Caulking is one of the handiest techniques in home improvement. It can be used on walls, floors, tiles, wood – almost anywhere you need to create a seal or bond.
It doesn’t require any major specialty tools either. At most, you need a caulking gun, an inexpensive tool that you can purchase at any standard hardware store. Even that isn’t strictly necessary.
You don’t have to use a caulking gun, although it will be harder. You simply use your hands to curl or push the bottom of the tube as you go. Be aware that without the gun, it will be messier because you won’t get the same even flow of caulk. Otherwise, it’s the same process with or without a gun:
- Clean the surface you have to caulk
- Apply pressure to the bottom of the tube to push the caulk out
- Smooth the bead and remove excess caulk
Can You Use Any Type Of Caulk Without A Gun?
The three main kinds of caulk or sealant you can use with a gun are butyl-rubber, silicone, and acrylic/latex. Butyl-rubber caulk is for outdoor use only, while you can use silicone and acrylic/latex indoors and out.
You can use any one of these types without a gun, but it’s a good idea to wear gloves. You’ll be using your fingers to smooth out the caulk, and gloves will make it easier to clean up later. Fortunately, the risks of caulk are low if you keep it away from your eyes and mouth.
Caulking Without A Gun
Using caulk without a gun follows the same basic steps for using a gun. The crucial difference is that you’ll essentially be caulking freehand, and it will be a messier process. Make sure you have appropriate cleaning materials on hand and wipe any excess caulk away as soon as you can.
You should also be sure to use the right kind of caulk for your project. Caulking around a toilet has different options than caulking a tub, for example.
What You’ll Need
- Vinyl or latex gloves
- Painter’s tape
- Scissors or utility knife
- Cleaning cloths
- Long-handled hammer or small pole (optional)
- Caulk finishing tool (optional)
- Paint scraper or putty knife (optional)
- Mineral spirits (optional)
1. Clean And Tape Your Surface
Wipe down the area you want to caulk with a wet rag and then buff dry. You can also use a surface-appropriate cleaner if the area is particularly dirty.
Be sure to remove any old caulk before you add anything new. Add painter’s tape around the edges of your caulking area to make clean-up easier.
2. Open The Caulking Tube
Using your scissors or utility knife, carefully trim the nozzle of your caulking tube. The closer to the tip of the nozzle you cut, the thinner your bead will be. If you’re not sure how large of a bead you’ll need, start small and cut wider as you needed.
Always cut your caulking tube at a 45-degree angle. You’ll hold the tube at an angle, so having a slant in your tip will give you a smoother bead.
3. Apply Your Caulk
Wearing gloves, place the tip of your caulking tube at the start of your gap. Apply pressure to the bottom of the tube to push the caulk out of the tip. Pull the caulking tube towards you very slowly, working small sections at a time.
Don’t worry if you’re having trouble keeping a straight line. Since you’re using one hand to force the caulk out, it will be difficult to keep everything neat. That’s why the painter’s tape is there. Working in small areas at a time will also help keep things neat.
If you get caulk where it’s not supposed to be, you can stop and clean before it starts to cure. It’s best to use a dry cloth to wipe up any excess caulk; a wet cloth could spread it around.
To continue pushing the caulk through the tube, you have two options. If you’ve bought a soft tube, you can curl the bottom of the tube as you go. If it’s a plunger-style tube, use the handle of a hammer or small pole to push the plunger bottom down.
4. Smooth And Clean Up Your Caulk
Wet the tip of your gloved finger in water and smooth the bead of caulk along the joint. If you have a caulk finishing tool, lightly drag it across the caulk to smooth it out.
Pull away the painter’s tape at an angle before the caulk has time to dry. Clean up any excess wet caulk with a dry cloth.
If caulk has dried where it’s not supposed to, scrape as much away as possible. A paint scraper or putty knife will do the job. You can try softening the remaining caulk with water (for acrylic/latex) or mineral spirits (for silicone or butyl-rubber).
Benefits Of Using A Caulking Gun
Although the general process of caulking is the same without a gun, it’s definitely not as easy. A caulking gun does most of the work for you, so you can focus on getting a consistent, smooth bead.
A caulking gun provides more control over how much caulk is pushed out from the tube. It also gives you a steadier line since you can apply the caulk in one smooth motion. This is especially important for precision work, such as when you’re trying to avoid weep holes in your windows.
Without a gun, you have to use each hand for a different purpose at the same time. You need to push the bottom of the tube while also pulling the tube towards you.
It takes a lot of pressure to push the caulk out, which makes it hard to keep a straight line. It’s also harder to control how much caulk comes out since the pressure isn’t steady.
Alternative To Traditional Caulk Tubes
You can actually forgo traditional caulk (and the gun) altogether. Expandable foam caulk comes in a can with a small nozzle attached. Outside of the prep and cleaning tools, this can is all you need.
You squeeze the trigger attached to the straw as you pull the can towards you against your joint. The foam then expands to fill in the gap and hardens just like traditional caulk.
Foaming caulk takes much less pressure to use and no other application tools. However, it doesn’t take long for a can to expire, and it can be easy to use too much.
Sometimes it’s necessary to improvise on home improvement jobs. We try to prepare as best as possible, but when all else fails, it’s nice to have alternatives.
What do you do if you’re ready to caulk but find that you don’t have a gun, or it’s malfunctioned? You don’t have to run to the store – you can just use the caulking tube by hand.
Some caulk comes in easy-to-squeeze tubes that allow you to curl up the bottom while you apply. Others come in traditional tubes meant for a gun, but you still don’t have to use one. You can push the bottom of the tube with a hammer handle or a short pole.
All the other steps are exactly the same as if you were using a gun. Just be ready to do more clean-up with these methods. If you prep your area and keep dry cloths on hand, though, you can reduce the mess.
Obviously, using a gun is the most efficient way to apply caulk. When you’re in a pinch, however, your hands will do just fine.