Got Gaps? Here Are 11 Tips for Your Next Caulking Job

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated December 9, 2021
white bathroom toilet with caulking around rim
Photo: Kristina Blokhin / Adobe Stock

Feelin’ “caulky?” Mind the gap like a pro with these 11 caulking tips.

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

Aside from boosting the general appearance of your home by covering unsightly gaps in joints, caulking around doors and windows reduces drafts and improves your home’s energy efficiency. You can employ this magical, flexible material to restick peeling wallpaper and make minor roof repairs—it all comes down to the type of caulk used and the technique.

With the following tips, no gap in your home will be safe from your caulking prowess.

1. Choose the Right Caulk

There are several types of caulk you can choose for your caulking project.

Acrylic Latex

Known as "painter's caulk," acrylic latest is a general-purpose caulk that dries quickly and, as its nickname suggests, can be painted over. It's great for filling gaps in wood trim or between wood parts (baseboards, for instance) that you plan to paint later. It's not moisture resistant on its own, but a few coats of paint boosts its protection.

Latex With Silicone

Latex—or acrylic—mixed with silicone is a smidge more malleable than acrylic caulk. It offers better moisture resistance, too. People typically apply it indoors or outdoors in the same way acrylic caulk is used, as well as in some places that might be exposed to low levels of moisture. 

Pure Silicone

Pure silicone withstands high moisture levels, so it's a reliable option for caulking showers, faucets, and tub jobs. Several types are mildew-resistant, but you can't paint them. It is, however, often available in different colors to suit your home.

Butyl Rubber

Intended for outdoor use, this caulk is best for metal and masonry; application examples include gutter seals, flashings, or roof jobs. Some of the available formulas on the market are paintable.

Refractory

Ideal for small repairs (such as filling small cracks) on fireplaces, refractory caulk withstands high temperatures. 

Masonry Repair

A highly flexible variety, use this caulk to seal cracks and joints in concrete (such as in your driveway) or in masonry-stucco walls. 

2. Choose the Right Caulking Gun

man fixing toilet with silicone
Photo: lightwavemedia / Adobe Stock

Select a caulking gun with a heavier gauge metal, a built-in cutter, and a steel pin you can use to puncture the seal. Dripless caulk guns release pressure on the cartridge when you take your finger off the trigger, allowing for better control. That said, you may not need a gun at all. If the project you’re working on is on the smaller side, you might be fine with a squeeze tube or pressurized can.

If you’ve got a larger project on your hands, call a local handyperson to help out with caulking.

3. Prepare the Area

For a professional-level caulking job, prepare the area you’ll be working on. Clean the area of any dust, dirt, and debris, and cut out the old caulk with a utility knife, razor, or putty knife. Disinfect the area with some alcohol, then wipe it down with water and a clean rag. Let the area dry before placing the fresh caulk.

4. Tape It Straight

Use painter’s tape to mark any area you don’t want caulked, and press the tape down firmly so no caulk can sneak in underneath. This will give you a clean finish with straight lines. Your finished joint will look best if it is no wider than one-quarter of an inch. 

5. Break the Seal

Cut the tip of the caulk tube at a 45-degree angle. Use a clean nail (or the puncture wire that came with the caulk gun) to break the inside seal, and poke it a few times to create a clear passage for the caulk. Make sure not to cut off too much of the tube, or you'll have a tough time caulking slim, neat lines. The cut tip should only be one-sixteenth of an inch in diameter; for significant gaps, you can do a second pass or cut a slightly—we mean slightly—larger hole.

6. Nail the Application

Apply caulk slowly and work in small sections so you can maintain control, applying at a 45-degree angle between horizontal and perpendicular. Draw the nozzle across the joint and make sure you squeeze out an ample amount of caulk to fill the joint completely. If you're using a caulk gun, think about pushing the caulk into the gap rather than pulling it over the joint.

7. Smooth the Bead

man uses tool to seal caulking
Photo: yunava1 / Adobe Stock

Smooth the caulk using a finishing tool to get that super professional finish. If you don't have a finishing tool, no worries. Just dip your finger in warm, soapy water and draw it across the caulk bead. A popsicle stick also works. If you notice any gaps, fill them with additional caulk and smooth them again.

8. Disguise Caulk on Concrete

If you’re caulking on concrete, make your work invisible by sprinkling dry concrete mix over the caulk before it dries. When it’s dry, simply brush away whatever remains.

9. Remove the Tape

man apply masking tape on sink
Photo: Тимур Конев / Adobe Stock

When you’re done caulking and ready to remove the tape, pull it off diagonally away from the joint. 

10. Know the Difference Between Dry and Cure Times

Caulk needs to fully cure before it is ready to be painted, and that’s a different time than the dry time. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to find each.

11. Fill the Bathtub

Fill your bathtub up with water before caulking it. The water will slightly weigh the bathtub down, creating the largest joint possible so you know you’ll be completely filling it.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.