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How to Get a Perfect Caulk Line

Caulk is a necessary tool in any DIY-ers arsenal! I’m here to break down why, the kind you need for which project, and how in the world to get that perfect caulk line.

A neutral and cozy nursery with Persian rug, black wall sconce and white crib | via Yellow Brick Home
salvaged millwork in Lucy’s room | rug | crib | bookcase

You’ve probably heard us say that caulk is the glue that holds an old house together. If you’re a home lover too (which, of course you are!), I’m sure you’ve even seen us or any other DIY blogger time-lapse the caulking of many baseboards and accent walls. It’s so, so satisfying to run that bead of sealant across a small gap and close it up in an instant – who’s with me? But today, I wanted to break down how to use it properly for the best results, because although we’re always talking about it, I think we tend to gloss over the basic fundamentals. And since it’s one of my all-time favorite tools in my DIY arsenal, let’s change that!

When to use latex vs. silicone

The main difference is: Latex caulk (or sealant) is paintable, whereas silicone caulk is not. Think: Latex caulk needs latex paint.

  • Latex caulk is the preferred choice for gaps along baseboards, door casings and wall treatments (such as board and batten). Once applied, latex caulk can and should be painted with latex paint.
  • Silicone caulk is the preferred choice for a water tight seal around bathtubs, sinks and countertops. It comes in a handful of colors to best match your need, since it cannot be painted. For example, white caulk along the back of a white sink and around a white tub.
A black and white bathroom with warm walnut wood vanity and brass hardware | via Yellow Brick Home
mirror | vanity | faucets | hardware

Choose a premium product. It’s worth the extra dollar!

We’ve skimped on caulk (or sealants) in the past and have regretted it immensely. It’s worth the extra dollar to ‘invest’ in a caulk that has better flexing power, especially if you live in colder climates, as your millwork is incrementally shrinking and expanding throughout the seasons. If you use bargain caulk, you may notice that your perfect line has already begun to crack after its first winter. Been there, done that. Never again, no thank you!

Our favorite brands of caulk for the perfect lines that will last YEARS | via Yellow Brick Home

We have a big stack of sealant at-the-ready in our workshop for various household projects. I recommend have 2-3 tubes on hand at all times, so that you’re never running to the store at the last minute! The brands that we’ve had the most success with and would purchase over and over again are:

Getting set-up

It’s best to gather all your supplies before you begin, so that you’re not rushing to find a tool while the caulk begins to dry! These are the key ingredients to your perfect caulk line:

If you’re starting with a fresh tube, you’ll need to snip off the top before loading it into your gun. Some caulk guns have a snipper built right in (you’ll find it by the handle if it’s there), but we still prefer to use a pair of utility snippers like this. Cut the tip at a 45-degree angle, enough to allow for a 1/4″ bead. Anymore more and your lines will be unwieldy, anything less and you’ll struggle to get the product out of the tube!

* If you have a gap to fill that is larger than 1/4″, it can be difficult to get sealant into the crack, since there is nothing for it to adhere to. This is where baker rod comes in! It’s thin foam tubing that you can push into the gap, giving the caulk a place to rest.

Apply, Smooth, Repeat

With your playlist in full swing, it’s time to caulk! I like to work in 6′-ish sections, which allows me to run a bead, smooth and repeat on the next section before the caulk has set. If using latex caulk, I dive right in. With gentle pressure on the cartridge handle, I run my first line while keeping the gun moving. That’s the important part – never allow the gun to stop moving!

Caulking a beadboard wall treatment | via Yellow Brick Home

Then I dip my finger in water (you may want to use gloves) and run it along the bead. The water prevents the caulk from sticking to my finger, while also nicely smoothing the line. If your swipe didn’t go as smoothly as planned, re-dip your finger in water and smooth again. I find that you can never have too much water! If there’s any excess on my hands, I wipe it onto a wet paper towel before moving on.

Which Surface Should You Paint First?

If you’re using latex caulk, once it’s dried (typically around 1 hour for the brands I’ve mentioned above, but always read the instructions for dry times), it’s time to paint! Because the latex caulk is touching both the wall and the trim, you’ll want to apply both paint colors. My general rule of thumb is to over-brush any millwork first, and then I cut back in with the wall color.

Painting a board and batten wall treatment Benjamin Moore Odessa Pink | via Yellow Brick Home
DIY board and batten

Please don’t skimp and paint only one or the other! Unpainted caulk attracts dust and can look dirty very quickly.

A pink bathroom with polished chrome faucet and windowpane grid hand towel | via Yellow Brick Home
towel | faucet | soap pump

Tape to the Rescue

For trickier stuff that doesn’t get painted, like silicone caulk around a bathtub, along tile, or even caulking baseboard along wallpaper, I use painter’s tape! Simply run a line of tape, allowing for a 1/16″ – 1/8″ gap for the caulk to rest. After running and smoothing the bead, remove the tape immediately while the caulk is still wet. You shouldn’t need to smooth the line any further.

Taping off a caulk line where the baseboard meets the wallpaper | via Yellow Brick Home
our laundry room

Go forth, and caulk!

Guys, that’s it! Now go forth and caulk! Truly, the hardest part about getting the perfect caulk line is not the line itself. Rather, I find that a caulking project is rarely quick; it takes time and patience, and that’s why having a rad playlist or favorite podcast can go so far.

Bi-fold doors with DIY trim to make them more substantial! | via Yellow Brick Home
Lucy’s closet door makeover

Can I answer any questions, or is there anything I might have missed? I love the satisfaction of caulking unsightly seams (and subsequently painting them as the finishing touch), but I can get flustered with the time commitment. Really, though, what would we do without the greatest DIY tool of all time, right?

Our neutral bathroom with Kohler Brockway sink and large medicine cabinet, brass sconces and beadboard wall treatment | via Yellow Brick Home
DIY bathroom beadboard | room reveal

PS: This is how we re-caulked along our bathtub, and this is how we caulked our baseboards where it meets up with wallpaper (a tricky one!). And now that you’ve mastered the Art of Caulk, here’s a big cheat sheet on how to paint anything!

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  • Caitlin Spearson2.11.20 - 6:35 AM

    What about caulking a gap between painted wood and stained wood?  Our stairs have these large gaps that are begging to be filled in with caulk, but since they touch the stained wood steps, I’m worried about caulking them… My first thought was painters tape but now I’m questioning latex vs silicone! ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.11.20 - 8:44 AM

      Hey Caitlin! In your case, I would probably put painter’s tape over the stained wood, caulk the gap, and remove the tape. Then with a steady hand, I’d paint it to match the painted portion of the stairs. Or if you’re not as confident with free handing the paint, re-tape and paint. But I wouldn’t leave the caulk to dry on the tape, or it might pull up with the tape, and you don’t want that! (A third option: Tape, caulk, dry, paint and then pull up the tape – but score the tape first so the caulk doesn’t come up.)ReplyCancel

      • Caitlin Spearson2.11.20 - 10:24 AM

        Thank you, I’ll have to try that!  It can’t be worse than looking at the gaps every day hahaReplyCancel

  • Jess Lundgren2.11.20 - 8:20 AM

    Thanks for this!!ReplyCancel

  • Dave2.11.20 - 8:30 AM

    Kim, you are the fastest and best “caulker” I have ever seen. Your work is amazing.  You are truly an expert when it comes to all things having to do with the “art” of caulking.ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.11.20 - 8:42 AM

      Haha, thanks! It’s a blessing and a curse, since no one else will do it…ReplyCancel

  • MC2.11.20 - 9:40 AM

    Hi Kim, how about removing caulk? Like around the bathtub and sinks/countertops?  How often should I do that or can I just add another layer if the caulk has pulled away?  Any tips would be appreciated!ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.11.20 - 9:59 AM

      There are some caulk removal tools out there, but honestly, if it’s beat, it pulls out pretty easily! (And you can use a putty knife or scraper to get out the rest.) I’d recommend removing as much as you can, then just tape and reapply with silicone caulk.ReplyCancel

  • Deb2.11.20 - 12:36 PM

    Hi, I noticed your outlet covers are same as your wall paint.  Are they metal or plastic and painted once they are attached to the wall?  Love your attention to detail. Thanks.ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.11.20 - 12:47 PM

      In the photo of our bathroom? Yes, we got paintable switch plate covers! We normally wouldn’t do that for a wall, but it felt right for this accent treatment.ReplyCancel

  • miriam2.11.20 - 1:18 PM

    How do you save your leftover caulk for the future? I’ve tried plugging up the hole with a big nail, but then either I can’t get the nail out, or it just dries up anyway. Is it a lost cause?ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.11.20 - 1:58 PM

      You need these! I know it seems crazy to spend $6 on a piece of plastic, but our caulk NEVER gets gunky or dried out!ReplyCancel

    • Deb2.13.20 - 2:59 PM

      I always use clear packaging tape to save my caulk tubes from drying out.  I just use about 4 inches of tape and fold it in half around the top and press around tip.  It works all the time.ReplyCancel

  • Halle2.11.20 - 1:39 PM

    My only issue with caulk (and the reason our projects never seem to get to the caulking stage) is that my hands cramp up so bad during it. Even using a pneumatic caulk gun plugged into our air compressor, my hands get so tired so quickly! Any tips?ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.11.20 - 2:01 PM

      Maybe I’ve caulked enough things that my hands can handle it now, haha, but I definitely feel the effects the next day! Give yourself the grace to work in small sections and take plenty of breaks! The good thing about caulk is that you don’t have to do it all at once. ;)ReplyCancel

  • Shannon2.11.20 - 2:00 PM

    I have old caulk around my kitchen countertops. It’s cracked and filthy and I’d like to redo it before I repaint. But, it doesn’t want to come off. There’s quite a bit on the wall and all my efforts have ended with ripping off paint and even wallboard. I’ve tried scoring, a removal tool, and heating it up with a hair dryer. Should I just rip it and patch/prime the wall?  Also, the previous owner reglazed the bathtub OVER the old caulk. I’m going to try to score and recaulk it, but I’m nervous it’s going to be a disaster. Any tips for tackling that would be appreciated as well! ReplyCancel

    • Scott2.11.20 - 3:28 PM

      Hi Shannon! Sounds like you’ve got your hands full! Have you tried using a heat gun, which is essentially a high-powered hair dryer? We often use a sharp utility knife with good results, but maybe a kit like this would help get better leverage? Regarding the glazing OVER caulk, that’s a pretty serious facepalm. The tool I linked may also be helpful there, but if you don’t have luck there, maybe a professional reglazer could give you some pointers? Hope this helps and best of luck!ReplyCancel

  • Margo2.11.20 - 11:32 PM

    Hi! We just bought our first home. We have random, uneven gaps between the hardwood floors and baseboards all throughout the house. The gaps range from 2mm to 1/4in. I have three  questions: 1) You can occasionally see some old chalk that’s ripped apart. Should I remove all the old ripped chalk before redoing it? 2) Is it ok to have a section of new chalk touch an old chalk section that’s still intact/completely filling a gap? 3) Where we live in Norther CA is 40s in winter and 80s-90s in the summer. Do you recommend a particular chalk that would work in such different temps? Thanks!!!ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.12.20 - 9:13 AM

      Hi Margo! So, we’ve never caulked between the baseboards and the floor, but we’ve heard of others doing so to help with unsightly gaps or drafty rooms. I wouldn’t worry about trying to tear out any caulk that’s in good shape, but definitely do your best to get rid of anything that’s crumbly/moldy/etc. And yes, you can have new caulk meet up to old caulk, especially since it sounds like you’ll need to repaint it all anyway! As for the best caulk to use, you’d want something with a lot of streeeetch in it, which the GE Max Shield or Big Stretch should be perfect for!ReplyCancel

      • Margo2.12.20 - 10:34 PM

        Thank you for the great tips and suggestions!ReplyCancel

  • Julie2.12.20 - 4:12 AM

    Hi Kim, 
    Helpful post & tips/answers in comments! Do you typically caulk between wall & back of a pedestal sink? 
    Thanks!
    JulieReplyCancel

    • Kim2.12.20 - 9:10 AM

      We do! We’ve always used white silicone behind our sinks, but when we install our pink pedestal sink at the Two Flat, I’ll be doing a line of clear silicone.ReplyCancel

  • Rachel2.12.20 - 10:05 AM

    I just purchased a home (my first!) and put in new floor and baseboard molding so this was perfectly timed. The previous home owner used caulk like the family from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” used Windex – I’m mean they used it EVERYWHERE, and very messily. So my question to you is – any tips for removing caulk?! It’s on the lip of the tub (where you’d set your shampoo), caked on walls and floors…ugh! Many thanks!!ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.12.20 - 11:08 AM

      Oh, no, that’s crazy! (Also CONGRATS TO YOU!!) Caulk can be SO tricky to remove. You don’t want to damage anything, so on slick areas (like the tub) you may want to try a plastic putty knife. There are also caulk removal tools that you could find at the store. I’d almost recommend seeking those out and feeling them out in person to see which would be the right tool for you! Sorry you have to deal with that, boo.ReplyCancel

  • Alexa2.12.20 - 10:54 AM

    Thanks for these tips! I’m wondering if you have thoughts on caulk over grout? We remodeled our bathroom a year ago, and the contractor installed the shower tile right up to the bathtub edge using grout. Now I can see a few spots where the grout is cracking slightly, and I’m concerned about water getting in. I feel like it’s probably not the best idea to caulk over it but am unsure what to do besides wiping it down every day. ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.12.20 - 11:10 AM

      I think you’re safe to caulk over it with silicone! Remove anything crumbly, and scrape any remaining grout down so that there’s a recess. Then tape it off and use silicone to get a perfect line. It’ll be a little bit of work for a BIG payoff.ReplyCancel

  • Julie2.12.20 - 6:50 PM

    This post is perfect timing for me! I have to recaulk around my toilet and  was clueless as to how to go about it. I wonder if I will need the baker rod…I will ask a hardware store person. Thank you! ReplyCancel

  • Kirin2.13.20 - 7:11 PM

    Such a great post—thanks for all the advice! I’m wondering, though, about caulking tile in the bathroom. Specifically, in the interior corners where tile meets and also where the tile meets the tub. Do you grout first and then go over the grout with the caulk? Or try to keep the grout to a minimum and just caulk? Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.13.20 - 9:59 PM

      For the inside corners of tile, we’ve actually picked up a tube of color matched grout caulk! We’ll grout as much as we can into the corners, but will go over it with the color matched caulk. (This caulk is usually located right next to the grout at the hardware store.) Where the tile meets the tub, we ALWAYS use silicone caulk to match the tub.ReplyCancel

  • […] Some great tips to help you get that perfect caulk line. […]ReplyCancel

  • Jeni2.23.20 - 2:01 PM

    This is amazing – thank you!  What would you use where the tile floor meets the tub?  Our contractor used grout caulk and I don’t know if he was running out, but it looks nasty and incomplete.  I’m wondering if I add a fresh layer of grout caulk or if I should fill in with a silicone on top of it like you recommended for where the tub meets the wall tile?ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.24.20 - 7:28 AM

      We have grout all the way up to the tub – no caulk. I’d suggest trying to remove anything crumbly and then re-caulking with matching grout caulk for a more seamless look.ReplyCancel

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