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Caulk Before Or After Painting?

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Do you caulk before or after painting?

This question arises on almost every painting project because  no matter the room that you are painting, there is a good chance that you are going to have to do some caulking. If you are painting the kitchen or bathroom, you are going to need to do a lot of caulking, but even baseboards in living rooms and hallways can benefit from a little caulk to add a neat finish. And, don’t forget about your exterior. 

The process is actually very simple, but getting it wrong can lead to all kinds of headaches. Let’s take a look at the finer details. 

What Is Caulking?

Caulk is a gooey substance that can be used to fill gaps and seams and will harden over time into a solid but flexible finish. The most common rooms to use caulk are the bathroom and kitchen to prevent water from getting behind cabinets and work surfaces, but it is also used to cover small gaps, like those between a baseboard and a wall, to create an aesthetically-pleasing finish. 

Caulk is also used on the exterior to seal any gaps and stop the rain, wind, and other elements from slipping through. Basically, anywhere that you want to seal a gap, you can use caulk. 

Caulk is applied using a ‘gun’ that pushes the caulk out of a tube and through a nozzle for fine control. While it is still wet, you can use tools to smooth the surface, and you can sand it when you are done. 

There are different caulks for different reasons, so you would not use the same caulk for your exterior as you would for your bathroom. Be sure to read the packaging to ensure that you get what you need. 

Caulk before or after painting

Why Caulk Before Painting?

So, would you caulk before or after painting?

The answer is that you should paint in between painting. More specifically, you should prime the walls first, apply caulk, and then paint the walls. The main reason for this is that small cracks show up better after painting, so after priming the wall is a perfect time. 

Caulk also adheres to primed surfaces better than it will to unprimed, so priming first will always give you the best finish. As caulk can be painted (unless it is specialized caulk), you can paint it to match the exact color that you are using. 

Once you have patched and repaired any surfaces, you can prime the surface and then check for any additional damage. After that, you can caulk any other cracks that you find, smoothing the caulk after, and caulk any imperfections between surfaces, such as where a wall meets a baseboard. 

Of course, there may be times when you want to caulk after painting, and that is at your own discretion. It may be that you want to create a white seam between a darker painted wall and a surface below. If that is the case, it is perfectly fine to paint first and caulk after. 

Do You Caulk Or Prime First?

While we’re on the topic of painting, let’s discuss the entire process from prep to finish. Before you even think about painting, priming, or caulking, the first thing you better do is thouroughly prep the surface. Remove any and all dirt from the surface, fix any cracks/bumps, then completely dry the surface.

On almost all surfaces, caulk will not stick without a primer base coat. Priming first will prevent surfaces like wood absorbing moisture from caulk which can cause cracking. Even the best painters are prone to overlooking gaps & cracks when they prime first. 

Which Caulk To Use

You never want to use clear silicone based caulk on surfaces that are going to be painted over. Instead, we recommend using acrylic caulk or a hybrid caulk. With caulk, you can’t go wrong with just picking the right type of caulk that goes for a higher price than the cheaper options. 

When you are buying the caulk, also ensure that you have the caulk that you need. There are different exterior caulks, some are for roofs, others are for garages, some work better in cold weather, and so on. Choose the one that fits your specific need. 

Locate the place that you are going to caulk and ensure that it is clean and free of debris. If it is, the caulk will adhere better and ensure a seal. If there is old paint, scrape that off, and be sure to wash the area as needed and let it dry. 

Some caulks will require you to prime first, but you do not need to unless it is stated on the instructions. Always defer to the packaging to make sure the caulk works at its best. 

Use a caulk applicator to apply it to the needed area and, again, refer to the instructions for the appropriate drying time. Once the caulk is dry, you can sand it as needed and paint it. 

Pro Tip: make sure that you choose the type of caulk material that you need. Some have a white finish and can be painted over, perfect for repairs. Other caulks have a clear finish and cannot be painted over; they are best used to seal around windows and doors after painting. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see from the information above, it is best to caulk before painting, but some caulks can be used before priming and others need to be used after. Use our guide above to determine how best to caulk your interior or exterior, and always use as directed by the packaging. 

With your exterior, you want to pay extra attention to the caulk, as this is going to be a line of defense against the elements, and that all starts with the best caulk. Your house is going to last for a long time, so your caulk should too. We always recommend investing in the caulk that is going to last for 40 years rather than the caulk that is only going to last 10.