How to Fix Nail Pops in Drywall

Mudding Drywall with Compound

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 2 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10 to $20

You notice them especially when the light is raking low across the wall. They look bad, but never bad enough to do anything conclusive about it—yet. You may even have tried pounding them back it, but they always seem to come back.

These are wall and ceiling nail pops. Rarely a major issue but more annoying than anything: the protrusions you see speckled across your wall and ceiling are the result of drywall nails that have slowly worked their way out.

Nail pops are cosmetic imperfections that sometimes show up in drywall ceilings and interior walls that have been fastened with nails. Nail pops rarely affect your wall's structure, though in great enough numbers your wall might lose a section of drywall.

Wall nail pops are so easy and inexpensive to fix, you'll wonder why you didn't do this sooner.

Wall and Ceiling Nail Pops

Nail pops are the small circles that protrude from the drywall of your walls and ceiling. Usually, the nail heads and bulges do not protrude very far: just about 1/8-inch. Often they crack the paint around them. They might run in vertical or horizontal lines. Wall nail pops are found in drywall but not in plaster walls.

Causes of Drywall Nail Pops

Modern drywall systems are largely installed with drywall screws. Drywall screws may occasionally snap off but they will never pop out. Instead, the nail pops in your ceiling and walls are caused by short drywall nails that are no longer firmly attached in the two-by-four studs.

Most houses built prior to the 1970s that have not been subsequently remodeled will almost always have drywall hung with nails, not drywall screws. Made of galvanized steel and with a broad head, drywall nails generally range from 1 1/8-inch to 1 7/8-inch long. Even if you have walls that have been built after the 1970s, you might still have wallboard hung with drywall nails, since some drywall installers prefer to use nails.

As the wood studs dry out over time, the wood fibers lose their grip and are no longer able to hold the smooth shank of the drywall nail. The nails protrude, usually bringing drywall compound filler and paint with them. It is usually fruitless to pound the nails back in place because the wood will not hold the shank.

Before You Begin

The concept behind fixing nail pops is to place drywall screws (not nails) on both sides of the nail pop, one above the nail and one below so that the screws meet the stud. This effectively replaces the nail with the screws.

Pounding in the nail after adding the drywall screws is simply a cosmetic fix. The nail is no longer there to hold the drywall in place. Pounding in the nail is easier and less damaging to the wall or ceiling than trying to dig it out.

Know in advance that additional nail pops may form along the stud you are working on or those adjacent to it because your repairs are disturbing the wallboard and causing it to move. It helps, too, to have a strong light source aimed at a low angle across the wall, as this will help you quickly identify protrusions.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Cordless drill
  • Gloves
  • Hammer (smooth head only)
  • Safety glasses
  • 4-inch drywall taping knife
  • Broad feathering taping knife (optional)
  • Fine-grit sandpaper

Materials

  • Multipurpose joint compound
  • Drywall screws

Instructions

  1. Hammer Nail Back

    Wearing safety glasses, use the hammer to drive the protruding nail back into the wall, being careful not to damage too much of the drywall around it.

    Be sure to use a smooth-headed hammer, not a hammer with a waffle or grid head. The result will be a small, round indentation in the wall.

  2. Secure Nail

    Secure the drywall to the wooden studs using two drywall screws. Place one screw directly above the nail and one screw directly below the nail. Use the drill and a driver bit to drive the drywall screws into the wallboard, hitting the stud underneath it until the screw heads crease the drywall paper. Be sure not to drive so deeply that you tear into the paper. If this happens, add another screw. Screws should be about 1 or 2 inches from the nail.

    If you were unable to hammer the drywall nail in and get it to stay in, the two drywall screws that you drive in this step usually will be strong enough to pull the drywall tight up against the stud. You may need to tap the nail once again if it's still protruding above the drywall surface.

  3. Cover Dimple

    Use the drywall taping knife to apply a light layer of joint compound over the holes. Smooth the excess with the knife so that it is flush with the wall. At this point, do not worry if the indentations are still visible.

  4. Allow Compound to Dry

    Allow the joint compound to dry for two to four hours. Keeping the room warm and turning on a fan will help speed up the drying process.

  5. Add Second Coat

    Apply a second coat of joint compound. If the patch is not blending in well with the surrounding wall, use a broad feathering knife to draw a wide, thin coat farther out on the wall.

  6. Sand Drywall and Paint

    Inspect the area. Joint compound shrinks when it dries, so it may be necessary to apply a third coat. Lightly sand the area with fine-grit sandpaper. Apply primer to the repair area, then paint.

When to Call a Professional

Fixing nail pops on the small scale is easy work for any do-it-yourselfer. However, if entire rooms have many nail pops, it may be time to completely replace the drywall and have it secured with drywall screws, not nails. If this is the case, call a drywall contractor.