How to use a Caulking Gun for the First Time

Caulking might not be the most glamorous job out there, but learning to use a caulking gun will instantly level up your home improvement game.

Caulking is used in a variety of places, including sealing windows, doorframes, and other seams along exterior openings. It’s also used inside the home to seal sinks, showers, kitchen fixtures, and other areas that require sealing from moisture and dust.

A caulking gun is a deceptively simple tool that when used correctly can get a lot of work done in a short period of time. It’s used in conjunction with a tube of caulk to lay down a fresh bead of caulk anywhere you need it.

I’ll break down how to use a caulking gun for the first time, so you’ll be ready to caulk in no time at all!

How to Use a Caulking Gun – Guide

Before getting started, there are a few things you’ll want to do to prepare.

Make sure you have the right type of caulk for the job. Silicone caulk works well for both exterior and interior applications and is ideal for use around water and moisture. If you’re caulking sinks, tubs, showers, or exterior windows, silicone is the way to go.

Latex caulk (also called acrylic caulk) is more flexible and expandable than silicone, making it suited for filling in gaps in baseboards, crown molding, or the interior of windows and door frames. It doesn’t work as well around water though, so it’s not ideal for bathroom fixtures or exterior use.

caulking gun with tube of caulk in it
A basic caulking gun used correctly can a lot of work done.

In addition to using the right type of caulk, you’ll want to get a quality caulking gun. You don’t need to splurge on a battery-powered one, but don’t skimp out and get the cheapest one on the market either.

Step 1: Clean Area and Remove Old Caulk

Caulking works best on a clean, dry surface free of dust, dirt, or moisture.

If you’re re-caulking an old seam, you’ll need to remove the old caulk first. This involves scraping and peeling away the old caulk. Stubborn or hard to remove caulk may require treatment with liquid caulk remover to soften it enough to remove completely.

When the old caulk is completely removed, you’ll want to clean the seam of any dirt, gunk, mold, or mildew. Use bleach or a cleaner with mildewcide if you’re dealing with particularly nasty buildup.

Then use a clean cloth to dry the area completely. This is important, as any moisture trapped in the seam can lead to mold.

Step 2: Cut the End of Caulk Tube

Next, you’ll need to create an opening at the end of your caulk tube.

Most caulking guns have a small circular cutout built into the handle designed just for this purpose. Simply insert the tip at the end of the tube into the cutout, and then depress the trigger to cut off the tip.

You can also use a sharp knife, or a sturdy pair of scissors or shears to create an opening. Whatever cutting method you use, try to cut the tip at a 45° angle. This will ensure the caulk is easy to deploy without making a mess.

end of caulking tube cut open
Caulk tube cut at a 45-degree angle with a sharp blade.

Keep in mind the size hole you cut will determine the caulk bead size. If you’re caulking a large seam, then you’ll want to cut a larger hole at the tube’s tip.

Step 3: Pierce the Caulk Tube’s Inner Seal

If this is your first time using a caulking gun, you may not realize caulk tubes have a second internal seal. You’ll need to pierce this before the caulk can flow freely from the tube.

tool for piercing caulk inner seal
Tool for piercing the caulk tube’s inner seal.

Most caulking guns have a long thin piece of metal tucked below the nose specifically for this purpose. Swivel this outwards and poke it through the nozzle of the caulk tube to pierce the inner seal.

Step 4: Load the Tube into the Caulking Gun

Next, slide the metal rod located on the back of the gun all the way back.

Every gun operates a little differently, but there is typically some type of release trigger you’ll need to pull in order to get the metal rod to slide backward. In my case, the spring-loaded metal lever behind the trigger releases the metal rod.

loading caulk tube into caulking gun
Be sure to retract the rod at the rear all the way back before loading the caulk tube.

Then load the tube into the gun by placing the base side in first. Then, push the nozzle side down into position.

Step 5: Squeeze Trigger to Begin Caulk Bead

To start applying caulk, depress the trigger until you see caulk coming out of the nozzle. Apply it at a 45° angle to get a smooth, professional-looking bead.

You’ll need to constantly keep pressure on the trigger to maintain the flow, and move at a moderate pace to keep the caulk from being over or underapplied. When the trigger is depressed all the way, the caulk will cease flowing, so you’ll need to release it and squeeze it once again to start the flow.

caulking gun being used on sink
Now your caulking gun is locked and loaded, it’s time to get to work!

The key to a professional-looking caulking job is patience and practice. Try to maintain a moderate even pace with a consistent amount of caulk being released per inch.

Caulking Gun Tips

While caulking guns are fairly straightforward, there are a few tips and tricks which can step your game up to a professional level.

  • Keep a damp rag or piece of sponge handy. No matter how good of a job you do, you’re bound to overapply at some point. A damp rag or sponge will remove excess caulk in a jiffy, and also lets you ‘feather’ or blend the caulk line.
  • Keep a few dry rags with you as well. Depending on the type of caulking gun, even when you release the trigger, caulk will continue to flow from the nozzle for a few seconds. Wiping this clean with a rag will ensure you don’t end up with caulk all over the place!
  • After you apply a fresh bead of caulk, you’ll need to smooth the seam with a finger or a caulking tool. If you’re having trouble getting it to look right, a finishing tool can make a world of difference.
  • If you need to apply caulk to a specific area without getting any on nearby surfaces, use painters tape to protect these sensitive surfaces.

Types of Caulking Guns

When it comes to choosing a caulking gun for a project, there are actually a few things to consider.

Most caulking guns are so-called ‘manual’ guns – which use a mechanical trigger and rod to push the caulk out of the tube. Within manual caulking guns, there are two main types: Ratcheting, and Dripless.

  • Ratcheting guns: These caulk guns have small serrations built into the rods on the rear of the gun. Each squeeze of the trigger pulls the rod forward a set amount, and stopping the flow requires you to twist and pull the rod backward. The main issue with these rods is that they’ll continue to release caulk until you release the pressure by rotating and pulling back the rod.
  • Dripless guns: These rods vary widely in terms of design, but most will feature a smooth rod and some form of quick rod pressure release. This lets you press a button to instantly stop the flow of caulk. I’d recommend going with a dripless gun for most jobs, as it will lead to less mess and less wasted caulk.

In addition to manual caulking guns, there are also powered models. Up until recently, these were used almost exclusively by professionals, but they’re now cheap enough for homeowner use.

Powered models come in battery-powered, pneumatic, as well as corded options. These will allow you to get a lot of work done quickly, and won’t fatigue your wrists like manual caulking guns. If you’re just caulking a bathroom or kitchen, then these are probably overkill, however, if you’ve got an entire house to caulk, a powered model will greatly improve your speed and efficiency.

Hopefully, you’ve got a better idea of how to use a caulking gun for the first time, so get out there and start caulking!

Featured image source.

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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