How to Apply Caulk: An Easy Step-by-Step Guide

Amy Pawlukiewicz
Written by Amy Pawlukiewicz
Updated March 31, 2022
A worker applying silicone seal
Photo: AndreyPopov / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images
Difficulty

Simple

Flex your DIY muscles.

Time to complete

30 minutes

30 minutes

Learn to rock the caulk

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

What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Putty knife, scraper, or razor blade
  • Vacuum or shop vac
  • Rags or cloths
  • Sharp scissors or utility knife
  • Long screw or wire hanger
  • Caulk finishing tool or plastic spoon

SUPPLIES

  • Tube of caulk or caulk gun
  • Rubbing alcohol or disinfectant spray
  • Painter’s tape
  • Popsicle stick

Caulk is to the home what duct tape is to, well, everything. You can use caulk to seal windows, fix cracks in grout, and even plug holes in tile. Here’s your easy step-by-step guide to applying caulk properly throughout your home.

9 Steps to Apply Caulk

  1. Choose the Right Caulk for Your Needs

    When it comes to caulking, you’ve got a few different product types to choose from. Here are the different types.

    • Acrylic latex caulk: It’s an all-purpose type you can paint over and clean up with soap and water. It’s suitable for indoor projects, like sealing baseboards.

    • Butyl rubber caulk: It’s usually used outdoors for gutters, roof repairs, and other outdoor projects. 

    • Latex silicone caulk: It’s like standard acrylic caulk with a bit of kick from the silicone, making it even more water-resistant. You can use this type of caulk indoors and outdoors and easily clean it up with soap and water.

    • Masonry repair caulk: It works well on brickwork, concrete, stucco, and other essential outdoor materials.

    • Pure silicone caulk: This is what you’ll want to use for your bathroom jobs involving tubs and showers. This type of caulk is also the best caulk for sealing windows. It’s highly moisture-resistant and generally the costliest of all the different caulk types.

    • Refractory caulk: It’s designed for use in high-temperature areas, like fireplaces.

  2. Remove the Old Caulk

    A worker removing old silicone
    Photo: Jale Ibrak / Adobe Stock

    You don’t just want to slap new caulk over the old caulk and call it a day, or you’ll risk cracking, peeling, and other pesky issues. Using either your razor blade, putty knife, or scraper, remove as much of the old caulk and loose grout as you can from the groove and surrounding areas. Then, use your vacuum or shop vac to clean up the old caulk residue you’ve scraped away.

  3. Clean the Area

    Caulk adheres best to a clean, dry surface. Once you’ve completed your scraping, take your rag and rubbing alcohol or disinfectant spray to thoroughly clean any surfaces where you plan on applying new caulk. Rubbing alcohol generally dries quickly, but wait until the area is completely dry before starting your application.

  4. Tape Your Edges

    Taping is crucial to make sure your caulk job looks neat. It also ensures the caulk doesn’t go everywhere when you’re doing the job, just in case you bump the caulk gun too hard. Using your painter’s tape, tape along the line where you want the product to go on both sides. Then take your popsicle stick and slide it along the tape to ensure it’s fully stuck onto the surface. You don’t want any caulk seeping under the tape and ruining your finish.

  5. Cut Your Caulk Tube

    You can skip this step if you’re using a caulk gun because it has a built-in nozzle cutter and seal puncher. If you’re using a tube of caulk without a gun, take your scissors or utility knife and cut the tip at a 45-degree angle. Since you’ll be applying the caulk at an angle and in corners, cutting at this angle will help you get a smoother finish. Then, take your long screw or hanger, and insert it into the nozzle to puncture the inner seal.

  6. Apply Your Caulk

    A worker applying silicone sealant
    Photo: yuriygolub / Adobe Stock

    Slow and steady wins the race here every time. Place the nozzle of either your tube or caulk gun against the seam and slowly apply pressure to the trigger or tube. Move slowly and evenly along the seam to apply a smooth bead of caulk.

  7. Smooth the Seam

    As smooth as your application is, it’s still necessary to go over the seam or joint with a caulk finishing tool. If you don’t have a caulk finishing tool, you can use your finger. However, you’ll want to dip your finger in water first and make sure your finger stays wet consistently. As caulk builds up on your finger, wipe it off and re-wet your finger. If you see gaps in the caulk at this point, apply a little more to that area and smooth with your tool or finger.

  8. Remove the Painter’s Tape

    Before the caulk sets, remove your tape from both edges. Pull gently and slowly at an angle away from the joint, ensuring you don’t drip excess caulk from the tape. If you see any excess on the surrounding area, wipe it away immediately with a damp cloth before it sets.

  9. Let It Set

    Depending on the type of caulk you’re using, it may take anywhere from 30 minutes up to several days to dry and cure. Wait until the caulk has set fully before you paint or subject it to moisture if you’re caulking your shower, tub, or an outdoor area.

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