walls, or make small or medium repairs in plaster walls. However, large holes in plaster walls will likely require replastering. (Plaster sets quickly and is generally more difficult to work than joint compound or spackle.)

Uses and Cost

The primary use for joint compound is to seam and smooth new drywall installations. It’s sold premixed in 1-quart to 5-gallon containers or in a powdered form you can mix yourself with water. Although you can use it for filling holes and other smaller projects, it is sold in large containers and designed to cover a large area. It also takes joint compound some time to dry—up to 24 hours before it’s sandable or paintable. There are four types of joint compound:

  • All-purpose: Used for all phases of the patching process
  • Topping: Used for final coat and typically spread onto a wall with two dried coats of taping compound
  • Taping: Goes over drywall tape and sets the seam between the drywall
  • Quick-setting: Dries faster than the other compounds and works well for patching deep cracks and wide holes

Joint compound is relatively inexpensive. Although it doesn’t cost a lot up front, it doesn’t make sense to purchase a large container of the substance for minor repair projects. Also, some homeowners may find it hard to get a smooth finish when using joint compound because of its consistency, and it does take some practice and patience to get a seamless finish. 

What Is Spackle? 

Spackle compound for drywall is made of gypsum powder and binders. It is thicker than joint compound (drywall mud), similar to the consistency of toothpaste. Spackle is sold in a premixed tub container. It is also available in several different grades designed for specific applications.

Spackle is used to fill in dings and dents, nail holes, or any small damaged areas on walls. It dries faster than joint compound, typically within half an hour. Several types of spackling compounds are available; some can be used on different surfaces or outdoors.

  • Lightweight spackling compound: Contains fine aggregate with sodium silicate and an adhesive; designed for repairing smaller dings, holes, and cracks; doesn't sand well; only meant for quick, small fixes
  • Standard/all-purpose spackling compound: Gypsum-based (similar to joint compound); repairs larger holes, gouges, and cracks in drywall
  • Vinyl spackling compound: Fills in holes and cracks up to 3/4-inch deep; applied in layers; will not dry out or crumble; sands well; can be used outdoors
  • Acrylic spackling compound: Flexible like vinyl; can be applied to drywall, stone, brick, wood, or plaster; can be used outdoors
  • Epoxy spackling compound: Oil-based filler; repairs holes, gouges, cracks, or other imperfections in wood; can be used outdoors

Uses and Cost

Spackle is made for small repair jobs. It’s thicker than joint compound and harder to spread. Because it has a binding agent mixed in with the gypsum powder, it is more elastic and less likely to crack or shrink when dried. Spackle is a little more expensive than joint compound. However, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

Joint compound is used in large quantities to cover a larger surface area, so you spend more on it for your drywall project. Spackle may come in a small container, but you only use mere ounces of it at a time, and a tub can last for months, if not years.

Which Should You Choose?

Is it better to use spackle or joint compound? Most homeowners may only need to use spackle. Both joint compound and spackle have various uses in the home, and choosing the right one for the job makes all the difference.

When thinking about joint compound or spackle for cracks, the rule of thumb is to use spackle on small cracks or nail holes. However, if you get larger cracks or holes in the wall, you will need drywall compound and drywall tape to patch the hole.