THE ONLY DRYWALL ANCHOR YOU SHOULD EVER USE

If you’re insanely lucky, you’ll have a stud in your wall exactly where you want to hang something heavy. For the other 99% of the time, you’re going to need to use a drywall anchor to hang that thing on the wall. (That’s a sheetrock anchor for the American folks out there.)

Woman's hand holding a hollow wall anchor between her fingers in front of a white wall.

 

I know. The drywall anchor! It’s a big, scary looking thing but once I explain it, it’ll be about as scary as a chocolate covered cotton ball. I’ll be calling it a drywall anchor through this post by the way because that’s what it’s called in my area in Canada. You might refer to it as sheetrock and a sheetrock anchor, but it’s the same thing. 

We’ve all been there I’m sure … hung a full sized cow on our wall only to have it fall down in the middle of the night, scaring the farts right out of the cat. It happens. But it doesn’t have to.

For some reason people are under the impression that hanging things on the wall is frightening. This fear stems out of two things. The fear of filling your wall with holes (you can overcome that fear in this tutorial where I teach you how to fix nail holes in drywall), and the fear of having no idea what the hell you’re doing, what the hell you’re supposed to use and how the hell you’re supposed to use it.

Also you hung something once before and it fell down. And it was traumatizing.

But that’s only because you probably used the wrong types of drywall anchors. I bet you’re using those little, brightly coloured plastic wall anchors aren’t you?

It’s O.K. Not knowing, making mistakes, asking questions and learning are all a part of your successful home improvement journey.

Plastic Wall Anchors

An array of colourful plastic wall anchors laid in a row on concrete.

I’ve used them too. I’ll admit it. Those plastic anchors (expansion anchors) in bright colours that you hammer into the drywall. You keep screwing and screwing your screw into it and it just keeps spinning and spinning because it isn’t actually grabbing onto anything. But you hang something off of it anyways because you paid for it and installed it and can’t think of any other way to do it. Then your cow falls down.

It’s because those plastic anchors aren’t really meant for drywall. They’re actually meant for solid walls like concrete. They *can* in certain circumstances be used for drywall but even the must robust plastic anchor can only hold around 10 pounds. So they’re very definitely light duty and don’t have a lot of holding power.

If you INSIST on using a plastic wall anchor in drywall, remember this tip.

A yellow, red and grey plastic wall anchor with wings pulled out.

Pull the wings out on your plastic anchor!Not all plastic anchors are going to have them, but if they do, pull them out. They’ll squish back in when you hammer the anchor into the wall but they’ll pop out again a bit once they’re in there. They’ll help (a minuscule amount) to keep the anchor from falling out of the wall.

So if plastic wall anchors are crap, what should you be using to hang your stuff on the wall?

Threaded Anchors

Self-Drilling zinc drywall anchor with screws.

Threaded anchors, (also called self-drilling anchors and E-Z anchors) are the absolute easiest choice and one of the most effective. They have a point on the end so you can tap them into the drywall. Then just stick a screwdriver into them and screw them in the wall. An average sized threaded anchor can hold about 50 pounds.

But my favourite is the hollow wall anchor. Otherwise known as a Molly Bolt. It’s more complicated to use than the threaded anchor but I like them better.


What is a Molly wall anchor?

Also known as the classic “Molly Bolt” or a molly wall anchor. THESE are the only drywall (sheetrock) anchors you should use. (bit of an exaggeration but honestly if you aren’t sure what to go with they are the best.) How do I know they’re the best? Just ask Bessie the cow.

These are my favourite anchors. Yes there are others like screw-in anchors, toggle bolts and a bunch of other things, but these Molly wall anchors are my favourites so that’s why I’m talking about them and telling you to use them too.

When you buy a box of Hollow Wall Anchors there are 3 things you need to look for on the box:

A hollow wall anchor box being held up, outlining all the important sizes and measurements you need to pay attention to when buying them.

What to look for in Hollow Wall Anchors

  1. Make sure what you’re buying is indeed a Hollow Wall Anchor for drywall.
  2. Make sure they’re the right size for your drywall. This box is good for drywall that is 3/8ths to 5/8ths thickness. (there are other Hollow Wall Anchors that are for very thin materials like hollow doors)
  3. Note the size of the drill bit that they recommend you use and make sure you own one!

Also make sure you own a drill. I have a couple of drills, a “vintage” electric one I found at a garage sale that’s GREAT and this Ryobi cordless one, which is great when the battery actually works. If you have issues with 18V batteries suddenly not charging, read my post on how to get a seemingly dead cordless battery to take a charge.

How to use Molly Bolts To Hang Stuff on Drywall

Bright green Ryobi drill, drilling into white wall.

  1. Mark the place on your wall where you want to hang something. Using the right sized drill bit, drill your hole. DON’T go wiggling all over the place with your drill. Hold it stead and drill straight in and pull straight out. If you wiggle you’ll actually drill a larger hole.

Hammering a hollow wall anchor into a white wall using an old, wood handled hammer.

2. Take the Hollow Wall Anchor out of the package and hammer it straight into the wall. You don’t have to adjust it or fiddle with it or anything. Just whack it in there.

 

Hammering a molly bolt into a white wall.

If you look back up at the first picture I showed you you’ll see that there’s tiny teeth under the flat edge of the anchor. These will grip into the outside of the drywall so make sure you hammer it in good.

 

Screwing a molly bolt into a wall to tighten it against the drywall.

3. Now you get your screwdriver and start screwing the screw in. I know it looks like it’s already in (and it is) but what you’re doing at this moment is creating Hollow Wall Anchor magic.

A cross section view of drywall showing the 3 stages of properly installing a hollow wall anchor.

As you screw the screw in, a sort of flange is being pushed out at the back of the drywall. The more you turn the screw the tighter and tighter the flange gets. Just keep turning until you can feel some good resistance. It may take a while and you might get bored.

 

Karen Bertelsen staring into the camera, looking bored, while screwing in a molly bolt.

4. Once you’ve screwed it in to the point that you feel the resistance of the flange (I’m not really sure that’s the right word to be using) against the back of the drywall you can start unscrewing the screw. Again. Totally boring.

I recommend doing it by hand though and not with a drill because you don’t have enough control over the drill and if you screw your Hollow Wall Anchor in too tightly you could end up squishing your drywall and ruining it. Just do it by hand. Super exercise for your wrist anyway which will come in handy the next time you slap someone.

  • If you’re only hanging a mirror or picture then you can just pull the screw out enough to get your wire picture hanger over it.

Unscrewing a molly bolt from a white wall.

 

  • If you’re attaching something to the wall like a bar or TV mount you might have to remove the screw entirely and then, yes, screw it back in again.

And don’t worry. Undoing the screw doesn’t do anything to the flange. It stays rock solid. That baby’s in your wall for good now.

Seriously. To remove a hollow wall anchor you have to just hammer it into the wall and fill the hole it leaves with drywall compound. Yes. I know. That’s scared you even more. Calm down. Remember? I showed you how to fix a hole in drywall. It’s easy.

Securing a bracket to a wall using molly bolts and a bright green Ryobi cordless drill.

What are the Strongest Drywall Anchors?

If you use either the threaded anchor or the molly bolt you’ll do just fine. They can easily hold 50 pounds.

If you want to hang something a very large, heavy picture or mirror these no stud picture hangers are the absolute BEST. They are hooks and specifically for hanging mirrors or heavy artwork and I’ve used 2 of them to hang the life sized portrait you see in this post. Each of these hooks  will support 200  pounds.

 


You’re still scared. You don’t think you can do this. It seems … scary and you’re pretty sure you’re never going to need to hang anything on your walls. Ever.

You say that now, but one day you’ll be driving around the countryside, hit a cow by accident and need to hang it. Now you know how to do it and what to use.

Good job.
 

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THE ONLY DRYWALL ANCHOR YOU SHOULD EVER USE

129 Comments

  1. Paula Marshall says:

    “Drywall.” And to us Americans, it’s Sheetrock.
    We don’t all make the dumb mistake of calling an object by one of its brand names.
    I don’t call it Sheetrock, I call it drywall.
    I don’t call it a Kleenex, I call it a tissue.
    I don’t call it a Xerox, I call it a copy.

  2. Jules Peterson says:

    Ok, so I got over being scared and did everything exactly as described. The first candle holder went up with no issues, but the second one didn’t. The screw won’t come back out of the wall! It just keeps spinning in the same position. I have no clue why, but my husband is not a happy camper and I’m not sure how to solve the issue. Suffice it to say, now I’m really scared.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jules. It’s hard to say what happened without seeing it but if it’s spinning, try holding the screw with your fingers and pulling it towards you. This will pull the butterfly on the inside of the wall towards the drywall and it will stick there. Once you feel the pressure that the butterfly is against the wall, then with your fingers start screwing in the screw again. ~ karen!

  3. I’m trying to hang a heavy duty screw-in utility hanger into drywall with no stud. Obviously I need some sort of anchor, but the screw diameter is about 1/2 inch and way to big for any anchor I can find.

    Any suggestions for a large diameter anchor?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Isabella. I’d need to see a photo of what exactly you’re doing but it sounds like you’re maybe trying to hang a utility hook? So something that the screw is attached right to the item? If that’s the case you have to drill into a stud. That’s what they’re made for. If it’s something you can switch out the screw then you just use the one that comes with the anchor. You can also use an EZ anchor like this for something like that. https://amzn.to/3dL9zOz ~ karen

  4. Leslie Russell says:

    I needed this more than you know. I can hang just about anything but I am the worst curtain rod hanger in the world. I make a million holes, the rods don’t stay up and I’m out of my mind. Because I’ve been using plastic anchors all these years…for curtains!!!
    I never thought to try these and I just fixed a curtain rod that yes, had fallen down and I was ignoring it but now I’m having company and have to do something about it. The instructions on the package were *#** but I pulled up your article and voila! The only thing that threw me was that I had to screw that screw in even further and you covered that in your article! I am forever in your debt. So are my walls.

  5. Yyz says:

    I remember my parents using these a long time ago. Now they seem to be extremely difficult to find in the US. Amazon sells variety packs without any mention of wall thickness. I only have ONE thickness of wall in my house!

  6. Carole says:

    You need to check out, and do a post on, monkey hooks.

    I have an 80-pound mirror hanging from two monkey hooks I was able to insert in the wall with one hand. It’s been hanging for about 4 years. NO tools to get out. NO mess to clean up. NO tools to put away. If you hang something that requires two anchor points, at most you will you need a pencil and a measuring tape (and a level if you want it dead straight).

    If you should change your mind and want to move whatever you’ve hung, the monkey hook is easily removed by hand, and is reusable. Plus you are left with a tiny hole to patch, as compared to the destruction a wall anchor causes, forcing you have to deal with the mess and all the stuff to repair the hole – patching compound, sandpaper, wall texture.

    Monkey hooks take the monkey business out of a majority of one’s hanging needs. Of course anchors are the only solution for some kinds of applications, but monkey hooks are just an incredible solution to the majority of my hanging needs.

    PS I am in no way associated with monkey hooks! I just love them.

  7. gerald anthony says:

    The white plastic anchors with a point on the end are way better than what you are showing.
    Hint: drill a 1/8 pilot hole before using the self drilling anchors. It allows for a more precise location of the anchor. The only word for what you are using: archaic.

  8. Tina says:

    I’m sorry, I must disagree. I get the metal, screw in anchors like this: https://amzn.to/2O0jQv2
    They are the bees knees! They screw in easy-peasy and there’s no waffling about whether you’ve screwed the other kind enough or if they screw up your dry wall. They’re idiot proof! And they can hold serious weight. And if you accidentally hit a stud, they still work! I love them!

  9. Brenda says:

    I think I used those once … it was a long time ago and I did my research and then put up an ikea thing on the drywall wall in my kitchen that I hung all my pots & pans on and seriously I can’t believe it never falls down every time I put a pot back up after I use it or walk by it. It’s one of the wonders of the world in my home! I am so glad you wrote about this because I would never have remembered what I did (I also hung a little shelf in my bathroom with some of these things which I don’t like … so now I know I have to bang them into the wall and I also have another bunch of holes to fill where I think I probably used one of those pretty plastic things and didn’t pull wings out and there’s like a whole track line of holes where I kept trying until one went in and kind of stayed … I say it stayed – really it dangles very wiggly out of the hole and weight of the thing I hung holds it in by gravity). Good Post AGAIN!

  10. Oksana says:

    Amazing article! I just purchased a house and trying to learn all kind of things, particularly how to hand something on the drywall. Thank you for your explanation, it is very helpful.

  11. Brent Tharp says:

    I love your irreverent style. And the article was sweet pithiness. I was looking for the best type of drywall anchor to use for something heavy (highest-rated load-bearing capacity), and this is exactly what I needed. All the various manufacturers of these things make it difficult to know which is best.

    Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Brent! There are other things I would use for really HUGE stuff but for a basic drywall anchor, this is the best bet. Hope it works out for you! ~ karen!

  12. Paula says:

    I cannot believe these things are so hard to find. I took down a curved shower curtain rod to do some painting. 3 out of the 4 anchors are no longer useful so I’ve been looking for them all over. In the picture where you explain what to look for I noticed that it is exactly what I need however on mine it shows 1/8SL when I take a magnifying glass to it. I first went to HD and they don’t carry them. They gave me Drywall and Stud anchors but they do not work for this as the rod doesn’t sit flush with the wall. Either that or I am weak and could not screw them in enough. I went to Hillman’s website and could not find them (SL). I did a Google & Amazon search and can’t seem to find them. I might be tired from the holiday weekend but it is driving me nuts. Any suggestions on where to purchasewould be appreciated?

    • Karen says:

      Yikes! You wouldn’t think they’d be that difficult to find! Major home improvement stores should have them but remember they might be from another brand or with another name. Maybe take a screen shot of them and show them to the people in the store? I’m not sure what else to say. :/ Sorry! ~ karen

    • Debbie says:

      You might try looking at Menards. I did a search on their website for hollow wall anchors and they have several kinds and sizes. I like these better than the plastic ones for my plaster walls. So far they have held up very well.

  13. YD Forums says:

    These el-cheapo plastic “butterfly” dry wall anchors are actually quite good for medium to light duty jobs.
    http://www.toggler.com/products/plastic-toggle/installation.php

    People complain that they come out, but that’s because they don’t know that they need to pop the “wings” open with a pin, as shown in the instructions at the link.

  14. Nick says:

    The Hilti HTB wall anchors are by far the best on the market and adjust to any wall thickness granted it isn’t longer that the anchor itself. They are also easier to use, install, and hold up better over time.

  15. Jay says:

    Have a recommended brand? Since I couldn’t remember the last brand I used (worked really well) I bought a pack of Hillman and they were the worst, either didn’t expand at all (screw just freely spun round and round) or for the couple that did start to expand, they ended up shreading the wall, (expanded slightly and then were just stuck in that position).

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jay. Is it possible you just didn’t get the correct size for the thickness of your drywall? That could cause those problems too. ~ karen!

  16. Eileen says:

    Dear Karen,
    Your post on wall anchors was extremely well done and helpful – thank you! (Your post was much clearer and more thorough than several other posts I found on the internet on the subject, and thanks to you I was able to effectively install a heavy wood wall shelf/coat rack in my plaster wall correctly and sturdily!)
    I was wondering if you have done, or might do, a post on installing a ceiling hook? I would like to install a ceiling hook which would be sturdy enough to hang a heavy 2-gallon plant pot. I have absolutely no experience with ceiling hooks and wouldn’t know where to begin. I was hoping I might find a post about this on your blog, but my search for this topic came up negative. I’m guessing this issue may be quite similar to attaching something to a wall, but I’m not sure of any specific issues to be aware of for attaching something to a ceiling. And I don’t know how one would use an anchor with a ceiling hook. Any advice?
    Eileen

  17. nat says:

    knew this in general but followed your advice-actually figured out how thick the drywall was-and got the anchors. I don’t know why but I do the thing and the flanges don’t open- I can pull the whole thing out and it’s still skinny and closed. Hope I can figure it out. My walls are weird and ALL anchors seem to work their way out.Gaah. Love your blog. Any ideas on this?

  18. Wednesday says:

    I wish I had seen this three weeks ago….
    I purchased the pointed plastic things, it dug up the drywall, building up under the top part as I tried to screw it into the wall, when it “stopped” still sticking out of the wall, I turned the screwdriver harder… said not to but, I wanted the anchor in the wall, not standing out from the wall… the plastic anchor broke, I was able to remove it, in pieces (that was fun)… leaving a big hole in the wall
    I tried another on the hole that would hold the lower screw for the curtain rod bracket… it went less far in before it stopped… same procedure…

    so, nearly 3/8″ holes in the wall…. look too big for these anchors, I bet filling those holes with dry wall patch, won’t support new anchors?
    I’m afraid to try the curtain rod supposed to go up in the bedroom, have been staring at the the holes in the wall in the living room trying to figure out what to do next…

  19. Nickie Taylor says:

    Will these anchors work for mounting pallet boards on the plaster walls. I want to cover the wall with pallet wood then hang cast iron cookware on the wood.

  20. Mary says:

    Hi Karen,
    Storage closet in my basement has 4’ MDF shelves on drywall, each board supported by 2 metal brackets (underneath), one bracket toward each board end. Each bracket has 3 holes for screws. The owner before me installed them using plain old plastic anchors, so the brackets bent under the weight when I set average sz boxes on them (no heavy stuff like books, but some small appliances). The MDF board itself is pretty heavy, though. So
    1. Can I get by just replacing plastic anchor with molly bolt in each hole? (x3 for each bracket—a lot of bolts!) Or
    2. Do I need to use at least 1 toggle bolt/bracket (say for the bottom hole)? Or
    3. Should I just get better brackets, and stick with all mollies? (I doubt I can straighten the bent bracket well enough, but I could just buy another.)

    Advice, please! Thanks. ;)

    (Btw, there two rows of 3 boards (each) next to each other—two ~12’ long shelves, one above the other.)

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mary! Well if it were me, I’d probably start from scratch and do it all right. So replacing the brackets (if they’re bent beyond repair) and all the plastic anchors with Molly bolts. If you’re doing some of it, it doesn’t take much more time or energy to do all of it. If your brackets are bent, your shelfs will never be nice and level. Since they’re MDF which doesn’t bent too much, you’re probably O.K. with 2 brackets on each 4′ shelf, but normally I’d also put a bracket in the centre of the shelf to stop any bowing. Possibly not the answer you’re looking for, but there you have it. :) ~ karen!

  21. Barb Lund says:

    We hung a barn door and it is now coming out of the drywall as the studs do not line up correctly. Can i use these eventhough there is already a hole there?

  22. Ricky Gibson says:

    I’m mounting a television bracket to a wall in an older home. It doesn’t have drywall or plaster. It’s a fairly soft material that doesn’t appear to be hollow. It’s not particle board but leaves quite a bit of “dust” when drilled. It’s approximately 3 7\8″ thick. I tried the lag bolts but because the wall is not hollow (at least not where I need to mount) it wasn’t able to open up. What type of anchor can I use to mount this bracket onto this particular wall? Thanks in advance.

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