How to Fill Screw or Nail Holes in Drywall
Holes in drywall come in two forms: drywall screw or nail depressions (divots), which occur when drywall is initially attached to the studs, and actual holes, such as those that occur when wall anchors, screws, or nails are used to attach cabinets or wall hangings.
During installation, the drywall screws or nails should ideally sink just below the surface of the paper, without tearing it. This leaves a slight divot that must be filled before the wall can be painted. On finished walls, holes can occur when wall anchors or screws are used to anchor cabinets, shelves, or pictures to walls; when these screws are removed, you are left with holes that penetrate through the drywall panels.
Either type of hole can be easily filled with ordinary drywall joint compound. It is among the easiest of all DIY home repairs.
Before You Begin
There are several different types of drywall joint compound, but for this kind of easy repair, the best choice is a small container of premixed all-purpose joint compound. This is a much easier product to use than a powdered compound that requires mixing with water.
Very small holes, such as those created by finish nails, can often be adequately filled with a single coat of joint compound, but if the holes are larger than this, there will be enough shrinkage of the compound as it dries that you will need to apply a second coat.
On very small holes, you can use a similar product, often called spackle. Like joint compound, spackle is made from a gypsum base. Because it is lighter in weight and airier, spackle dries faster than joint compound. It is not recommended for larger holes, however.
Watch Now: How to Fill Screw Holes in Drywall
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Putty knife or 4-inch drywall knife
- Utility knife
- Taping compound tray (optional)
- All-purpose drywall joint compound (premixed)
- Paper towels
- Fine-grit sandpaper or sanding sponge
Inspect and Trim the Face Paper
If any of the face paper on drywall puckers outward, this needs to be trimmed before you cover the holes with joint compound. You can't simply smear joint compound over these areas—the hole needs to be concave in order to be smoothly covered. This usually occurs when screws or wall anchors are extracted from the wall, but it also sometimes occurs when drywall screws are driven too far during installation, breaking the paper and causing it to pucker outward.
Slight extrusions in the face paper can sometimes be forced inward by pressing them with the handle of a screwdriver or drywall taping knife. If this doesn't work, use a utility knife to cut through the paper around the pucker, then peel away the paper and enough gypsum so that the hole is fully concave to the wall surface. Brushing your hand over the area will tell you if there are any outward puckers remaining.
Load the Drywall Knife
Dip the end of a drywall knife or putty knife into the joint compound (mud), a process known as buttering. Ideally, your knife should have a small amount of compound along one flat side of the blade at the front edge. Avoid overloading the knife, as this just leads to a mess.
If necessary, use a shop towel or paper towel to wipe off excess mud, especially from the side edges of the drywall knife. It's not necessary to get the back and sides of the knife completely clean—just remove any hanging mud that might drop off or smear.
Apply the First Pass
Holding the knife at an angle to the drywall with the mudded side facing the wall, press the front edge of the knife against the wall and draw it across the hole. The flexible knife blade should bend slightly as you draw the knife.
Check to make sure the hole is filled flat with joint compound. If you notice any indentations, fill them immediately with a follow-up pass of the knife. At this point, don't worry about getting the surface perfectly flat.
Immediately make a second stroke across the hole with the drywall knife, this one perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to your first stroke. The purpose of this stroke is to flatten out the joint compound so it is perfectly flush with the wall surface. Use the edge of your knife to scrape off the excess mud. Don't make repeated passes of the knife, as this can pull the joint compound from the hole.
Let the joint compound dry completely; with small holes, this usually takes less than one hour. And with very small holes, this single coat of joint compound is often enough to fill the hole smoothly.
Apply a Second Coat
Joint compound shrinks slightly as it dries, so you will usually need to apply a second coat of mud with any hole that is larger than a small nail hole. This is especially true if the hole is somewhat large, when cracks can often appear in the joint compound as it dries.
When the first application is fully dry, apply more joint compound to the knife and apply a thin second coat over the hole. This nearly always fixes any remaining pits and depressions. Allow this second coat to fully dry—at least one hour.
Lightly Sand (If Necessary)
Once the second coat is fully dry, run your hand over the patched area. If it feels rough, then use fine sandpaper or a fine sanding sponge to lightly sand the area and bring it flush with the surrounding drywall. Make sure not to sand so aggressively that you damage the face paper.
How do you fix a deep screw hole in drywall?
In some cases, you might need to cut a piece of drywall to patch a very deep or large hole. You'll fit the drywall piece into the hole and then use joint tape and/or joint compound around it before priming and painting the wall.
What's the difference between drywall compound and spackle?
Joint compound contains gypsum and limestone and is better for large-scale projects. It’s thinner than spackle but more difficult to smooth out, and it shrinks up more when it dries. Spackle is made of gypsum and binding agents, and it’s easy to use for small wall repairs.
How big of a hole can you spackle?
Spackle works best only on small holes that are less than a few inches across.