Toggle bolts are indispensable pieces of hardware for attaching heavy items to hollow walls. Inexpensive and easy to work with, toggle bolts let you hang shelves, put up heavy mirrors or pictures, install big-screen TVs, and more with relative ease and safety.
Though installing a toggle bolt is simple, installing it well—so that it holds firmly for a long time—requires a little practice and some know-how.
What Is a Toggle Bolt?
A toggle bolt is a two-part, heavy-duty metal wall fastener consisting of a bolt and a spring-loaded pair of wings. After the wings are folded and forced through a hole in the wall, they open up. Rotating the bolt causes the wings to draw up against the back of the wall.
How to Choose Toggle Bolts
When you want to attach a heavy item to the wall, you need a solid surface. If you're lucky enough to have a wood stud behind the drywall, it's just a matter of driving a screw or nail long enough to sink into the stud.
But if the wall is hollow beyond the initial surface, those fasteners won't work. Interior walls made of drywall are hollow beyond the first 1/2 or 5/8 inch. Concrete masonry units (CMUs) or cinderblocks are hollow beyond the initial 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch of masonry material.
When buying toggle bolts, pay attention to the bolt diameter, bolt length, and the required drill hole size. Also purchase extra: Two toggle bolts is better than one.
Bolt diameter is sometimes referred to as screw or anchor diameter. Because you must use the provided bolt, it's important to verify that the diameter of the bolt coincides with the diameter of the hole in the item you are hanging.
This usually isn't a problem if you are hanging a wood item, where you need to drill a hole in the item yourself. In this case, simply match the hole to the diameter of the bolt. But it can be an issue with items like metal TV stands that have pre-drilled holes.
Bolt lengths range from 3 inches to 6 inches.
If bolt lengths seem excessive relative to the thickness of the wall, it's because the bolt length must account for both the thickness of the wall and the length of the wings when they are closed.
Bolt lengths must be long enough, but not so long that they impact the rear of the hollow wall system. Drywall systems have 3 1/2 inches of hollow space, so the longest toggle bolt you'd want to use here would be 3 inches.
Required Drill Hole Size
Drill hole size is the diameter of the hole you need to drill to accommodate the diameter of the closed pair of wings.
Drill hole size is always larger than the diameter of the bolt. For example, a 1/4-inch diameter bolt requires a 1/2-inch drill hole size.
The required drill hole size is printed on the product packaging. Because it's difficult to estimate the diameter of the hole, it's important to follow manufacturer recommendations.
Pay attention to the weight capacity of the toggle bolts. Keep in mind that weight capacity refers to the strength of the fastener, not the wall. Even a strong toggle bolt in a weak wall can tear out, so it may be better to use extra bolts to distribute the weight better. Use only in walls, not in ceilings or other overhead applications. Always turn off the power and water to the area where you will be drilling.
How to Install Toggle Bolts
Drill a hole in the wall to the diameter specified on the product package.
Attach Toggle Bolt to Item
With the bolt detached from the pair of wings, slide the bolt through the hole in the item.
Place Wing Unit on Bolt
Thread the bolt onto the pair of wings. The open part of the wings should be facing the head of the bolt. Thread the bolt to a depth of about four or five threads.
Insert Toggle Bolt in Hole
Shut the pair of wings. Push the toggle bolt (with the item attached) into the hole in the wall until you can feel or hear the wings spring open.
Draw Wings Forward
Use one hand to pull the item and the bolt forward (toward you) until the pair of wings contact the back of the wall. Keep this pressure constant as you turn the bolt clockwise.
Fasten Toggle Bolt and Item to Wall
Keep this pressure constant as you turn the bolt clockwise. Remove your fingers. Continue to turn the toggle bolt until the item is tightly attached to the wall.
How to Remove Toggle Bolts
Toggle bolts are intended as single-use anchors. After they have been used once, they cannot be reused. Among wall fasteners, toggle bolts are unique because they cannot even be removed—at least, not entirely.
To partially remove a toggle bolt, turn out the bolt counter-clockwise. Once the bolt is free, the pair of wings will drop inside the wall. Discard or reuse the bolt for other applications.
Pros and Cons of Toggle Bolts
Good for heavy items
Excellent sheer strength
Only a small hole remains when the bolt is removed
Works well for hollow masonry
Can be difficult to draw up the wings behind the wall
Attached bolt must be used; no substitutes
Bolt cannot be fully removed