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?

  • 1
    What is "caulk" does it have a different name outside of the USA?
    – Walker
    Jul 22, 2010 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, 2010 at 12:46
  • 3
    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, 2010 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!! Oct 14, 2010 at 2:23
  • 5
    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. Oct 23, 2010 at 10:00

11 Answers 11


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.

  • 18
    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. Jul 26, 2010 at 4:38
  • 4
    It's harder to push this way, however. Aug 5, 2010 at 20:52

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.

  • 2
    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, 2010 at 19:40
  • Beat me to it :)
    – Doresoom
    Jul 21, 2010 at 19:40
  • 2
    They are usually labeled drip-free or dripless. You can get one for around $10.
    – SchwartzE
    Jul 21, 2010 at 19:48
  • 1
    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. Jul 22, 2010 at 3:25

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.


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.

  • And for lots of caulking, don't forget the bucket with a bit of water in it! We also use the sponge to wipe the caulk to minimize the line, smooth it out, and make it look consistent.
    – Damon
    May 1, 2015 at 7:55
  • From what I've read and my own experience, this only works with acrylic which is water soluble. If it's for a kitchen/bath application, you'll want silicone. Recommendation there is to use non-ammonia foaming glass cleaner after the bead, before tooling. Apr 1, 2018 at 18:19
  • Baby wipes work for this too (at least the Kirkland ones do). You end up using a bunch, but the result is clean, and they can mop up little spills precisely.
    – MGOwen
    Feb 3, 2021 at 5:55

Your description sounds like silicone (and silicone-based sealants).

If so, painter's tape is the best, as mentioned in other answers:

  1. Clean area thoroughly with wet sponge or cloth
  2. Place painter's tape (AKA masking tape) as a border around the edge of where the silicone will go
  3. Apply the silicone
  4. Smooth it with your finger (using a latex-gloved finger, or a bare finger cleaned frequently with a wet sponge or baby wipes)
  5. Remove the tape carefully before the silicone dries (immediately should be fine)

But if you don't have any painter's tape, or can't use it for some reason, the next best thing is all-purpose cleaner ("spray'n'wipe").

Same steps as above, but after 3, spray the area with the cleaner and then smooth it with your 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. (Don't spray until all the silicone is applied, or some spray might get onto areas that you want the silicone to stick to.)

Painter's tape is still better, though, if you have some. You can get completely smooth, straight lines. (The latex gloves and/or Kirkland baby wipes to clean up make a huge difference too).

  • 3
    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. Jul 16, 2012 at 16:43

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).


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


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

  • 2
    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. Jul 13, 2011 at 13:21
  • 1
    @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, 2011 at 13:35
  • Yeah you won't see a plumber do it too often, they've done thousands of caulk lines and can do a decent job without bothering with tape. But this allows an inexperienced home handyman to do a professional job as good as any plumber (or a bit better, honestly).
    – MGOwen
    Feb 3, 2021 at 6:13

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!


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.


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

  • 4
    can you provide more info on what this tool is and how it works? A picture would be helpful!
    – Steven
    Jan 21, 2014 at 0:05

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