Caulking 101: How To Caulk Like A Pro

by on January 29, 2012

Caulking is an important part of home maintenance

Caulking provides the necessary barrier between bath water and your tub, tile and flooring. It prevents water from getting behind the fixtures and surfaces, thus preventing structural damage and mildew down the line.

There are two basic misunderstandings about caulking:


caulking around the bathtub

clean straight caulk line

The first misconception is that caulking’s good for covering things up (read: hiding flaws).

If  tiles are loose or the wall is soft, no amount of caulking will help. Fix the problem  first!

The second fallacy is that it’s best to use a lot of caulking. Wrong! Most people use far too much.

NEVER caulk over the top of old caulking!

If you don’t have a good, clean, sound surface on which to apply your caulking it will not do what you want it to do. You want it to adhere well, look good, stay clean and be sound for several years, and most importantly, keep water out from behind the surfaces.

The first step is to prepare the surfaces

  •  Remove all of the old caulking with a razor blade or sharp chisel. Work at getting all of the old stuff off. Little tiny pieces can wreck havoc when you are applying the new caulking.
  • Clean the surface with Acetone. If there is mold, I use some bleach on a Q-tip. Warning: don’t soak the surfaces when the caulking is removed. After it is completely clean, I wipe the surface with denatured Alcohol. This will draw moisture out from between the surfaces. Sometimes I will wait a day or two before applying the new caulking to make sure it is completely dry.
  • With a good razor blade, cut an angle at the tip of the caulking tube. A clean cut gives a smooth flow. I like to cut the nose off the tube at the smallest point possible. Caulking tends to spread and grow. You don’t need much.

Select the appropriate type of caulking

If you will not be painting at the edge of your caulk line (i.e. the bath tub to tile wall, or kitchen counter to tile back splash) then use silicone caulking. It is best for sealing out water and staying flexible. However, paint will not adhere to silicone so if you are caulking a window frame or molding that will be painted, use latex. There is also interior and exterior caulking so read the tube or ask a salesperson for help.

I like to work a small line of caulk at a time

  • Squeeze a small, continuous line about 2-3 feet long. There is a bit of a hand trick with releasing the pressure on the trigger of your caulking gun (with a lever on the back) to get the caulk to stop flowing.
  • With latex caulk I touch my finger on a damp sponge and then draw my finger along the line of caulking. As soon as you get a build up of excess on you finger, wipe it off on a paper towel. If you continue drawing it along, your line gets bigger and wider and will be difficult to clean up.
  • If you are using silicone, a paper towel with paint thinner on it works well, as silicone won’t clean with water. If you get your finger damp each time, it glides smoothly. Also, if you can have your finger moving slightly as you touch the caulk, it stays smoother.

As you can see in the photo above, even old tile can look sharp if the caulking is smooth, clean and small. The caulking on this tub has been in place for close to 10 years and it is still clean and fresh looking.

Caulking before you paint works wonders for making smooth, straight lines and a professional grade paint job.

Have fun.  Caulking is one of my favorite tools.



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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Arthur March 17, 2014 at 4:27 am

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