How to Use Drywall Anchors to Hang Your Favorite Decor

Mount mirrors, shelving, and framed art with our guide to drywall anchors.

Drywall anchors are designed specifically for hanging objects, like shelving or light fixtures, from drywall ceilings or walls. Nails are too smooth to grip drywall and can lead to heavy objects falling off walls. While screws can grip drywall, their small metal threads tend to tear through the material instead of holding an object in place.

To avoid damaging drywall or the objects you're trying to hang, invest in drywall anchors. Use expansion, hollow-wall, or toggle anchors by pre-drilling a hole, inserting the anchor, then securing the object to the drywall by driving a screw into the anchor. You can also find self-drilling anchors that don't require a pre-drilled hole. Check out this guide to learn more about the various types of drywall anchors and how to use drywall anchors to hang mirrors, framed art, and other favorite accessories.

drywall anchors on gray surface
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Types of Drywall Anchors

Before using drywall anchors, it's important to have a clear understanding of the different varieties. There are four common types of drywall anchors, including expansion, self-drilling, hollow-wall, and toggle bolt drywall anchors.

1. Expansion Drywall Anchors

Expansion drywall anchors are the most common product used for DIY projects. They are small, plastic products with a conical shape and raised rings or barbs along the length of their body. Expansion anchors need to be installed in a pilot hole before the user drives a screw into the anchor. The screw forces the shank of the anchor to split and expand, giving this style of anchor its name.

2. Self-Drilling Drywall Anchors

Self-drilling drywall anchors are similar to expansion anchors in that they also expand inside the wall when a screw forces the shank of the anchor to split and expand. However, as indicated by the name, self-drilling anchors do not require a pilot hole. The anchor has a sharp, durable tip that allows it to be driven into the wall without worrying about a pilot hole.

3. Hollow-Wall Drywall Anchors

Hollow-wall drywall anchors typically have a pointed metal body with a spiked collar and a screw that contracts the anchor body behind the wall. This extends the flanges on the outside of the anchor and secures it against the back of the drywall. These anchors require a pilot hole for installation.

4. Toggle Bolt Drywall Anchors

Toggle bolt drywall anchors have a metal toggle that can be inserted into a pilot hole. Once inside, the spring-loaded toggle flips back into a perpendicular position to the strap or screw of the anchor. Tighten the strap to ensure the toggle is tight against the back of the drywall, then insert a screw to secure the target object to the drywall.

How to Use Drywall Anchors

If you drive screws too far into drywall anchors or you don't ensure the toggle is tight against the back of the drywall, you can damage the anchors, drywall, and potentially any objects you are trying to hang. Follow these steps to learn how to use drywall anchors properly.

What You'll Need:

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Level
  • Drywall anchors
  • Drill/driver
  • Drill bits
  • Driver bits
  • Screwdriver
  • Hammer

Step 1: Measure Location

Before installing anchors, you need to know where the object will be hung on the wall or ceiling. Use a tape measure and pencil to measure and mark the correct position for each drywall anchor based on your preference. For instance, you might want to center a mirror on a small wall or position a TV mount off to one side of the room where the couch is located. You should also take this opportunity to use a level and check to see if the marks you made are level before making any holes in the drywall.

Step 2: Drill Pilot Holes

Unless you are using self-drilling anchors, you will need to drill pilot holes before you can install drywall anchors. Check the drywall anchor package or manufacturer's website for details to determine the right size drill bit you need for the pilot hole. Insert the drill bit into the drill, then line it up with the first anchor point marked on the wall or ceiling. Squeeze the trigger to start the drill, then gradually drive the drill bit through the wall.

Step 3: Install Drywall Anchors

If you're using self-drilling anchors, insert the driver bit into the drywall anchor and position the tip of the anchor against the marked point of the wall. Squeeze the trigger to start the rotation of the drill bit while applying pressure to the anchor in order to drive it into the wall.

Expansion anchors and hollow-wall anchors need to be aligned with the pilot hole. Once aligned, simply use a hammer or mallet to lightly strike each anchor to drive them into the holes. Similarly, you need to insert a toggle bolt anchor through the pilot hole, though you shouldn't need to use a hammer.

If you're using a toggle bolt anchor with a strap, then once the toggle is inside the wall, pull the strap towards you while perpendicular to it. Slide the anchor collar along the strap until it sits securely in the pilot hole. Snap off and throw away the plastic strap.

However, if you are installing a screw-type toggle bolt, you will need to thread the screw through the mounting hole or mounting bracket of the item you're installing before you can thread it part way into the spring-loaded toggle. After threading it into the toggle, fold the toggle down and insert it into the pilot hole until the toggle springs back into a perpendicular position to the screw. Tighten the screw to secure the toggle to the drywall and to secure the object to the drywall anchor.

Step 4: Secure Target Item to the Drywall

If you used a screw-type toggle bolt anchor, your item will be secured to the wall when you install the anchors. If you used any other type of anchor, you need to secure the item to the wall after installing the anchors.

For expansion, hollow-wall, self-drilling, and strap-style toggle anchors, you should have one or more anchors currently installed in the wall. To secure the item to the drywall, thread a screw of the appropriate size through the mounting plate, mounting bracket, or mounting hole of the item you want to hang, then line it up with the first drywall anchor.

Use a screwdriver, drill/driver, or an impact driver to drive the screw into the drywall anchor. Repeat this process with all remaining screws to secure the object to the wall. Keep in mind that over-tightening the screws can damage the wall or damage the drywall anchors.

Selecting the Right Drywall Anchors

When hanging a lightweight accessory, the exact drywall anchors you use aren't that important because the object being supported doesn't have enough weight to damage the drywall or pull the anchors out of the wall. However, if you're installing something like shelves or a TV mount, it's important to find drywall anchors that are rated for slightly more than the actual weight of the item. Otherwise, the drywall anchors could snap under the weight, or they might not provide enough stability to prevent being pulled out of the wall.

Check the package for the recommended weight limit or ask a store employee for more information if the weight limit isn't listed. You might also be able to find this information on the manufacturer's website. If your search doesn't turn up a solid answer, choose a different drywall anchor product with easy-to-reference product specs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much weight do drywall anchors hold?

    There are different weight limits for different anchors. Expansion anchors can hold up to 25 pounds. Molly bolts go as high as 50 pounds. Metal toggle anchors can hold up to 150 pounds, and there are specialty anchors for higher weights.

  • Are there places where you should avoid drywall anchors?

    You may not need drywall anchors if there's a stud where you want to hang something, and never use them in the ceiling unless they're specifically made for that purpose. Avoid areas near outlets and light switches.

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