How to Fix Nail Pops in Drywall

Mudding Drywall with Compound
Mudding Drywall with Compound. Getty / Georgepeters

Nail pops are imperfections that show up in drywall ceilings and interior walls, and can recur if they aren’t repaired properly.  Nail pops do not affect your wall's structural stability.  Rather, they are cosmetic annoyances that are easily fixed.

Mostly Older Homes

Since drywall today is largely installed with drywall screws--which cannot "pop out" or protrude accidentally--nail pops are fortunately becoming less of a problem.

But most houses built prior to the 1970s that have not been subsequently remodeled will almost always have drywall hung with nails, not screws.  Also, some drywall installers still prefer to use nails rather than screws.

How This Happens

Usually about the size of a quarter, these “pops” are either flat bubble-shaped protrusions that occur over the point at which the drywall has been affixed to the wood framing as the house settles.

These step-by-step instructions will make repairing nail pops easy.

What You Need

  • Drywall screws
  • Hammer
  • Nail punch
  • Multipurpose joint compound
  • Safety glasses
  • 4-inch drywall taping knife
  • Broad "feathering" taping knife (optional)
  • Drill with screwdriver attachment
  • Fine-grit sandpaper

Step by Step

1.  Hammer Down

Use the hammer to drive the protruding nail back into the wall, being careful not to break the paper face on the drywall.

The result will be a small, round indentation in the wall.

If the nail doesn’t move much, place the nail punch in the center of the nail pop and drive the nail so that it is slightly recessed from the wall. If the pop is the result of a drywall screw and not a nail, use the drill to drive the screw into the drywall until it is slightly recessed.

2.  Secure

Secure the drywall to the wooden studs using a drywall screw (drywall screws don’t tend to shift as much as nails).

Place a drywall screw just above the existing nail. Use the drill to drive the drywall screw into the wall until it is just below the surface.

Place another drywall screw just below the original nail or screw, inside the circular depression you created in step 1. Use the drill to drive the drywall screw into the wall, just below the surface.

3.  Cover

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. Don’t worry if the indentations are still visible.

4.  Dry and Re-Do

Allow the joint compound to dry for two to four hours.

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

Inspect the area. Joint compound shrinks when it dries, so it may be necessary to apply a third coat.

5.  Sand and Prime

Lightly sand the area with fine-grit sandpaper.

Apply primer to the repair area, then paint.

Important Tip:  When Your Fix Creates More Problems

Be forewarned: 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.

Be prepared to make additional repairs, using the same procedure outlined above. Take heart, however; a correctly repaired pop should never re-emerge.