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.
Equipment / Tools
- Cordless drill
- Hammer (smooth head only)
- Safety glasses
- 4-inch drywall taping knife
- Broad feathering taping knife (optional)
- Fine-grit sandpaper
- Multipurpose joint compound
- Drywall screws
Carefully Hammer the Nail In
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.
Secure the Drywall
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.
Cover the 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.
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.
Add a 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.
Sand and Paint the Drywall
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.
Is nail popping normal?
Some nail pops are normal, as wood studs lose their grip on drywall nails over time. But nail pops, especially when they’re extensive, also can be a sign of a foundation problem.
Are nail pops common in older homes?
Nail pops are more common in older homes because homes built decades ago tended to use nails instead of screws to hold up drywall. However, walls in renovated older homes might now have screws instead of nails.
Can nail pops be prevented?
Some nail pops cannot be prevented simply due to the inevitability of the aging wood studs that are anchoring the nails. But addressing any foundation issues as soon as possible can help to prevent nail pops.