How to Use Drywall Anchors – 2018 Guide

Using drywall anchors can be a bit confusing if you’re not used to them, but the entire process is quite simple.

For those items which can be used with them, you’ll find that there’s really not a better way to go about things but you’ll want to break them down first. Once they’re installed, there’s a world of possibilities open.

Harry , Homethods Author


Can I Hang This?

The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure that the anchors can hold the item that you want to place there.

Almost any flat picture frame can be used, of course, but it’s highly recommended to use two anchors at equidistant points from the edge for the best results. This will keep the frame from tipping over at an inopportune time, and if you leveled them properly you can rest assured that they’ll remain that way.

A single anchor can be used, of course, but any bump or knock will cause the frame to be off balance and you’ll have to level it again yourself. This can turn into something of a chore after a while and if you don’t pay attention it can lend the room a certain “disarrayed” look which most despise.

  • There are also shelves which are specially made to be used with hangers, they’ll have a special shaped bracket at the back. This bracket will have a wider portion which will allow you to fit the head of the screw over them, and then the screw will slide down and catch. In this case, you’ll have to do some measurements in order to get the shelf exactly where you want it before you place the anchors themselves.
  • There are also brackets with several indentations which are generally meant to be used with a single anchor. Consider adding a second hanger and going a little bit smaller than you would normally. Two points of contact will keep items level and reduce the risk of pulling the anchor out.
  • You’ll also want to consider the weight of the item you’re looking to hang. If your anchors come with a rated weight, assume that it’s completely safe up to about 75% of what they say they are and get progressively riskier after that. Some weight ratings are completely accurate, but you should always adjust for something heavier just in case.

Not all anchors will come with packaging generous enough to let you know, however, so you’ll want to know the general amount of weight each can hold. In general the following chart can give you a decent idea of what each can hold:

Type of AnchorGeneral Weight CapacityOverall Security
Plastic Expansion Anchors
10-12lbsFairly low, the plastic can crack and result in failure over time or with improper installation
Self-Drilling Anchors15-25lbsGood, but plastic variations will have the same problems as expansion anchors
Molly Bolts20-40lbsBest. Molly bolts are a superior option in every way but price.

Picking Your Anchor

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Go with molly bolts if at all possible. They’re simply a superior type of anchor, and they’ll beat out the cheaper ones every time. Make sure to pick them based on the thickness of the sheetrock that you’re applying the anchor too.

Self-drilling anchors and plastic expansion anchors both have their own advantages and drawbacks. In theory self-drilling anchors can be used without drilling a pilot hole, but we recommend against it. Use a pilot hole regardless, something around 1/8” should be good for most self-drilling anchors.

Plastic expansion anchors are dirt cheap, plentiful, and available in a wide variety of different types. They’re also comically easy to install with a drill and a hammer, but they’re inferior to pretty much any other type of anchor.

While there are super heavy duty anchors available, they’re really not recommended for use in drywall without a lot of extra research. Supporting over a hundred pounds in a material as structurally weak as drywall is a risky business at the best of times, and they have a tendency to tear out enormous chunks of wall if not properly installed.

Basically, use molly bolts. They’re not too hard to install and once you get the hang of them they’re better than any other type of anchor. They can be a bit harder to remove however, but generally there are adhesive products available for temporary usage that won’t damage your drywall.

Hanging the Object

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Hanging the object itself is largely dependent on the type of bracket, wire, or anchor that the object has. You’re kind of on your own here, as the little variations are pretty much endless, but you’ll be able to figure it out easily enough when the time comes.

  • But, before you hang anything, test the anchor itself.

Take a piece of string or fishing line and tie a sturdy double knot with the ends, forming a loop. Something about six inches long is ideal for most people. Loop the string over the edge of the anchored screw and pull down gently with increasing force.

Don’t put your weight behind it or anything, a simple pull will do. Hold it for ten seconds or so, just to make sure that nothing is going to happen under prolonged pressure. Any properly installed anchor, even the cheap ones, should withstand this test.

As long as you’ve tested the anchor out, you’ll be good to go.

A Short Word on Toggle Anchors

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Toggle anchors are absolutely the best when it comes to the amount of weight they can hold. The problem for the home DIYer actually comes from their strength and durability.

While a small 1/8” toggle might hold up to thirty pounds without failing, the problem with them comes with two facts.

Toggles are a pain to install. In most cases you’ll need a hole-saw to get them in, and they may require some additional support in the form of a cheap plastic anchor. While it can certainly be done by anyone with the will to do it, it’s not a fifteen minute or less task like every other kind of anchor.

The second problem comes in precisely because they hold so much weight. Some toggles are simply too strong, and in the event that you manage to overload them you will lose a chunk of your wall.

Simply put toggles can often hold more weight than your sheetrock will. Seriously, if you load too much weight on a toggle you can end up with the kind of damage that will have you replacing the whole panel.

They’re also rather expensive, which is unfortunate in and of itself but they’re not out of reach if you simply must use them. We’re not trying to warn you away, just pointing out that they have their own problems although they look absolutely superior on paper.

Common Pitfalls

Make sure the wall isn’t damaged before or during anchor placement. If the wall is damaged, your anchor will fail and you’ll damage the wall further. They’re not suitable for use over patches or anything either.

Inspect the area before you put the anchor in. Poke around a little bit. Drywall can be damaged during the install and unscrupulous contractors will sometimes just cover it with mud and texture it over. This can be disastrous for you, and check for it first although it’s a very rare occurrence.

If you are trying to cover a patch, make sure that your anchors aren’t placed on the patch itself. To be safe try to get at least 2” of undamaged wall between the anchor and the edge of the patch.

You also can’t really trust the manufacturer’s rating for budget anchors either. There’s an incentive to make them seem stronger than they are, and you know what? Sometimes they won’t fail. That’s not good enough to risk a messy, time consuming repair to a wall however.

Always use the best anchors you can afford. If you’re going to go with plastic spread anchors or screw anchors try not to go over 75% of the rated load. This isn’t always possible, and it might be being overly cautious, but patching a wall is no fun.

Molly bolts are the way to go in almost every case. Unless you want to get into super expensive and hard to install toggle anchors, they’re the best as far as weight rating, durability, and ease of install goes.

Don’t “miss” when you put in an anchor, either. Actually, it’s better to miss by a couple of inches than by a fraction of one. You’ll need a sizable hole in order to put the anchor in, and you might have just messed up the desired positioning if you miss by only a couple of inches. Be precise.


Drywall anchors are a simple, safe way to hang things and as long as you’re careful about things you’ll find that they’re the perfect solution for hanging most things. There are some limitations, but as long as you keep them in mind you’re in for a relatively smooth experience and after the first couple of them you’ll feel like an old hand.