Joint Compound Vs. Spackle: What Are The Major Differences?
If you are green to the world of home improvement, you might have heard about joint compound for the first time. You also may be aware that spackle is typically used to patch up holes in the walls. But, isn’t that what joint compound does, too? Is there really any difference, and when should you use each tool? As someone who’s been there, I totally understand the confusion. Although personal preference definitely plays a factor, it ultimately comes down to application.
Joint compound, also known as drywall compound, is a putty with a plaster-like consistency that is intended to be used on larger projects. As such, it is commonly used for taping and finishing drywall seams. Spackle, however, is typically made of vinyl and is used for filling small holes, cracks, and blemishes made by screws, nails, and pins.
Understanding which tool to use for your patches and reinforcements is a serious “make or break” type of deal. To help you choose the right tool for your job, we’re going to explain everything you need to know about each.
What Is Joint Compound?
If you have ever had to install drywall or patch up a very large hole in your wall, you probably already know what joint compound is used for. Joint compound is a thick, muddy substance that is used to patch drywall seams and generally just fix walls. There are four main types of joint compound, each with its own unique purpose:
- All-Purpose Compound. This is the compound that you can use during every part of the patching or drywall hanging process, from the beginning to the very end.
- Taping Compound. If you are just starting to patch up holes or seams between drywall, the first two layers you make will be taping compound. Taping compound is meant to be a foundational layer.
- Quick-Setting Compound. This mud mixture, as its name suggests, dries faster than a regular joint compound. This is a good pick for wide cracks, seams, and larger holes.
- Topping Compound. As the name suggests, this is a top coat that is meant to help thicken and reinforce walls. It’s placed on two layers of taping compound.
Is There A Difference Between Joint Compound And Drywall Mud?
Nope! Both names refer to the exact same thing. It’s actually a regional speech difference, so if you want to call joint compound mud, you absolutely can. It’s also good to know that joint compound gets called “filler compound” in many parts of Canada and New Zealand. So, it has three names rather than one.
What Is Spackle?
Spackle is a lot like joint compound in the sense that it’s spread on walls and is meant to patch up holes. However, it is thinner than joint compound and is generally seen as easier to use. It also is technically a trademark name that is supplied by the company that created it, Muralo. Spackle comes in two categories:
- Light Spackle. This is a lightweight spackle created from a vinyl compound, and as the name suggests, it’s for light-duty jobs. If you have holes from nails, pins, or bolts, this will be a good cover.
- Heavy Spackle. Heavy spackle is acrylic-based, and works best on larger holes, such as the hole that happens when you need to drill your wall for electrical work.
Does Spackle Have Any Other Names?
Yes, but not in the United States. Stateside, spackle is just spackle. If you go to the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, or other parts of Europe, things change. There, spackle is generally called “Polyfilla,” and is actually slightly different in chemical makeup compared to American spackle.
In other parts of the world, Polyfilla/spackle isn’t actually made out of gypsum. It’s made from cellulose. This, in turn, becomes one of the bigger differences between joint compound and spackle abroad.
How Are Joint Compound And Spackle Similar?
Both joint compound and spackle are sold in pre-mixed and powdered forms, which means you get a lot of control over the consistency. They are also both used to make walls smoother, especially when it comes to repairing holes. Both are applied by spreading them evenly over surfaces, sometimes over fiberglass mesh or joint tape.
If you take a look at how they’re applied or what they look like, you would think they’re basically the same thing. To a point, you wouldn’t be wrong. They’re both primarily made of gypsum powder. Heck, both of these items even have similar consistencies and are found in the same parts of your local hardware store. Both can even be rehydrated and reused.
How Are Joint Compound And Spackle Different?
With that said, there are a lot of differences that you need to know about before you grab a bucket of compound or spackle. We’re going to go through each aspect of their use, their purpose, and what you should expect from each.
- Joint compound can be used to patch large holes, cover corner beads, improve trim, and treat drywall. On the other hand, spackle is mostly just for holes. Joint compound is the number one drywall treatment to use when you want to smooth out the bolts, seams, and creases. It’s also what keeps drywall tape in place.
- If you need to smooth over drywall joints or want to make a corner joint look seamless, you need joint compound. Spackle will not cut it. Spackle is viewed as a light patching substance that is ideal for fixing holes and smoothing things over. Joints and other areas that need reinforcement need the tougher stuff.
- Seams in drywall need joint compound, not spackle. Spackle will not be able to hold the joints together well enough, and may actually cause damage if it’s used in that way.
- If you are hanging up drywall, you need joint compound. Its consistency will give you the seamless yet durable surface that your home deserves.
- Heavy spackle and joint compound both can work with mesh or similar coverings when you’re using it to fill holes. If you have a noticeable hole in your ceiling, then you can use either heavy spackle or joint compound to work with it. Light spackle, however, will not be enough to patch it.
Ease Of Use
- Spackle is the easier one to use in terms of consistency. Spackle can be put on by a casual person. Meanwhile, if you aren’t used to working with drywall joint compound, you might have to troubleshoot things like bubbles in the compound.
- Mixing joint compound can be intimidating for newbie DIY fans. Between getting the consistency right and actually adding the right amount of water, it can be a lot. Many people prefer premixed solutions, but they don’t always work out as well as they should. As a result, people sometimes feel caught between a rock and a hard place when they first work with joint compound.
- Spackle is less specialized than joint compound. You won’t find a “base layer spackle” on the shelves. This can make shopping for spackle a little easier than shopping for joint compound, simply because you don’t have to worry about getting the exact type you need.
- You generally need far less spackle than you do joint compound. Since spackle is designed primarily for hole patching, you don’t need much to make it work for you. Joint compound is usually used when you’re putting up drywall, which means that you will need a lot more.
- Joint compound is thicker, which makes it great for use on a wall that you need to sand down. Spackle will not hold up when it comes to sanding. It’s just not thick enough, even if you do multiple passes with it.
- Spackle dries faster than joint compound. Spackle only takes about half an hour to fully dry, whereas joint compound can take several hours. This makes spackle ideal for a “quick fix.”
- Spackle is the more lightweight option. Light spackle can feel a lot like whipped cream when it first comes out of the bin. Heavy spackle is just a little bit thicker. Joint compound is more like cake frosting, or at times, even closer to cake batter.
- Joint compound shrinks more when it dries than spackle does. With spackle, what you slather on is what you get. Joint compound, on the other hand, can shrink significantly during the drying portion of the application. This can lead to unexpected mishaps if you’re new to using it.
- Joint compound is better for thickening a wall. The dense consistency of joint compound is designed to help make walls a little more sturdy. If you need to sand your walls down, that extra thickness comes in handy too. Spackle is not thick enough to handle this kind of reinforcement.
Which Is More Expensive: Joint Compound Or Spackle?
Believe it or not, spackle is the more expensive option when it comes to a pound-by-pound basis. However, when you go to the store, you won’t pay as much for spackle because you probably won’t need as much. As a result, most purchases that are done for joint compound tend to carry a higher price tag.
Can You Reuse Joint Compound?
If you have joint compound that’s left in the container but dried out, you can rewet it by adding water to the mix. Stir gently, and you should be able to use it again.
Can You Reuse Spackle?
Spackle is a little more difficult to reuse, simply because you might not have enough to make it worth reusing. With spackle, you will need to gradually add more water in small spurts. Be careful, as it’s easy to end up with spackle that is too watery to use!
Do I Need Spackle Or Joint Compound?
This all depends on what you’re trying to do. If you’re putting up drywall, you will most likely need to get joint compound. (Actually, you’ll need multiple types!) Fixing very large holes may also require joint compound, as will doing things like patching up holes with tape. Spackle is mostly for petite holes and smoothing over tiny bumps.
Are Joint Compound And Spackle Interchangeable?
Yes and no. If you have extra joint compound, you probably can use it in place of spackle. If you have spackle, you cannot use it in a job that requires joint compound. The reason why deals with the durability of the joint compound. If you need joint compound, you need a level of density that spackle doesn’t have.
If you have to choose one of these two tools, it’s best to err on the safe side and pick drywall mud. This stuff can be used in almost any situation that spackle can, and then some.
Can you use spackle to repair a hole in a bathroom wall?
While spackle is generally a great pick for fixing holes, it’s not that good for bathroom walls. Spackle does not fare well in areas that are prone to high humidity, such as a bathroom where people regularly take hot showers. Since spackle also tends to “rewet” fairly easily, there is a chance that this could cause damage to the repairs you already made.To make sure that your patches stay in place, it’s better to stick to joint compound for rooms prone to humidity. With that said, some spackle is now being rated as waterproof. Make sure you choose the right spackle if you go that route.
Can I use caulk instead of spackle?
Caulk and spackle are not interchangeable, nor are they even made for similar purposes. Spackle is designed to repair holes in your wall, giving it a smooth, never-damaged look. Caulk is meant to seal items, making them watertight.Putting caulk on a wall hole will make it very difficult for paint to cling to the wall properly and will also potentially damage your overall texture.
What’s the difference between spackle and wood putty?
Wood putty is meant to fill holes in wood and help even out wood surfaces. Spackle, on the other hand, is meant to fill in holes in walls made from plaster and drywall.
Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.
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