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in: Homeownership, Lifestyle

• Last updated: January 28, 2024

Let’s Hang: The Essential Guide to Drywall Anchors

An essential guide to drywall anchors.

Once or twice a year, I’ve got to mount something heavy on my walls. Could be a heavy picture frame, a coat hook, or some shelves. For really heavy items, you want the added security of fastening them with a screw to the wooden studs behind the wall. 

But sometimes the studs aren’t where you want to put your item. So, you have to mount them directly to the drywall. 

Here’s the problem with drywall: It’s not very strong. It’s fragile and crumbly. If you were to mount something (especially a heavy something) directly to drywall with just a screw, there’s a chance the screw will just rip out of the drywall, causing the stuff on your wall to crash to the ground and leaving a big ugly hole in your wall. 

You need to use a drywall anchor to prevent the above from happening when you mount things directly to drywall. 

A drywall anchor between the screw and the drywall grips the drywall much more effectively than a screw alone would. Many of these anchors are designed to distribute the load of an item mounted directly to drywall across a larger area of the drywall, which also reduces the risk of a screw ripping out. 

There are different kinds of drywall anchors. Below we go through the features of each and how to install them. 

Types of Drywall Anchors and How to Install Them

Drywall anchors come in various types, each suitable for different uses and weights. Here are the most common drywall anchor types you’ll run into.

Note: The photos on the right of each collage show what the anchor looks like on the other side of the wall you’re drilling into.

Plastic Expansion Anchors

Two pictures of blue drywall anchors.

If you’ve ever bought a coat hook or towel rods, they likely came with plastic expansion anchors. You’ll also see people call them anchor plugs. They’re thin plastic sheaths that sit in the drywall hole and expand out when you drive a screw in them. The expansion adds some pressure against the sides of the hole, providing more strength and stability. 

Plastic expansion anchors can hold between 10 to 30 pounds, depending on the size and design. They’re meant for light-duty applications like hanging picture frames, coat hooks, and small shelves.

How to Install Plastic Expansion Anchors

Out of all the anchors on this list, you’ll probably encounter the plastic expansion anchors the most since they come with most of the light-duty stuff you put on walls: hooks, small picture frames, towel rods, etc. 

A person holding a drill bit for drywall anchors in their hand.

You’ll want to drill a pilot hole for your plastic expansion anchor. Drill a hole slightly smaller than the width of the plastic expansion anchor. If the hole is too big, you won’t have a secure fit between the anchor and the drywall. Just eyeball it to select the correct drill bit for your pilot hole; take your plastic expansion anchor and line up a drill bit that looks slightly smaller. 

Two pictures of a hole in a wall with a blue screw, perfect for Home DIYers.

After you’ve drilled your pilot hole, place your plastic expansion anchor in the hole until it’s flush with the drywall. Because your pilot hole is smaller, you’ll need to hammer the anchor in. I usually just use the butt end of a screwdriver. 

With your plastic expansion anchor in the wall, you’re ready to drive your screw into it and mount your stuff to the wall. Make sure to use the correct screw size for the anchor. 

Threaded Anchors (Self-Drilling or Threaded Drywall Anchors)

Two pictures of a person holding a screw amidst drywall anchors.

These look like a big giant screw. Made of plastic or metal, they can be screwed directly into the drywall without pre-drilling. Their wide, deep threads provide a stronger grip in the drywall. You’ll see threaded anchors sold as “EZ anchors” or “Zip-It anchors.”

Depending on the size and design, threaded anchors can hold between 10 and 80 pounds, making them suitable for medium-duty applications like hanging heavy picture frames, mirrors, and shelves. 

How to Install a Threaded Anchor

How to remove a screw from a wall with drywall anchors.

The big benefit of a threaded anchor is that you don’t have to drill a pilot hole. You can just directly screw it into the drywall. You’ll want to use a manual screwdriver for this job. If you screw in a threaded anchor with a power drill, you risk overdriving the anchor into the wall, rendering it useless as an anchor. Manually screw the threaded anchor until the head is flush, and everything feels snug. 

Once your threaded anchor is installed, you can drive your screw into it and mount what you need to mount. 

Molly Bolts

A person holding a metal screw near a piece of wood.

Molly bolts are the beefier version of plastic expansion anchors. They’re made of metal, and instead of just squeezing against the hole you put them in, molly bolts spread out the back part of the anchor, making a bigger grip inside the wall. 

Depending on the size and design of a molly bolt, they can hold up to 100 pounds. 

How to Install a Molly Bolt

Drill a hole that’s slightly smaller than your molly bolt. Push the molly bolt through the hole until the head is flush against the wall. Tap it in with a hammer or butt end of a screwdriver if needed. 

Grab a screwdriver and start tightening the screw in the molly bolt. As you turn the screw, the back end of the bolt starts to spread out behind the drywall, creating a strong anchor. Keep turning until you feel resistance, but don’t overtighten — you don’t want to strip it or break the drywall.

Once it’s tight and the bolt is expanded, unscrew the screw a bit. This gives you room to hang your item.

Toggle Bolts

Two pictures of a person holding a hammer and a screw, providing an Essential Guide on how to Hang with Drywall Anchors.

These are the strongest of all the drywall anchors. Bust these bad boys out if you’re hanging large mirrors, heavy bookshelves, and televisions. A toggle bolt has two main parts — a bolt and a spring-loaded metal wing nut (the “toggle”). When the bolt is screwed into the toggle, it forms a T-shape. The wings are squeezed together to insert into a hole in the wall, and once through, they spring back open, distributing the weight behind the wall. 

How to Install a Toggle Bolt

To install, you must first drill a hole big enough for the folded toggle to fit through. Once the toggle is through the wall, it’ll snap open. Then, pull back on the bolt to snug the toggle against the inside of the wall and start tightening. Once tight, the item you’re hanging can be mounted.

Other Drywall Anchors You Might Encounter

Two pictures of a screw and a screw on a wall, demonstrating the use of drywall anchors.

The above are the most common drywall anchors you’ll come across. There are other varieties, though. There are plastic pop toggle anchors that are a hybrid of expansion anchors and toggle anchors. There are also plastic molly bolts. Read the packaging on how much weight they can hold. Install them like the anchors above: drill a pilot hole slightly smaller than the anchor, insert in the hole, and drive in a screw.

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