How to Remove a Stripped Screw to Salvage Your Home Improvement Project

Don't let stripped screws put a wrench in your DIY plans.

We've all been there: Your home improvement project is going along just as planned, and the future is looking bright—until you come across a stubborn screw with a stripped head. It can seem virtually impossible to remove a stripped screw, with every futile attempt further stripping the head and making matters worse.

Before you panic, we've got a few tips and tricks that are sure to get stubborn stripped screws out and your home improvement project back on track. So before you further damage the screw head, take a look at the list below to find a method that works for you.

Close up of someone screwing in a screw into a door hinge
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Why Old Screws Always Seem to Strip

Why is it that every DIY project seems to involve an untimely battle with a stripped screw that just doesn't want to loosen? Because old screws are set up for failure. Many screws are made of low-quality metal that weakens over time. Age and environmental exposure deteriorate the screw, further weakening the metal and making stripping nearly inevitable.

Most applications that involve screws, such as drywall and framing, aren't meant to be undone. Therefore, the metal in the heads only needs to be strong enough to drive the screw. In fact, in applications that are intended to be undone, such as items that can be adjusted or serviced, engineers often opt for bolts or screws with specialty heads that don't strip.

9 Ways to Remove a Stripped Screw

1. Trade Your Drill for a Manual Screwdriver

Drills and impact drivers are fantastic tools that can save a lot of time on home improvement projects. However, when dealing with old, frail screws, the immense power of a drill can be more than the delicate screw heads can handle. Sometimes, all it takes is setting down the drill and grabbing a good old-fashioned manual screwdriver. Push forcefully into the screw head as you loosen and it just might come out without further stripping the screw. If you feel the head start to slip on the screw, apply more force as you turn.

2. Swap Your Screwdriver

Depending on the extent of the damage done to your screw head, changing the type of screwdriver you use can do the trick. For instance, if you've stripped a Phillips-head screw, try a flathead screwdriver, square drive, or even a Torx bit. Sometimes, just switching screwdriver sizes does the trick. Once the head has been damaged, these alternative drivers can sometimes grab the damaged metal and pull the screw out.

3. Tap It with a Hammer

Screws that are prone to stripping typically have soft, compromised metal. Using a hammer to force the screwdriver into the soft metal of the screw head can help the screwdriver securely grab the metal, making further stripping less likely.

Editor's Tip: When loosening old screws and bolts, starting with the hammer tap method can help prevent stripping in the first place while also breaking the threads' bond and making the screw easier to remove.

4. Use a Rubber Band

Place a wide rubber band between the screwdriver and the stripped screw head. The rubber will fill the gaps between the stripped screw head and the screwdriver, allowing the screwdriver to turn the screw.

5. Use an Impact Screwdriver

An impact screwdriver is a tool that is designed to turn and impact simultaneously. Essentially, it allows you to apply the hammer-tap method at the same time as you attempt to loosen the screw, which greatly enhances your odds of removing the screw without further stripping it. Simply place the proper bit into the impact screwdriver, place it into the screw, and tap it with a hammer. The tool will do the rest of the work for you.

6. Try the Reverse Drill Method

If your screw's head is stripped beyond salvaging, there still might be a way to remove it. It might seem counterintuitive, but stripped screws can sometimes be removed with a drill bit. Simply place the drill bit in the center of the screw head as centered as possible and, with the drill in reverse, lightly depress the drill's trigger to slowly spin the bit. If it works, the reversing drill bit will grab the loose metal and turn the screw free. If not, try a larger drill bit.

7. Twist It Out with Locking Pliers

If you were able to partially remove the screw, but the head is beyond repair, attempt to grab it using locking pliers. Place the pliers with the teeth perpendicular to the screw head and tightly fasten them around the head. Then, simply twist the screw out of the material.

8. Buy a Stripped Screw Removal Tool

If all else fails, a set of stripped screw removal tools might be your best bet to remove the damaged screw. Each stripped screw removal bit features a cutting head and a removal head. The cutting head is used to remove the damaged metal from the screw head and create a clean surface for the removal head, then the removal head bites the metal and removes the screw.

9. Salvage a Screw Before It Strips

It might seem inevitable that old, weak screws are going to strip. While that's true for some screws, it can often be prevented. Firmly seating a screwdriver or drill bit before turning will help, but when that's not enough, many of these tips are great preventative measures as well. If you suspect that a screw head is going to strip, try tips one through five.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the easiest method of removing a stripped screw?

    The method recommended most frequently is using another type of screwdriver. However, what's easiest may be to use whatever you have on hand that's a recommended method—for example, a rubber band or locking pliers.

  • Does it matter which material a stripped screw is stuck inside?

    If you remove a stripped screw from metal, lubrication will help loosen it. When removing a stripped screw from plastic, start with the most gentle method, using a rubber band to get the screw out. If the stripped screw is in an electronic, like a laptop or TV, it's best to use a screw extractor kit to keep from damaging the item.

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