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Bathtub Caulking Tips

If a lumpy caulk job bugs you, check out these tips to help anyone learn to run a smooth bead of caulk. With advice from a pro painter and a tile setter, you'll soon be caulking everything around the house.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Bathtub Caulking Tips

If a lumpy caulk job bugs you, check out these tips to help anyone learn to run a smooth bead of caulk. With advice from a pro painter and a tile setter, you'll soon be caulking everything around the house.


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 the joint.

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. You 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. When 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).

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 silicone caulk, wear a tight-fitting latex or vinyl glove and wet the fingertip with denatured alcohol. Keep 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

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 notches.

Apply two strips of masking tape, leaving space
between them for the desired caulk joint width. Lay
a bead of caulk and smooth it with your fingertip.

Immediately pull 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.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Caulk gun
    • Painters tape
    • Rags
    • Utility knife

You'll also need sandpaper.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Caulk

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 4 of 4 comments
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May 13, 11:56 PM [GMT -5]

Best caulk for bathrooms and showers is 100% silicone. There is limited colors availible though. As for taping the tube into the caulk gun, not the best idea. (personal opinion) Easier to make sure the tip is where you want it every time you start, otherwise you may end up fighting the caulk gun trying to get the caulk in tight places.
As for the speed, it is better to go with gentle pressure and a steady speed than to go quickly. You don't need to give the handle a lot of pressure, it takes less pressure than you think. Practice a little on some scrap cardboard or paper first to get a feel for it. As for a second high-speed pass, unless your experienced, don't try it! You will mess up the caulk you already put down.
An last tip, don't use toilet paper to wipe stuff off. It doesn't hold up well and you will end up with the fibers stuck in the caulk or stuck all over your fingers.
Just to let you know, I am a contractor and have over 30+ years of experience doing all forms of construction.

September 17, 5:28 PM [GMT -5]

great article however it would be nice to know who the pros reccomend for the best calk for showers and bathroom applications


rudy dipietro

June 12, 1:04 PM [GMT -5]

My son is starting to do minor home repairs at his condo. He asked me about re-caulking his bathtub. I remembered reading an article some time ago on this subject in TFH. I even cut out and saved the article. As usual, I went looking for it and couldn't find it. Then i went to the website and located the article easily. This write up is exactly what he needs. Simple basics that are not complicated and are easy to follow. We'll see how he does. Thanks.

April 10, 1:58 PM [GMT -5]

Great article! I have had very good luck using a caulk finishing tool like in the photo link attached. You can find them at Lowes, Home Depot and even Walmart for about $3. I get a perfect bead everytime.

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