I'm always surprised when people ask, “How do
you get such a smooth bead of caulk?” For me it
seems easy and I usually just reply that it takes
practice. But after talking with a painter and a tile
setter who both spend a lot of time caulking, I discovered
a few techniques that will cut the practice
time to a minimum. You can get good results right
away. In this article, we'll show you how to get a neat
caulk bead around a bathtub, but you can use the
same techniques for other caulking as well.
A nice bead starts with a well-prepared tip
The biggest mistake most people
make is cutting too much off the tip
of the caulk tube. In general, the size
of the hole should be about two-thirds
the width of the desired caulk
joint. Most caulking jobs around the
home only require a narrow bead. If
you're caulking woodwork to prepare
it for paint, start with
the opening very small, just over
1/16 in. diameter. For tub caulking,
a 1/8-in. diameter hole is usually
about right. Some caulk tubes need
to be punched in order to start the
flow of caulk. Nails aren't always
long enough. Use a thin, stiff wire
like a scrap electrical wire or coat
hanger to avoid enlarging the hole
at the tip.
You'll notice 45-degree marks on
the tips of some caulk tubes, indicating
the angle you should cut the
tube. But some pros recommend a
blunter tip angle, about 60 degrees.
Give it a try. You can always cut the
steeper, 45-degree angle if you don't
like it. Regardless of the angle of the
cut, the key is to hold the caulk gun
at this same angle while you're filling
A smooth tip makes a smooth
bead. So use a sharp knife to cut the
tip, and follow up by smoothing the
tip with fine sandpaper (close-up photo).
Match your caulking speed to the size of the bead
To apply a smooth bead of caulk that's just
the right size, you have to find the best balance
between pressure on the handle and
application speed. The trick is to keep the
pressure constant and vary the speed
according to the size of the joint. To get a
small, fine bead of caulk, you've got to
move the tip along the joint at a rapid clip.
Keep the caulk gun at the same angle and
try to fill the joint as you go, but don't
worry if you leave a gap. It's easier to make
a second high-speed pass than it is to clean
up excess caulk from going too slowly.
can slow down a little for larger caulk
joints, but keep the speed steady.
Squeeze the caulk gun handle steadily to
maintain an even flow of caulk (Photo 3).
Keep the gun moving as you let up and
give the handle another squeeze.
you reach the end, quickly lift the tip from
the surface and release pressure. Clean
excess caulk from the tip before you start a
new bead (Photo 2).
Back to Top
Smooth the caulk with your finger
Smoothing not only makes the caulk look
good—it ensures good adhesion on each
side of the gap. Forget about special tools.
Just use the tip of your finger (Photo 4).
Wet your finger with water for latex caulk.
Then use a wet rag to clean off your fingertip.
Rinse the rag often. If you're using
wear a tight-fitting
and wet the
your beads of silicone and urethane caulk
slim to make smoothing easier. If you get
much excess, they're hard to clean up and
things can get really messy if you keep
wiping your finger on the same rag. Use
paper towels or a roll of toilet paper
instead so you can use a new piece every
time you wipe off your finger.
Frame- and cradle-style caulking guns
Choosing a Caulking Gun
I've talked to pros who swear
by the expensive frame-type
guns instead of the more
common cradle-type (photos
below). If you do a lot of
caulking, it may be worth
spending $15 to $20 for one
of these. I admit they work
smoothly and are easy to use.
But for my money, a medium-priced
(about $5) “dripless”
gun is the way to go. Look for
the “dripless” label on the
gun. These are designed to
take pressure off the tube as
soon as you release the handle
so you don't end up with
a river of caulk flowing out
every time you set the gun
down. I also prefer a gun with
a smooth rod, without
Apply two strips of masking
tape, leaving space
them for the desired caulk joint
a bead of caulk and
smooth it with your fingertip.
the tape away
from the caulk at an
angle as shown.
Use Masking Tape for Perfect Caulk Joints
It takes a little longer, but the technique shown in Photos 1 and 2 below
makes it easy to get a perfect caulk joint every time. This tip is handy if
you're using silicone caulk because cleaning up excess silicone is always
difficult. Place two strips of masking tape about 3/16 in. apart where you
want the caulk joint. Be careful to keep the lines straight and an even distance
apart. Press the tape tight to the surface, especially at grout joints
or other depressions, so caulk doesn't ooze under the tape.