How to Use Anchor Screws (and How To Get Rid of Them!)

Anchor Screw
Anchor Screw. Getty: Martin Hospach

Anchor screws are used for hanging lightweight to semi-heavy objects on a wall, such as a large picture or a mirror.

These allow you to hang items virtually anywhere, without hunting for a stud to sink the screw into.  The other great advantage of anchors is flexibility:  you are not bound to the every-sixteen-inches spacing of studs.

More importantly, anchor screws are designed to prevent the weight of the object from pulling nails out of the wall, creating unsightly holes as well as posing a potential safety hazard.

That they are included for free with many products we buy should be indication enough that these flimsy things may not be up to the job.

As if that were not bad enough, once you do manage to get them in, they become "wall barnacles."  They are difficult to remove.

Here is how to install them correctly and--almost as importantly--how to eliminate them once they have served their purpose.

Installing Anchor Screws

1.  Get the Weight Right

When anchor screws fail, it is often because the installer did not correctly assess the weight of the hung object.  

Determine the weight of the object to be hung and purchase the appropriate anchor and screw sets. The label on the box will indicate the maximum weight that the anchor and screw set will support.

Generally speaking, pictures and objects with a total weight of 15 pounds or less can be hung using plastic screws and sleeve anchors or metal threaded drywall anchors.

Mirrors and picture with glass are both very heavy and will require the sturdiest anchors you can buy.

2.  Instead of Included Screws and Sleeves, Buy Better Ones

Products are often sold with the screws and sleeves already in the pack.

Medium to heavy objects, such as mirrors and or shelving, should be hung using toggle bolts.

If the object being hung is especially fragile or valuable, consider purchasing heavy-duty wall screws, such as Toggler SnapSkrus.  These are self-piloting sleeves that come with their own screws and hold up to 65 lbs. each in 1/2" drywall.

While fairly expensive (close to $2 per anchor), SnapSkrus provide a more stable anchor than the push-in plastic sleeve anchors that are provided for free with some products.

Buy on Amazon - Toggler SnapSkru

3.  Use a Drill

Use a drill to start the hole for the anchor, not a finish nail.  A drill is needed to core out sufficient space for the anchor sleeve.

4.  Make the Hole Smaller Than You Think It Should Be

The drill bit should be a little smaller than the closed end of the anchor. If the bit is too big, the anchor will not fit snugly inside of the hole. Drill in the center of the pencil mark.  Brush the dust from the area.

5.  If It Does Not Tap In, It Will Not Work

The fit must be tight enough that it takes some gentle tapping to get it in.  But if it is too tight, the sleeve will warp.

Gently tap the plastic anchor into the wall using a hammer or rubber mallet.

Insert the screw into the anchor and slowly screw it in. If using a threaded drywall anchor, screw it in using a Phillips head screwdriver.

If using a toggle anchor, thread the toggle on the screw about 1/4 inch from the end. Push the toggle through the hole in the wall. The toggle will make a snapping sound when it springs open on the other side of the wall. Tighten the screw until snug, but do not overtighten.

Removing Them

1.  Screws and Plastic Sleeve Removal

  • Turn out the screw and discard.
  • Tweak the visible end of the sleeve with a flat head screwdriver so that you can grab it with needle nose pliers.
  • Pull the sleeve straight out.

​If this does not work, use the "tap and cover" method, below.

2.  Toggle Anchor Removal (Tap and Cover)

Since these are impossible to remove without damaging the drywall, then best thing to do is to tap it further into the wall.

  • Place a large Phillips screwdriver on the end of the anchor.
  • Gently tap with a hammer until the anchor sinks below the surface of the drywall.  You do not need to go far.
  • Cover with Spackle or drywall compound.

Edited By:  Lee Wallender, January 16, 2017