straight talk about caulk

Straight Talk About Caulk

Get it? Straight! Ha!

Caulking the tiles in the kitchen was far and away the most surprisingly difficult part of the whole makeover up to that point. But… it didn’t have to be, as I discovered later. I made a couple of mistakes, which I’ll wrap up the post by addressing.

Why caulk? There are aesthetic and functional reasons.

Aesthetically: if there’s a seam between different materials, it often looks funny just to leave it and have one material abruptly transition from one to the other. Caulk softens the transition and makes it less jarring.

Functionally: where these transitions (e.g. tiles & countertop, or countertop & sink) may be exposed to water or anything else that might cause problems with exposure, caulk helps protect both surfaces from contamination.

What I Used:

  • A caulk gun
  • Caulk – two different types for me, one siliconized white to match my grout color, and one clear siliconized for around the sink
  • Painter’s tape
  • A bowl of water with a couple drops of dish soap (this is useful for dipping your finger into before smoothing out your caulk lines)
  • Towels & paper towels galore! (Trust me, you need these for cleaning off the tip of the gun and for the inevitable screwups)

So, you don’t need much. Caulking is much more about elbow grease than it is fancy tools.

How To Do It

You can see most of everything in this one photo – I taped off the edges of where I wanted the caulk to be, ran the line of caulk down the middle, ran my finger along the line, and carefully peeled off the tape. Note: if you’ve got a really long stretch, like I did behind the stove and sink, don’t do it all in one go. Take it a couple feet at a time. It’s awfully hard to be consistent applying & smoothing over a long ways. I taped the whole thing all at once but did it in sections so I could pull the tape off as I went.

If this sounds simple, it is. What is isn’t is easy. It took me about 3 (unpleasant) hours to do the kitchen. In the meantime, my fingers are getting pruny from washing them so frequently, I’m covered in goopy white stuff, and am getting grumpy when the lines aren’t exactly where I want them… There’s no good way to fix goop that didn’t go where you wanted it to. What you need to do is wait till it dries, peel it off, and start over again. Trying to fix it wet is just asking for trouble!

What I Did Wrong

And what you, dear reader, hopefully will NOT!

I cut the caulk gun tip too large

A new tube is a blank slate. You get to pick where to cut the nozzle! Unfortunately, I read the directions and cut it so the opening was about 1/4″, which as it turns out was way too big. Why is that an issue? Because you’ll inevitably apply more caulk than you need, and that means more cleanup, AKA time wasted. As a rule, when you’re running your finger along the line you just caulked, you shouldn’t have excessive buildup on your finger. You should really just be smoothing it out. If I had to do it over again, I’d make the opening smaller than I needed and open it up slowly from there. You can’t make the opening smaller, but you can always make it bigger!

I didn’t use tape early on

This was a dumb mistake. I figured that with painting, taping takes forever and cutting in (in most cases) is way quicker. Well… see above. After wrestling with the first line of caulk for WAY too long, I wised up and taped the next section. It wasn’t faster, necessarily, but it was a whole lot less frustrating.

I expected miracles

This was where I went most wrong. I mentioned in my post about tiling that I wished I’d cut my tiles to fit a bit closer around the edges (where they meet the wall & window). I thought that caulk would just magically fill in anywhere I didn’t extend the tiles all the way flush, and though that’s partially true, if I did it again I wouldn’t rely on caulk so much. When I first applied it, it looked fine. But when it dried, it sunk into the gaps a bit and leaves a noticeable (to me anyway) divot in the surface. Thankfully the grout, tiles, and caulk are all the same color, so it’s not as noticeable as it otherwise might be.

In Summary

With the right approach and setup, caulking can be relatively painless. The kitchen sure looks more finished now with it all done than it did before!

But the big thing is to not expect caulk to fill in big gaps. I realize this analogy won’t make sense to most of you, but here I go anyway – it reminds me of trying to put fondant on a cake that isn’t iced firmly and smoothly underneath. No matter how good you are at fondant, it will always show the imperfections underneath just a little bit!


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