Ever wonder how exactly to choose the right type of caulk and how to complete a caulking project? Read on for the complete guide for how to use caulk.
This post is sponsored by DAP.
Are you ready for our next DIY Guide?! Because today is one that I’ve been asked about for a while now – the COMPLETE GUIDE to CAULK!
Caulk is one of those materials that’s so necessary for so many projects and household maintenance tasks, but it can be really intimidating. Some people don’t know which type to use, some people don’t know how to use it without making a huge mess, and some people aren’t really even sure what it is!
So today, I’ve got over 2,500 words on everything you need to know about caulk. If you don’t feel confident about your next caulking project after reading this post, it’s because you weren’t paying attention!
Let’s do this!
What exactly is caulk?
Caulk is a material that’s used to help seal joints or seams in various types of materials. It can be used to prevent leaking, keep out air or other elements from the outdoors, or just to make a project look more finished.
Most caulk is made from latex or silicone (or special chemistries, such as hybrics, polyurethanes, or synthetic rubbers). There are many different types of caulk for different types of projects, and I’ll break it all down for you here in this post today.
Many people use the words caulk and sealant interchangeably, but they’re actually two different products – let’s start there, shall we?
Caulk vs. sealant
The key difference between caulk and sealant is flexibility. Caulk is generally a more rigid substance, and can crack when used on things that will expand and contract a lot, or in spaces that will see really large temperature swings. Sealant, on the other hand, is extremely flexible and can handle more extreme temperature swings.
Caulk is usually paintable and can help seal joints in places like windows or door casings. Caulk is also often used along joints in trim work on interior projects!
Often, I find that many people use the word “caulk” when they’re referring to something used to seal windows, trim, or other wood projects and “sealant” when they’re talking about kitchens and baths. It’s not always accurate, but it does seem to be a generally accepted usage of the terms!
But, there are so many different types of caulk – where do I start?
You’re right – the caulk aisle at your local hardware store can be overwhelming, to say the least.
I often get asked what my favorite brand of caulk is – and that one’s easy: I’ve always been a big fan of DAP’s line of caulks and sealants. They’re a great product, they’re easy to work with, and they’re by far my most trusted brand of caulk and sealant!
DAP is a new partner for me (and it’s a dream come true to get to work with them!), and they were so kind to help as I planned out and researched for this post. They sent me a few different types of caulk to show off for you, and it’ll give you a really intro to the basic types of caulk and sealant the average homeowner might need to use. Between these four types of sealants, you should be covered for any type of project that may come your way!
DAP ALEX FLEX Acrylic Latex Siliconized Sealant
We’ll start with this one because this is my go-to caulk for the vast majority of the projects I do. DAP’s Alex Flex caulk is specifically meant for use on trim and molding – it’s very flexible, won’t crack, and is paintable. It’s also very easy to clean up with just water and is low-odor!
You’ve seen me use this stuff on a ton of projects, but here are just a few to give you an idea:
- I caulked all of the trim in my master bedroom with Alex Flex.
- I also used it on the seams (and along the top and bottom) of the beadboard in our entryway.
- It gave me a gorgeous finish at the top of the shiplap in the game room.
KWIK SEAL ULTRA ADVANCED KITCHEN & BATH SEALANT
This sealant is used in kitchens and baths and is the perfect solution for sealing around a toilet, tub, sink, or tile backsplash. It resists mold and mildew, stays looking clean and crisp for years, and is waterproof, crack proof, and stain proof.
Note that this sealant is not paintable – it should be purchased in the color you want it to be. It comes in clear, white, or biscuit, and it’s safe for use on granite and marble!
This is the type of sealant that I used when I was re-sealing all around the toilet and bathtub after painting our tile floor in our last master bathroom, and it’s my go-to for any kitchen or bathroom sealing project!
EXTREME STRETCH Acrylic Urethane Elastomeric Sealant
This Extreme Stretch sealant is an acrylic urethane sealant that can stretch up to 600%! It’s great for most sealant projects, but it’s the perfect sealant for use around doors and windows, where you really want to be sure you don’t have any cracks.
It’s 100% waterproof and weatherproof, and is paintable in as little as two hours. Oh, and did I mention its extreme flexibility allows it to seal joints up to 3″ wide?! This sealant can be used on both interior and exterior projects, so it’s also a great option for siding or gutters.
Personally, this one is my go-to when I need to replace the sealant around my windows or exterior doors.
DYNAFLEX ULTRA Advanced Exterior Sealant
And finally, the last sealant we’re going to talk about is the Dynaflex Ultra Exterior sealant. it’s specifically formulated for exterior use which means it can handle all the weather extremes that your climate could possibly want to throw at it!
It has really great UV, mold, mildew, and algae resistance, and provides a waterproof seal. It’s paintable (though it comes in a huge variety of colors), and can be painted (or even rained on) in as little as an hour after applying.
how do you use caulk?
Now that we have a more solid understanding of the different types of caulk (or sealant) and what they’re used for, let’s dive a little deeper into how you actually use it!
Many people find caulk to be very intimidating (and messy) but I promise, once you know what you’re doing it’s actually very simple to use.
Before you begin, take a few moments to review the label for usage and safety guidance. This information can vary widely based on the formula you have selected. If you have questions or concerns, most manufacturer’s offer product support, it can save you a lot of time and help avoid any potential issues.
Let’s start with the basics: in order to apply caulk, you’ll need a caulk gun.
The right caulk gun can be the difference between a really frustrating project and a really easy one. Some types of caulk guns continue to leak caulk after you’re done pulling the trigger, and it makes a really big mess – but the right gun will stop the flow of caulk as soon as you let go of the trigger.
When purchasing a caulk gun, you want to avoid a “ratchet-rod” gun – they’re almost guaranteed to leak on you. Instead, look for a caulk gun labeled as “drip free” or “smooth-rod”. You don’t have to spend a ton of money for a quality caulk gun, either – most are under $20!
I also recommend choosing one that has a built-in cutting tool to help make opening your caulk tube easier – many people don’t realize that this little hole in the side of your caulk gun is meant for cutting open the caulk!
how to open caulk with a caulk gun
There are a couple of different methods here – your first step is to choose how wide you want your line of caulk to be (this depends on your project, but I generally recommend 1/8″) and find the marked line on the tip of your caulk tube. Once you know where to cut, you have two choices – if you have a caulk gun with a high-quality spout cutter (pictured below), you can slide the tip into the opening on the caulk gun up to your chosen line and pull the trigger for a perfect opening in your caulk!
However, some of these spout cutters can tend to just crush the tip rather than cut it. So, if you aren’t sure if you can trust it, I’d recommend grabbing a utility knife and simply cutting along the same angle marked on the tip of your tube of caulk.
You’ll also notice that your caulk gun has a long, skinny metal skewer that can swing out from the main part of the gun. This is used to puncture the inner foil seal that is present in some types of caulk – check the directions on your tube of caulk to check if it’s a step you’ll need to take.
how to use a caulk gun
Once your caulk tube is open, you’re ready to load it into the gun. Slide the bottom part of the caulk tube over the flat, round part at the back of the caulk gun, then press the tip into the opening at the front of the caulk gun. Press the lever on the back until the caulk is firmly in place. If you want to see a visual of how this works, I’m breaking it down on Instagram stories today!
Now, you’re ready to go!
Here’s what I recommend having on hand while you’re working on a caulk project:
- Paper towels or clean, lint-free cloths that you don’t mind possibly ruining
- A bowl of warm water mixed with about a teaspoon of dish soap
- A pack of baby wipes
- Painter’s tape (optional, see below)
To apply caulk, simply press the caulk gun up to the area you’d like to apply caulk, holding the gun at a 45-degree angle, as pictured below, then pull the trigger and slowly move in a straight line as the caulk is released from the gun. You want to apply even, steady pressure to the trigger and move at a consistent pace. It may take a bit of time to find the right balance of pressure on the trigger and speed at which to move the gun!
I generally pull the trigger back about halfway and I move my arm pretty slowly along the wall. If you move too fast the line of caulk can skip and leave gaps – but, if you move too slowly you’ll end up with an excess of caulk and a mess to clean up! If you’re completely unfamiliar with using a caulk gun, you may find it helpful to try it out on a scrap piece of wood before you do it in your actual space!
Once you’ve applied a line of caulk, you’re ready to smooth it out. Dip your finger in the water, then lightly run your finger along the bead of caulk to smooth it (if needed). The water helps keep your finger from getting too terribly messy, and it also helps the caulk spread more evenly and gives you a better finish! Alternatively, you can also try out a tool for smoothing caulk – I’ve always liked the control that using my finger gives me, but many people swear by these!
Be sure to wipe any excess caulk off of your finger before starting the next line (you will pick up some caulk when you run your finger over it – this is normal!) – I like to use baby wipes for this! I also recommend wiping off the tip of the caulk gun if there is any dripping or excess caulk on it.
I actually find that baby wipes are generally my best friend when it comes to cleaning up any mess with caulk – they can clean it off the floor, your clothes, your skin, or even excess caulk on the walls! I always have a pack next to me while I’m caulking.
If you’re caulking along something like a wall or a bathtub, you can generally apply caulk along the entire length of your project before smoothing it. I try to avoid stopping in the middle of a line of caulk, so I typically do one entire line (which varies depending on your project – this could mean one side of a bathtub, one side of a window, or one entire length of a wall) before stopping to smooth it out.
What about the painter’s tape?
If you struggle to get a smooth caulk line, you can always apply painter’s tape to either side of the joint that you’re caulking to help protect the areas where you don’t want caulk. This makes a huge difference, but does take a little more work on the front end!
When you do this, be careful not to apply the tape too close to the seam, or when you pull it up you’ll be left with a little lip on your bead of caulk. Instead, give the caulk 1/8″ or so to spread past the seam. The tape should be removed immediately after tooling/smoothing the caulk/sealant (before the surface skins/dries), this avoids the possibility of disturbing your freshly applied product.
Here’s a close-up look at what I mean – this line of caulk had tape applied very close together:
While this line of caulk had a little more room to spread out:
Can you see the difference?
Obviously you’re rarely just caulking along a straight line like this (it’s usually in at a seam that creates more of a corner, like where two walls meet), but hopefully this illustrates the basic idea!
Using painter’s tape is a great way to ensure a less-messy finish if you tend to struggle with caulk, but it does significantly increase your prep time. It’s all about your comfort level – for example, I generally don’t tape off when I’m working with white, paintable caulk but when I was caulking with black caulk around our laundry room tile, you’d better believe I busted out the painter’s tape to give me a hand!
Frequently asked questions
I always love opening it up to y’all for questions when I write these kind of guides, so here are a few of the questions I got that we haven’t already covered.
How do I remove old caulk?
If you have old, stained, or cracked caulk anywhere in your house, it’s a good idea to replace it. I always recommend doing a yearly check of the caulk around your doors and windows, in your bathroom, and in your kitchen to see what needs replacing.
Removing old caulk is tedious, but simple. Just grab a utility knife and run it along the either side of the bead of caulk. Then, use the tip of the knife to pry up a corner of the caulk – usually, once you get it started you can simply pull it right up! The left over film or residue can be removed with soft plastic scouring pad.
What type of caulk should I use around concrete?
It depends on where your concrete is and what you’re sealing. If it’s an outdoor project that will be exposed to a lot of weather, I’d recommend you use Dynaflex Ultra Exterior Sealant. If it’s less exposed to the elements, I’d go with the Extreme Stretch Sealant. However, it should be noted that neither of these is recommended for use on horizontal surfaces – for that, or applications that will receive traffic, Concrete and Mortar Sealant or 3.0 Concrete would be recommended.
I have ants coming in under my baseboards. Would caulk help?
Yes! Caulk is specifically intended to help keep tiny bugs out, so if this is something you’re struggling with you can definitely caulk along the baseboards to help keep the ants out.
I feel like my caulk always shrinks and cracks – what am I doing wrong?
First of all, you should always make sure to choose a caulk that fits the type of project you’re working on (the guide above should help!).
If you know you’re using the right type of caulk and you’re still dealing with cracking or splitting, then it’s likely because your line of caulk is too small. Some amount of shrinkage is normal and totally expected with all caulk – so a too-thin line is where you’ll run into problems! A super thin line is also more susceptible to cracking, and this can happen if you remove too much caulk when smoothing it out with your finger. Try a thicker line next time!
And that’s it! If you have questions, be sure to drop them in the comments and I’ll update the post as needed.
For some of my other resource guides, keep reading!
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