How to Use Drywall Anchors

by Alex Merrill

There are innumerable household tasks that call for — or should call for — drywall anchors. A drywall anchor is usually a plastic sleeve that is inserted into drywall, which then receives a screw. The purpose of the anchor is that it dramatically increases the holding power of a screw in drywall, which is usually pretty low. If you are faced with an application that would place more than minimal strain on a screw — wall mounted shelves, pallet wine racks, heavy artwork, etc.  — then a drywall anchor is probably a good answer. Despite the ubiquitous applications of these drywall anchors, however, there was a time when I found the process a tad daunting. This short primer will give you the basics on selecting and installing drywall anchors.


First off, you’ve got to know your options when it comes to drywall anchors. The price per anchor can slide from just a handful of cents for the super basic sleeves, to well over a dollar per for serious, heavy-duty anchor systems. For many light applications, the basic sleeves will do the trick, and will certainly perform much better than a screw alone. For applications requiring more weight bearing, or those that will see more active use, a more advanced anchor may be wise.

Once selected, the instructions on the specific anchor package won’t lead you astray. I’ve seen two types of anchors: those that require a predrilled hole and those that do not. The most basic anchors do require a hole, properly sized, to allow the sleeve to seat itself in the drywall. Trying to mash one of those cheap anchors into a hole that’s too small will be a quick lesson in how a correctly size drill hole is key, as well as lesson in anger management, maybe. The other category of anchor has a cutting head and a threaded exterior, which cuts through and creates its own hole in the wall surface. I prefer this type, if available, as I find the performance and ease of installation to be superior to many predrilled style anchors. Either way, once the anchor itself is seated properly in the wall, a screw will have no problem finding a strong, secure home for itself to accomplish all of your hanging needs.


A note on removing existing drywall anchors. The threaded style of anchor can easily be unscrewed, leaving a sizeable but fillable hole. The predrilled type of anchors are difficult to pull back out, as they are designed to resist exactly those forces. In addition, removing the anchor by force runs the risk of tearing out a larger than necessary chunk of drywall. I find it easier (if the anchor doesn’t have a large flange which sits against the wall) to simply take some needle nose pliers or a screwdriver and push the anchor through the wall, leaving it in the depths of the wall cavity for some lucky remodeler to find some day in the future. The resulting hole is often barely larger than the predrilled hole you started with, and is fillable with any touch-up spackle product, like DryDex. Good luck!