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Perhaps it is just me, but no matter how careful I try to be, any attempt to apply caulk or cement or anything with a caulking gun into a crack results in total mess.

The main problems that seem to be causing this are:

1: The caulk doesn't "stick down" so as I pull the gun over the crack it drags the tendril of caulk along with it.

2: As demonstrated on every home improvement show, I run my finger along the caulk line to press it down into the crack, but it inevitably squishes out on the tile or sticks to my finger and makes a big mess.

Is there some trick that I just don't know that makes a good clean caulk line?

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What is "caulk" does it have a different name outside of the USA? –  Walker Jul 22 '10 at 8:37
    
Not that I know of. It is a usually white or clear gummy substance that you inject into cracks or around plumbing fixtures to create a water tight seal. –  JohnFx Jul 22 '10 at 12:46
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I thought "caulk" was called "gap filler" internationally but your descriptions sounds like silicone (and silicone-based sealants). If so, the magic trick for mess free edges isn't painter's tape, it's apply the silicone, then spraying the area with all-purpose cleaner ("spray'n'wipe") then smoothing it with finger. The silicone doesn't stick to the surfaces with cleaner on them. –  MGOwen Jul 29 '10 at 3:34
    
@MGOwen, put that in an answer so we can up-vote it.. it sounds like i=a really good idea if it actually works!! –  Miky Dinescu Oct 14 '10 at 2:23
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It is sold as 'decorator's caulk' in the UK, it's sold in all of the major DIY stores and usually comes in either white or brown. It is different to silicone in that it sets harder and is designed to be painted over. –  Adam J. Forster Oct 23 '10 at 10:00
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11 Answers

up vote 40 down vote accepted

I've found that if you push the tip of the caulk gun forward along the line rather than drag it behind you can often make a very neat bead of caulk that needs little or no smoothing afterwards.

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I'd upvote this 10 times if I could -- in my opinion this is the key to a neat caulking job. The trailing edge of the tip smoothes the caulk into a neat fillet, and if you modulate the rate at which you dispense the caulk just right (this will come with practice), you won't even need to use your finger. For this to work best, I've found you should cut the tip off square, and not at an angle as some folks like to do. Also, make sure you cut it off at the correct diameter for your job -- as small as possible for trim work, and larger for a bathtub. –  Mike Powell Jul 26 '10 at 4:38
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It's harder to push this way, however. –  staticx Aug 5 '10 at 20:52
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First of all, buy a good drip free caulking gun. Make sure you cut the tip of the caulk on an angle. If you want a perfectly straight line on each side, put painters tape on each side of the area you want to caulk. Then just pull it up before the caulk dries.

If you do not want to use your finger to smooth it, the little squeegie like tools that you can get at hardware stores work well. Another option is to use the plastic credit card samples you get in the mail when they want you to apply for a new credit card.

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How do I identify a "drip free" caulking gun? Do they look different or should I just read the label? I have been using a super cheapo one I bought years ago, maybe that's part of my problem.... –  JohnFx Jul 21 '10 at 19:40
    
Beat me to it :) –  Doresoom Jul 21 '10 at 19:40
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They are usually labeled drip-free or dripless. You can get one for around $10. –  SchwartzE Jul 21 '10 at 19:48
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for a scraper, the gift cards at places like wal-mart work well. Just put $5 (or more) on a card and go get some gas. –  Wayne Werner Jul 22 '10 at 3:25
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+1 for the painters tape –  staticx Aug 5 '10 at 20:05
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It sounds to me like the area you are caulking is not clean. Especially for tile, you need to make sure to really clean the area you will be caulking, as dust and soap scum will make it tough for the caulk to stick. Also, make sure you are using the correct kind of caulk for the job.

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To prevent the messiness when smoothing it out with your finger, have a moist sponge handy. Smooth out a couple feet of calk, then wipe your finger on the sponge to get the excess caulk off and keep your finger moist.

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As requested, here is my comment as an answer:

I thought "caulk" was called "gap filler" internationally (a white substance like wet plaster). But your description sounds like silicone (and silicone-based sealants).

If so, the magic trick for mess free edges isn't painter's tape, it's apply the silicone, then spraying the area with all-purpose cleaner ("spray'n'wipe") then smoothing it with finger. The silicone doesn't stick to the surfaces with cleaner on them (but it's already stuck where you want it to stick). I was amazed at how neat the result is.

(of course, don't spray until all the silicone is applied, or some spray might get onto areas where you want the silicone to stick.)

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Wear latex disposable gloves while caulking. When you smooth with your finger, nothing will stick, and you won't be getting nasty caulk all over your hands and under your nails, either. –  Jeremy W. Sherman Jul 16 '12 at 16:43
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It sounds to me that you cut your tip to far down. Try cutting it closer to the top so the hole is smaller. A good caulk gun will help too and they aren't too expensive (about $12 at lowes or home depot).

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Best caulk gun is at Sherwin Williams. I have no idea why Home Deopot or Lowes does not sell them. It is plastic, not the metal blue or orange ones you get. It is yellow and black. I know I sound crazy, but it makes all the difference in the world.

Keep your hands clean. Once caulk gets on your fingers and starts drying you are going to have a mess. keep your hands clean.

My take on all those gizmos to use instead of your finger is they end up being more of a pain because they are harder to clean than your finger.

Cut the tube at the top for a small hole. Start small, if it's to small, cut a little bigger. Once you cut it too big you will have caulk flowing all over the place, and theres no fixing it.

Caulking is no fun, best of luck

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I read on several DIY websites that recommended taping blue painter's tape the width of the bead you want to lay down. I tried it last night on my shower, and it worked fairly well. Here's what I did:

  1. Clean and dry area to be caulked
  2. Put tape on both sides of joint
  3. Caulk (my initial pass looked pretty messy)
  4. Use your finger or a caulk smoothing tool to get rid of excess
  5. IMMEDIATELY remove painter's tape by pulling away from the joint at a 45 degree angle

At this point, I noticed that there was a slight ridge from where the tape pulled out from behind the bead. If it's really bad, then re-smooth the joint.

PS: I just used a cheap $5 caulk gun I picked up at Home Depot

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I've read this before, and seen them do it on TV. This method is far too time consuming for anything but the most obvious of jobs. I'll do this across the top of a bathroom vanity or any other "In your face" application, but will just freehand it otherwise. –  Chris Cudmore Jul 13 '11 at 13:21
    
@chris: I've done more caulking since then, and I agree it's too time consuming. I switched to freehand as well. I still think it's a good idea for beginners though. –  Doresoom Jul 13 '11 at 13:35
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The caulk should stick if the underlying surface is clean. I'm not sure if there's a difference in what the caulks stick to, but you should look into it. There are two major kinds of caulk and a blend: acrylic, silicone, and acrylic/silicone mix. The acrylic dries hard, the silicone stays squishy, and I haven't used acrylic/silicone, but I'd imagine it's less squishy when dry.

For smoothing, a finger works great, but don't use your bare hands! Wear disposable latex gloves the entire time you're caulking. You don't want to get the caulk on your hands. This also makes it so none of the caulk sticks to your finger as you smooth the caulk bead.

I recommend against using painter's tape, because when you remove it, you end up with weird vertical edges to your caulk that make a great grip for ripping your caulk right back off again. The bump is kind of unsightly, too.

Instead, be sparing in your use of caulk. If the gap is large, don't use a huge caulk bead. Instead, get a backing rod, slip it in, and then caulk the gaps between the backing rod and the surface.

I also recommend a colored rather than clear caulk. (Probably only silicone can be clear, but still.) You probably don't want to see the crack through the caulk, and the clear stuff seems to look dirtier as it ages. (I have vague memories of it actually yellowing over a couple years.)

Good luck!

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As said before I cut the tip at an angle and hold the gun at 75 to 90 degree angle to the clean surface. This pushes the caulk against the surface and makes a nice bead at the same time.

I have a sponge, like the ones used for grouting, and a bucket of water handy. After I've laid out a significant amount of caulk I'll go back and carefully swipe it with my finger. At the end I will wipe the excess caulk from my finger onto the edge of the bucket then take the rung out and nearly dry sponge and gently swipe the area that I just did with my finger. Wipe my finger on the sponge and throw it in the bucket of water.

Hope this helps you.

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Use a fugi tool. That's what the pros do.

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can you provide more info on what this tool is and how it works? A picture would be helpful! –  Steven Jan 21 at 0:05
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protected by Steven Jan 21 at 0:06

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