How can something that seems so simple, be so difficult to do well? Furthermore, how can something so rarely considered by people have such a big affect on the final aesthetic of so many things? If you haven’t guessed by now, I am talking about caulk. It sounds silly, but when your profession takes you and your critical eyes in countless houses, odds are you have seen the after effects of caulking mishaps.
Caulk is like an unsung hero. If it is doing its job, and if it has been applied correctly, no one should ever notice or think twice about it. But, leave it undone? Prime opportunity for very expensive consequences… Imagine water seeping into the walls behind the shower or tub edges. Not only will this ruin the walls, but it provides a breeding ground for mold, mildew… chaos. The most beautifully crafted crown and base molding would look shoddy without the finishing touches with caulk before the paint. Even if you just consider the aesthetics of poorly done caulking and the terrible consequences it can have. Think of the most beautiful custom kitchen. Lovely cabinets with rich detail, sparkling appliances, bright lights, top of the line quartz or granite countertops complemented by an amazingly beautiful backsplash. Can you see it? Alright, now look at the seams between the countertop and the backsplash. They should be perfect, straight lines of precision, barely noticeable except as an outline marking the end of one surface and beginning of another. What if that isn’t the case though? What if the caulk is irregular and blobs out from the seam creating curving lines which run onto the surfaces? It really ruins the whole picture. It can decrease the perceived value of the entire room. So, do you have to be specially trained or a master craftsman to do this correctly?.... Probably not, but there are some tips that can certainly help.
There are several different kinds of caulk so be sure you are using the right one for your job. You need to consider the materials of your target area and whether or not it will have to withstand moisture, water, temperature changes, and location - indoor or outdoor. You also want to think about how you want the end product to look. Will you paint it? Do you want it to harden completely or have more of a rubbery consistency? There are also differences in how easily different kinds of caulk can be applied as well as later removed. (No matter how good the application or quality of the caulk, eventually you will have to remove and redo it.) Once you have read the labels to determine which caulk you will use, you can decide how you want to apply it.
One of the funniest things to watch is the old stick a finger in your mouth to wet it then use that fingertip to “paint” the caulk bead into the seam. This really separates the amateurs from the pros. I highly encourage you to do some reading (like this article) and watch some you tube videos (like this one). A few of my personal favorite tips include: Less is more; latex gloves can be helpful; always use NEW caulk for best results; and painters tape can be helpful in producing clean edges if you are a beginner. Like every other skill, with some education and practice, caulking results will improve. This is certainly something a do-it-yourselfer will be able to accomplish and really every homeowner will need to try his or her hand at some time or another.