How to Use a Caulking Gun

How to Use a Caulking Gun

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Whether you need to seal a window, your bathtub, or fill in some cracks, a caulking gun and a tube of caulk will always come in handy. Although caulking guns may be relatively simple and easy to use, they do need to be used right. After all, if you don’t use a caulking gun the right way, you will end up making a mess.

Today we will take you on an in-depth guide on how to use a caulking gun, and yes, we will do our best to cover all relevant types of these tools.

How to Use a Caulking Gun

Right now, we will take you on a step-by-step guide on how to use a caulking gun from start to finish.

Step 1: Choose Your Caulking Gun Type

There are four main types of caulking guns to choose from, which include two manual types, ratchet rod and smooth rod, and two power types, electric and pneumatic. If you want to use a simple manual gun, something inexpensive and ideal for occasional use, choose the smooth rod variety over the ratchet rod type, as they are much easier to use.

Moreover, if you plan on daily caulking gun usage, try going for a battery-powered model. Unless you are a contractor who specializes in caulking and sealing, you probably won’t have a pneumatic caulking gun. Using a pneumatic caulking gun to seal a bathtub just one single time is like hiring a Formula 1 pit crew to do a tire change on your 2004 Honda.

Caulking Gun

Step 2: Choose the Best Caulk for the Job

Before you can get started, you first need to choose the right kind of caulk for the job.

We aren’t going to get too much into this, as it would qualify as a whole article on its own, but that said, your choices are between butyl rubber, acrylic latex, silicone, and siliconized latex caulk. Do a bit of research to find out which type of caulk is best for your requirements.


Step 3: Remove Old Caulking, Clean the Area, and Tape It Off

Before you can get to using your new caulk and caulking gun, you first have to prepare the area. First, you will need to use some sort of chisel or scraper to remove any and all old caulk from the area. In no case do you want to apply new caulk over old caulk. It will not adhere well, and when the old caulk comes loose, the new caulk overtop will fall off along with the old layer.

After you have removed all the old caulk, you need to clean the area. Mix a cup of bleach with a gallon of water and use a towel to wipe the area down. You need to remove all dirt, mildew, mold, and anything else of the sort. Using a bleach solution to clean the area will prevent mold and mildew from growing. Then, let the area dry completely. It needs to be totally dry before you apply the new caulk.

Finally, use some painter’s tape to tape the area off, just to cover the surrounding area so you don’t get caulk where it shouldn’t go. Some painter’s tape will save you from having to clean up a mess, in case you are not too accurate with your caulk application.

Step 4: Prime the Rod and Insert the Caulk

Now you need to pull the rod back, which is that long bar with a circular plate at the front. In order to insert the tube of caulk into the caulk gun, this rod needs to be pulled back. Exactly how this works depends on the type of caulking gun you have.

For manual varieties, in the rear of the gun, you will see the rod with a hook at the end, as well as a little lever just under the rod. Push the lever down to release the rod, and then pull the rod back all of the way. You can now put the tube into the tube holder on the caulking gun. This process is virtually the same for battery and electric caulking guns. You just need to pull the rod back and insert the caulk tube into the gun.

If you have a caulking gun that uses sausage caulk packs instead of solid tubes, open the circular tube on the caulking gun (the circular canister that holds the caulk sausage), insert the sausage pack into the tube, press the trigger slightly to bring the caulk sausage to the front of the tube on the caulking gun, cut the tip of the sausage so it is open, and then screw the applicator tip onto the tube.

Step 5: Press the Trigger, Cut the Tip, and Press the Trigger Again

If you are using a battery-powered, electric, manual smooth rod, or a ratchet rod model, you now need to press the trigger to break the seal on the rear of the caulking tube. Once you have done this, cut the tip of the applicator tube off (whether on a tube of caulking or the tip on a sausage caulking gun).

Where along the tip you make the cut is up to you, but remember that it depends on the type of application. For the best precision and accuracy, cut the tube near the front and make the cut at a 45-degree angle. If you need to fill larger gaps, make the cut further back on the tip, as this will allow more caulk to be dispensed at once.

Once the tip has been cut off, you need to lightly press the trigger again, just enough to make a tiny bit of caulk come out of the tip. This will ensure that your caulking gun is primed and ready to go, with the caulk ready to come out as soon as you press the trigger. Keep in mind that for ratchet rod models, you will need to pull the rod back to stop caulk from flowing out, unlike with a smooth rod model that stops dispensing caulk right when you let go of the trigger.

Step 6: Hold Your Gun at an Angle and Apply Caulk

Now comes the fun part, the actual application process. Simply hold the caulking gun at a 45-degree angle and touch the applicator tip to the surface being caulked (or hold the tip just a few millimeters above the surface. Lightly and constantly press the trigger while moving the gun along the area being caulked in a steady and consistent manner. Keep applying caulk until the job is done.

When applying caulk, make sure to pull the gun along while dispensing the caulk. Do not lead with the tip and push the gun forward. Instead, you should drag the tip along backward, as this will allow for even and accurate application.

Step 7: Smooth It Out, Remove the Tape, and Let the Caulk Dry

The final thing to do is to use something like a heated metal spoon or a specialized tool to smooth everything out. Once everything is smooth and to your liking, remove the painter’s tape, and let it all dry. Remember to remove the painter’s tape before the caulking dries. If you get caulk on the tape and it dries before you remove the tape, you will end up pulling the caulk off along with the tape.

Applying Caulk

The Basics of Caulking Gun Safety

Let’s go over some quick tips to keep you safe while using a caulking gun. That said, caulking guns really are not dangerous in any way, so there is not much to cover here:

  • Although caulk is not corrosive, if you have sensitive skin, you may want to wear gloves.
  • It’s best to wear eye protection, just to keep you safe.
  • Although caulking does not release any fumes, it is still best to work in a well-ventilated area.
  • If you get caulking on your skin or in your eyes, wash it off immediately.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

Let’s go over some valuable tips and tricks to help provide you with the best chances of success, so you can do some beautiful looking caulking:

  • Never apply caulk over dirt, dust, or mold.
  • Always use a bleach solution to kill mold, fungi, and mildew before applying caulk.
  • Never apply caulk on a wet surface.
  • Try not to cut the hole on the tip of the applicator too large.
  • A caulking gun should be moved slowly, at a consistent rate, and you should pull it along, not push it.
  • Keep the applicator tip clean at all times, occasionally wiping it off with a wet cloth to ensure that no caulk dries on or in the tip.
  • Remember that caulking usually shrinks when it dries, which means that you may need a second application.
  • Always use the right type of caulking for the job at hand.

Additionally, if you are planning to apply caulking in the exterior, read this article.

Frequently Asked Questions About Caulking

Lastly, let’s go over some of the most frequently asked questions about the topic.

Can I Caulk Without a Gun?

Whether or not you need a gun to apply caulk depends on the type of caulk container you have. For instance, tubes and cartridges of caulking that are solid and are designed for use in caulking guns do require a gun. There is no easy way to dispense caulk out of one of these tubes without a gun. The same goes for sausage-style caulk containers. That said, if push comes to shove, even with regular caulking tubes, you can get by without a caulking gun.

However, nowadays, there are several types of squeeze tube applicators, special caulk containers that allow you to apply it simply by squeezing the tube.

What to Do If My Caulking Gun Is Too Hard to Squeeze?

If your caulking gun is too hard to squeeze, first make sure that there is no dirt or anything else in the way of the moving components. Next, make sure that the tip is cut off and open. If the tip is not cut off, you won’t really be able to squeeze the trigger. Next, you can also apply a little lube, something like WD40, to grease things up a bit. Finally, make sure that none of the components are broken or in need of repair. If it’s still too hard, you may want to switch to a power caulking gun.

Are Electric Caulking Guns Worth It?

If you plan on building or renovating a whole house, or if your trade is caulking and you plan on using your gun on a daily basis, then yes, an electric model is worth it. You can check my recommendations here. However, if it is just for one-time or occasional use, then an electric caulking gun probably is not worth it.

How Big of a Gap Can You Fill with Caulk?

Depending on the type of caulk being used, you could potentially fill a gap or crack of up to 1/2-inch in width with a single bead of caulk.


As you can see, no matter the type of caulking gun you have, these tools are very easy to use in general.

Besides a few small things, it’s just a matter of pointing and shooting. As long as you follow the directions as outlined here today, you should have no problems with caulking.