Pesky unaesthetic holes or gouges in drywall are unavoidable. Whether moving wall art or moving into a previously lived in home, there will come a time when a repair needs to be made to your walls. If you don’t feel like reading about the specifications of spackle, we don’t blame you. So we created a flow chart to to make your life a little easier. Otherwise, prepare yourself to become an expert on spackle.
The fix seems simple enough; you buy spackle, fill the hole, paint over it, and you’re done! The hardest part of this seemingly simple process may be the very first step. When you arrive at the “Paints” section of your favorite home improvement store you expect to see a container boldly labeled with the word “SPACKLE“. Unfortunately for you this isn’t the case. You begin reading each and every label on the multicolored buckets and suddenly you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of spackle. Do you need standard or lightweight? Dry mix or pre-mixed? Acrylic? Vinyl? Epoxy? And what’s the difference between spackle and joint compound? Keep calm and read on! We will have you looking like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor in no time.
Before you can begin to make decisions regarding what type of spackle will work best for you, there are some questions you will need to answer:
- What is the material you are trying to repair? (wood, drywall, vinyl plastic, etc)
- How long & deep is the imperfection on the surface you are trying to repair?
- Is this an interior or exterior surface?
- Is the surface likely to get banged up again?
If you were answering each of these questions as you read them, thank you for coming prepared. If not, you’ll need to do some investigating and find the answers before you can identify the perfect spackle type for you. You may have noticed that each container of spackle has a slew of descriptive words or features. We will now cover each of those features by describing what they mean and which one you should choose.
Dry Mix vs Pre-Mixed
Spackle was first brought to the market in the 1920’s and was only available as a dry mix. If you purchase a dry mix it simply means that you purchase the product as a powder and to create the end product you must mix it with water. This would be beneficial to a construction company that needs to store and create large amounts of spackle at a time. Today the more commonly found form of spackle is a pre-mixed paste that comes in all of those colorful buckets you see on the shelves at the home improvement store. Not only is the pre-mixed form more convenient and less messy for you, it also prevents the user from making mistakes when mixing the powder that would ruin the product.
If you’re trying to cut costs you will find that dry mix is cheaper to buy, however the smallest package of dry mix you can find may be much more then you need. For example, a 25 lb. bag of dry mix Presto Patch® patching compound can be found online for about $12. A 4 lb. container of pre-mixed Presto Patch® can be found for a little less than $10. If you do the math, that’s about 48 cents vs $2.5 /lb. That’s a big difference, but don’t overlook the fact that you will have 25 lb. of dry mix to store in your home.
Standard or “All Purpose” vs Lightweight
As you make your way down the label on the bucket, you’ll begin to notice that the spackles are labeled as “lightweight” & “all-purpose”. Before you throw your hands in the air and decide that you can live with a hole in the wall, remember the following rule of thumb. The smaller the hole or imperfection that you’re trying to repair is, the lighter spackle you will need. Lighter spackles shrink less & dry faster. So you may think, why not use lightweight spackle for all of my home repair needs? Lightweight spackle does not sand easily, so you’ll need to make sure that you don’t overstuff the hole you’re filling and it looks flush with the wall. For a larger hole or gouge, it will be difficult to make the spackle look flush with the wall without sanding it, and this is when you will use the “all purpose” spackle. If the repaired area is likely to be bumped into or disturbed again, the lightweight spackle is more likely to crack and crumble and standard spackle should be used. The price difference will not be noticeable in most cases. It’s important not to compare price per pound in this instance, but per volume.
Vinyl, Acrylic vs Epoxy
These three words will be used right before “spackle” on the label, so they must be important. These are the most common types of fillers or mediums mixed with spackle to add a particular desired strength, flexibility, or texture to the product. Vinyl and acrylic spackles are known for their flexibility and are often featured as interior/exterior spackles for difficult surfaces. They offer minimal shrinkage, which is ideal for quickly filling a nail hole and painting over it. On the other hand, epoxy spackle is oil based and most commonly used as a wood filler. It has the texture of cookie dough and when it dries it can be sanded and painted quite easily. It is known for its strength, minimal shrinking, and adhesion. When choosing which medium your spackle should contain, it’s best to consider the material you’re trying to repair.
Like watching paint dry, watching spackle dry can put a major damper on your sudden wave of motivation to repair your home and bore you to tears. We suggest preparing side projects to work on while waiting for the spackle to dry. For the impatient person, dry time indicators are pre-added to the spackle. The spackle is usually a certain color such as purple or pink when applied and as it dries turns to white, indicating that it is ready to be sanded or painted. Reversing our previously mentioned rule of thumb, the larger or deeper your imperfection is the longer you will have to (and want to) wait for the spackle to dry. If you apply quick dry spackle to a large hole in your drywall without support (like a custom cut piece of drywall) it is likely that the spackle will crack and crumble.
Other Types of Putty
At this point you may be thinking you’re an expert, but don’t think you can find your way around the spackle shelves just yet. Along with all of the previously mentioned types of spackle sits other types of putty used for repairs. Remember, all spackles are putty but not all putties are spackle. We’ll identify and explain a few of the variations you will find on the shelves with spackle.
Joint (Drywall) Compound “Mud”
Joint compound has many names. In the construction industry, it’s most commonly referred to as “mud”. You may also see it labeled as “wallboard compound”, “drywall compound”, or “joint cement”. The purpose of joint compound is to seal the spaces between boards of drywall. It is used in conjunction with mesh tape or paper tape to cover panel joints. Joint compound takes much longer to dry than spackle, and it takes many coats to properly cover the seam. “Mud” comes pre-mixed in 5 gallon buckets for home owners to use on smaller projects, or it is available in larger quantities of dry mix for construction companies who will use it more often.
Aside from the aforementioned epoxy spackle, there are several types of wood putty on the market for repairing imperfections in wood. It comes labeled with names such as “painter’s putty” and “carpenter’s putty”. Generally, wood fillers are used to fill nail homes, cracks, and other voids like dry rot prior to finishing. Matching the color of the putty to the wood is the biggest challenge in using wood putty.
Now that you are officially an expert on spackle, go to your local home improvement and show off your stuff. For directions on how to repair damaged drywall and other imperfections, we recommend referencing Lowe’s guide on patching and repairing drywall.