Caulk. It can be intimidating and definitely takes some time, but use these caulking tips and you’ll love the finished, professional look you create!
By Colleen of Lemon Thistle
Pro-Level Caulking Tips for Beginners
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You may not often notice a good caulking job, but you’ll notice if it’s missing, I promise!
After you’ve spent days/hours replacing baseboards, windows, or trim breaking out the caulk can be the farthest thing from your mind, BUT it makes such a huge difference in your space. Adding caulk creates seamless transitions that make the whole room look finished.
To prove my point, see the base trim in the photo above. A little section on the end of one wall got missed when we caulked the rest of the house. Can you see how it looks like it’s still waiting for something, that it’s not quite finished?
Caulk: Get the name right
Before I dig in, a little bit of background for you. “Silicone” strictly speaking of the name, is a non-water-soluble, super stinky product that plumbers use around sinks and tubs. It’s usually clear and is meant to create a water tight seal. You can’t paint over it or the paint would bead up and looks terrible. It dries but stays cushiony and rubbery which is great for keeping water out of areas that expand and contract with heat and cold often (like a shower).
Caulk is a different product, although the words get used interchangeably all the time (like I do in the video- I just couldn’t help myself!). Caulk dries harder and many types are paintable. It’s meant for filling in seams in your handiwork.
Types of Caulk
I use this caulk from Home Depot around my home (and in the video). It is caulk plus silicone so it has a bit of flexibility when dry, helping to prevent cracks or separation. It is also paintable and good for indoor and outdoor use.
There’s 100 different types of caulk and silicone products out there. Choose the one that best suits your project. I use a grout silicone (found in the tiling section) to finish off my tiling jobs and a clear silicone to seal along countertops and the drywall. They all are used with the same technique- they just react a little bit differently.
How to Caulk: Video
Here’s a short video where I share basic caulking tips. I was a total beginner and these are the things I had to figure out on my own! For instance, the first time I tried to caulk, I was so frustrated that caulk kept coming out when I wasn’t squeezing the lever. I made such a mess! After caulking one room, I had a system down, so just don’t give up, okay?
I should tell you that I did paint the baseboard after that video (did you see how dingy it was!).
After filling the top gap, I used the same caulking process to fill the nail holes and vertical corner seams. Don’t worry if you’re not perfect at it. Stick with it and watch how fast you’ll improve.
Caulking Tips for a Perfect Finish
Start somewhere less visible
I always like to start in a section of the room that’s less visible, like behind a door or in a closet just in case it takes me a minute to get going.
Caulk before painting
I prefer to caulk before painting when I have different levels of trim that will all be painted the same color. Caulk can be difficult to clean (keeping it’s flexibility means a bit of stickiness) and painting over the caulk reduces some of that stickiness.
Taping is a great idea until you are comfortable with a caulking gun. Tape both the wall and the baseboard, leaving a small gap for your caulk to go into the seam. Smooth it, as in the video, then peel back the tape to see a nice, crisp line. I stopped taping after the second bedroom in our house because it is time consuming. BUT if you’re only doing one room or maybe just one window, taping will help you get a nice straight line. This is helpful in areas that are really visible.
Your caulking gun will really affect the way you work, especially if you are doing a large space. When we first bought one, we bought the cheapest gun we could find but it killed my hand. It broke after a couple bedrooms and we upgraded to the second cheapest caulking gun and it has made a world of difference!
I use my finger and a smooth damp rag to apply silicone and caulk. If you’re not into that- I get it, it does kill your fingers. My family swears by a caulking applicator that can be used to get a nice corner instead of your finger. Just drag it along as you would your rag or finger. I’m all about efficiency (also known as impatient) so pulling this out every time I needed to smooth a line was too finicky for me.
The caulk I use takes two hours to dry, and that’s if you have a nice thin line. Filling gaps that are a bit deep or wide will take longer to dry. Make sure your silicone is completely dry before painting to avoid pulling it up.
Push or Pull
Professional painters will push the caulking gun along the baseboard, but most of us will find it easier to pull or drag the caulking gun along, using the tip to smooth it as we go. Find out what works for you and go with that.
And there you have it! Learning to caulk well has been one of the most rewarding skills I’ve learned. I hope these caulking tips help you come to enjoy it, too!
More projects for using your new caulking skills
- DIY Craftsman Window Trim
- How to Install Board and Batten
- How to Build and Hang a Window Cornice
- How to Make Built-In Storage Shelves for Bathroom
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See more from Colleen over at LemonThistle
Originally published 05.07.2015 // Updated 06.11.2021
I'm the DIY and lifestyle blogger behind Lemon Thistle: home to DIY, hand lettering, home décor and design. I’m a mom to three kids under three, I love to entertain, and my awesome hubby and I are working our way through major renovations on our new home. I believe you can have a beautiful life, home, and party without spending a lot.