Drywall Anchors: What You Need To Know Before You Begin

Drywall anchors are a specialized type of hardware that builders use to securely fasten objects to drywall surfaces. Drywall is a common wall surface that is also known as gypsum board or plasterboard. This is one of the most common interior wall materials, but it does not always have enough strength to hold heavy items such as large pictures, shelves, or fixtures. Drywall anchors provide extra stability so that you can mount most items on drywall surfaces with confidence. With multiple types and sizes available, learn the basics of this wall hardware to ensure success for any project you undertake.

Drywall Anchor

What are Drywall Anchors and How Do They Work?

The key components of drywall anchors are the screw, the sleeve, and sometimes a toggle or other mechanism. The sleeve is made from plastic or metal and expands as the screw is inserted into the wall. The expanded sleeve grips the interior of the wall, making it difficult for the screw to pull out of the wall. The sleeve mechanism also spreads the load of whatever is placed on the screw, allowing the screw to bear less weight than if the screw were alone.

The toggle mechanism on drywall anchors is another way to increase its load-bearing capacity. Toggles are folded or compressed when the drywall anchors are inserted into the wall. Once the anchor is in the wall, the toggle opens behind the wall. This gives the drywall anchor more contact area. As the outer screw is tightened, the rear toggle presses more firmly into the wall, giving the anchor more stability and weight distribution.

Uses for Drywall Anchors

You can use drywall anchors to securely attach objects to many wall surfaces.

  • Hanging pictures
  • Mounting shelves
  • Installing mirrors
  • Hanging towel bars and curtain rods
  • Securing cabinets and vanities
  • Installing TV mounts
  • Securing floating shelves
  • Hanging cabinets and racks
  • Installing wall-mounted thermostats and controllers
  • Hanging decorative wall panels

Types of Drywall Anchors

types of drywall anchors

There are many types of drywall anchors and your choice depends on your project. Different drywall anchors work best for specific types of projects and each has a weight range for which they are suitable. The type of drywall anchor you choose will also depend on the type of wall that you are drilling into as each of these wall types interact and support drywall anchors in different ways. It is always best to read the manufacturer’s instructions to get the most accurate information before you begin your project.

Plastic Expansion Anchors

Plastic Expansion Anchors

These are simple and inexpensive anchors made from plastic that fit around a screw. They have a ribbed shape that helps give the anchor resistance. They have a split down the middle of the anchor that contracts when you screw it into the wall and expands as it comes out behind the wall. You can use plastic expansion screws on drywall but also in other types of wall material such as brick, concrete, and cinder block.

  • Uses: Light to moderate loads for numerous types of projects like hanging pictures, mirrors, and small shelves
  • Weight range: 5 to 25 pounds (2.3 to 11.3 kilograms)

Self-Drilling Anchors

Self-Drilling Anchors

Manufacturers design self-drilling anchors to be installed without pre-drilling a hole. These anchors have a pointed end that allows you to insert these directly into the wall with a simple screwdriver. Self-drilling anchors have wide fins which allow them to grip the inside of the wall, creating a secure foundation for your wall decor. You can find self-drilling anchors in both metal and plastic. These anchors have a wide weight range because of the different types and materials of the anchor body.

  • Uses: Supports light to medium loads like bars, pictures, and small shelves
  • Weight range: 10 to 50 pounds (4.5 to 22.7 kilograms)

Toggle Bolts

Toggle Bolts

Toggle bolts consist of a toggle and a long screw. To install, you can insert the toggle into a pre-drilled hole. The toggle expands behind the wall and grips the wall more securely as the screw is tightened in the wall. Toggle bolts require a large hole to be inserted into the wall, but they have benefits over plastic expansion anchors as they hold significantly more weight.

  • Uses: Supports medium to heavy loads like large pictures, mirrors, shelves, and securing cabinets to the wall
  • Weight range: 25 to 100 pounds (11.3 to 45.4 kilograms) or even more, depending on the size and type of toggle bolt you use

Winged Plastic Anchors

Winged Plastic Anchors

Winged plastic anchors, also known as butterfly wall anchors, consist of a plastic sheath with toggles that surrounds a long screw. These plastic toggles are initially spread and contract as you insert the screw into the wall. Once the toggles are behind the wall, they expand and sit against the rear of the wall. These anchors require just a pilot hole to insert.

  • Uses: Supports light to medium loads like pictures, mirrors, shelves, curtain rods, and towel bars
  • Weight range: 10 to 50 pounds (4.5 to 22.7 kilograms)

Threaded Drywall Anchors

Threaded Drywall Anchors

This is a simple type of drywall anchor that consists of a threaded plastic sleeve surrounding a screw. This type of anchor is popular because they do not require a pre-drilled screw to insert. The threads on the anchor cut into the wall material and provide a secure hanging surface. Another advantage of this drywall anchor is that you can remove it from one location and use it for another project. Manufacturers create threaded anchors from plastic, nylon, and metal, and each type has different weight ranges.

  • Uses: Supports light to medium loads like pictures, mirrors, shelves, curtain rods, and towel bars
  • Weight range: 10 to 75 pounds (4.5 to 34 kilograms), depending on the size and design of the anchor

Molly Bolts

Molly Bolts

Molly bolts, also called hollow anchor bolts or metal expansion bolts, consist of a screw and a metal expansion sleeve. These bolts require a pre-drilled hole to insert. As the screw is inserted into the hole, the metal sleeve expands and tightens the grip of the screw in the wall. Molly bolts are extremely secure and support heavy loads because their design is optimal for weight expansion.

  • Uses: Supports heavy loads like large curtain rods, cabinets, and light fixtures
  • Weight range: 25 to 75 pounds (11.3 to 34 kilograms) or more, depending on the size and type of molly bolt you use

Strap Toggle Anchors

Strap Toggle Anchors

Strap toggle anchors, also known as just strap toggles, are a type of heavy-duty drywall anchor. Manufacturers create these for projects where traditional drywall anchors will not support the weight. These anchors consist of a steel toggle with a plastic strap and threaded cap where you insert the screw. These anchors are easy to install, so they are ideal for DIY use.

  • Uses: Supports heavy loads like large curtain rods, cabinets, and TV mounts
  • Weight range: 75 to 200 pounds (34 to 91 kilograms) or more, depending on the size and design of the specific strap toggle anchor

Wall Surfaces Where You Can Use Drywall Anchors

Drywall anchors are most suitable for drywall surfaces, but some drywall anchors are suitable for other wall surfaces. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that you are using the right wall anchors for the surface.

  • Standard drywall – Drywall, also called gypsum board or plasterboard, is the most common interior wall surface. Manufacturers specifically design drywall anchors for this surface. These anchors work on drywall of different textures.
  • Plaster wallsPlaster walls are common in historic homes and properties. Drywall anchors are suitable for this surface, though the installation method might vary as plaster walls are more brittle than drywall.
  • Hollow-core doors – Hollow-core doors are a type of wooden door with a hollow, honeycomb-style core. Their light weight makes it difficult to hang anything from them. Drywall anchors provide more stability to hangers on the door.
  • Solid-surface walls – Some types of drywall anchors work in solid wall surfaces like brick, concrete, or cinder block. Read the manufacturer’s directions to ensure you are using an appropriate drywall anchor on a solid surface wall.

Installing Plastic Expansion Drywall Anchors

Installing drywall anchors is an easy process and suitable for even novice DIYers. Here is a guide for installing one of the most common types of drywall anchors, plastic expansion drywall anchors.

  1. Gather materials – Appropriate-sized plastic expansion drywall anchor for your project, screwdriver or drill, screw, pencil, level if needed
  2. Mark the location – Use a pencil to mark the location where you want to install the anchor. If you are hanging two anchors on a perpendicular plane, use a level to ensure that your wall decor will be level or straight.
  3. Pre-drill a hole if necessary – Find a drill bit that fits the size of your anchor if your anchor requires a pre-drilled hole. Drill a hole in the wall at the marked location.
  4. Insert the anchor – Insert the pointed end of the anchor into the hole. Push the anchor into the hole until it is flush with the wall surface.
  5. Screw in the anchor – Insert the tip of the screw into the hole in the anchor. As you begin to tighten the screw, the anchor will begin to expand inside the wall.
  6. Tighten the screw – Keep slowly tightening the screw in the anchor. Be careful not to over-tighten the screw as this could strip the anchor or damage the wall. Ensure that the screw is exposed enough to allow you to hang your wall decor.

Removing a Plastic Drywall Anchor

Removing a plastic drywall anchor is a straightforward process.

  1. Gather materials – Pliers or flat-head screwdriver, putty knife, spackling paste
  2. Pry anchor from the wall – Depending on the grip of the anchor, you can either gently pull it from the wall or use pliers to pull it from the wall.
  3. Loosen the anchor – Use a flat-head screwdriver to gently loosen the anchor and then use the plier to pull it from the wall.
  4. Patch the hole – Use a putty knife and spackling paste to repair the hole in the wall.