Want to Know the Difference Between Spackle, Joint Compound or Skim Coat?

Putty knife

If you’ve ever seen a wall painted without prepping and repair, you’ll know what we’re talking about. The texture is uneven. You might see dents, cracks or nail holes (or even more of an eyesore, painted-over plastic wall anchors). We’ve even seen rooms where the paint covers unskimmed joint tape. Yuck! Don’t be that guy. Before you start painting, learn the right way to prep and prepare your walls. Learn which material to use, spackle, drywall repair or skim coating.

Make Walls Sparkle With Spackle

If you’re looking for a putty to fill minor surface defects in a variety of surfaces, including drywall, plaster and wood, look no further than spackle. With a spreadable, toothpaste-like consistency, painters use spackle to repair small defects, like nail holes, dings and dents.

This fast-dry option lets you apply it straight out of the container. Then, you can sand* and be ready to paint in about half an hour. Bonus: It shrinks less than joint compound, which means you can usually finish patching small damage in one go.

Smooth Drywall Seams With Joint Compound

Contractors use joint compound (a.k.a. drywall mud or mud) to cover joint tape on drywall. It comes in a dust* that you mix to a cake-like consistency (though you can also buy it pre-mixed to speed things up).

It takes some skill hide the seams, but when it’s applied correctly joint compound creates a smooth, unblemished surface. While spackle can’t stand in for joint compound – it dries too quickly to be smoothed out properly – you can use joint compound in place of spackle. It will take more than one coat and has a longer dry time, but this is a good hack if you have some leftover from another job.

Create a Flat, Uniform Surface With Skim Coat

Dilute some joint compound, and you have the material in hand for a skim coat. Skim coat – applied by hand, sprayer or roller, and smoothed out by a trowel or drywall knife – creates a uniform surface on ceilings and walls. It’s used to prep walls for painting or applying texture. It also makes old walls look new. This makes it a great option if you’re renovating but keeping your walls in place.

Spackling is sometimes mistakenly used as a skim coat. But spackling isn’t made for this application – it dries to quickly, doesn’t spread smoothly and is hard to sand* to a fine finish on large areas. So, when looking for a smooth, paintable surface, let the spackle do its job: repairing small damage.

Our experienced, professional interior house painters are trained to know which material to use to repair walls and prep them for painting. If it’s time to repaint your house, get a free quote today.

*WARNING! If you scrape, sand, or remove old paint, you may release lead dust. LEAD IS TOXIC. EXPOSURE TO LEAD DUST CAN CAUSE SERIOUS ILLNESS, SUCH AS BRAIN DAMAGE, ESPECIALLY IN CHILDREN. PREGNANT WOMEN SHOULD ALSO AVOID EXPOSURE. Wear a NIOSH-approved respirator to control lead exposure. Clean up carefully with a HEPA vacuum and a wet mop. Before you start, find out how to protect yourself and your family by contacting the National Lead Information Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD or log on to www.epa.gov/lead.


Kelley Rebori

Kelley Rebori has written for national brands like Paintzen, HGTV, the DIY Network and Trulia for more than a decade. She loves home renovation projects, chocolate icing and small poodles. She and her husband split the year between their homes in Tennessee and Italy.