Wall Anchors 101 – How To Hang Anything


Whenever I hang anything and document it on Instagram stories, I’m always bombarded with a million questions about how to properly hang things. Do I need a wall anchor? What if I hit a stud? What anchor should I use for my plaster walls?

Today, I’m bringing you a detailed blog post answering all of those questions (and more!).Gallery wall

My Mom’s Gallery Wall

I understand the mystery and hesitation about hanging items on your walls. It can feel scary to create a big hole in your wall. I used to feel that same way until I started hanging stuff by myself regularly. Now, it’s second nature.

how to hang items from the ceiling

Hanging A Planter From The Ceiling

When we moved into our house I went around the house that first week hanging all the things – shelves, towel hooks, toilet paper holders, curtains, etc. Finn thought it was hilarious because I was looking for more and more items to hang!

I want you to feel that same sense of empowerment. There’s no need to call a handyman or make your husband hang something for you. You can do this all by yourself!

Wall Anchors FAQ

I’m breaking it down by the questions I receive the most when it comes to hanging. Hopefully, this will help demystify wall anchors…

Do I need a wall anchor if there’s a wall stud?

No. Hanging something where you can access a stud is the best possible scenario!

Studs are usually placed 16 inches apart, so you may not always hit one during your project. But, if you do, that means your screw is going into a piece of wood framing and it will be very secure.Using a stud finder to find studs

To find a stud, I always use a stud finder. This is the one we own and use all the time. I think it’s a homeowner essential (more on the tools I think everyone should have in this blog post) because you’re bound to hang things on your walls at some point during your homeownership journey.

I know some people swear by using a magnetic stud finder like this one. I don’t have much experience with these, but I’ve heard rave reviews if you want to give them a try!

When I hang something on the wall, I use my stud finder first to see if I’ll hit one. If not, it’s time for a wall anchor…

When do I need to use a wall anchor?New planter in the living room

You need to use a wall anchor if the item you’re hanging is heavy. I’d say for most regular-sized picture frames, you probably don’t need to use a wall anchor.

But if your piece is over 5 lbs, then a wall anchor is the way to go.

What if my item is light?

Come check out my new stairway gallery wall in our basement

How To Hang A Stairway Gallery Wall

When I hang light items (like small art pieces), I often use a nail, command strips, or both. In our stairway gallery wall, I didn’t hit any studs but the items were all very light. I opted for nails and command strips to keep these secure and they are all still holding strong!

What type of anchor should I use?Wall anchors

There so many different types of drywall anchors out there and choosing the right one can be pretty overwhelming. Let’s dive into the common types and when you should use them.

Expansion Anchor

These are anchors that often come with something when you buy it. For example, if you buy a shelf, it might come with expansion anchors and screws for hanging.

Plastic wall anchors

Honestly, these are not my favorites because I don’t think they’re strong enough (they can’t hold that much weight) and they can break during installation. When possible, I ditch the hardware that comes with an item and I upgrade to winged plastic anchors.

Wingled Plastic Anchors

winged plastic anchors

I use these wall anchors most often around the house. They’re easy to use and super sturdy. This is the kit I always have on hand because they can hold a lot of weight.

When you insert the screw into this anchor, the plastic splits in half into “wings” that grip the drywall. Hence, the name for this wall anchor.

Toggle Bolts (Great For Heavier Items!)

Snap toggle bolts

Snap toggle bolts are great for heavy-duty projects when you’re hanging really heavy items.

Snap toggle bolt

We used these to hang our TV, to hang cabinetry, a heavy mirror, and more. They can hold up to 238 lbs each!

What if I have plaster walls?

We have plaster in the living room of our house (It was originally a small 1921 bungalow.) and the rest of the house is drywall. Throughout the years, additions were added on to the house and drywall was used, but plaster is a common material in older homes.

Wall anchors for plaster walls

When I first went to hang shelves in the front closet, I was horrified that my plastic anchors weren’t working. I quickly realized that the walls were plaster (Layers of plaster were coming out!) and this was my first run-in with the material. After chatting with my contractor for advice, he told me to always use self-drilling anchors for plaster.

I got these self-drilling metal anchors and they work like a charm! You use them as you would any other wall anchor. The only difference is that they are made of metal and can easily go through the tough plaster material. I think they’re the best anchors for just about any application and they come in different sizes.

What if I need to anchor into brick walls?

How to anchor into brick
If you’re drilling into brick, it’s a great idea to put painter’s tape on your drill bit so you don’t drill too deep!

The exterior of our home is made of brick, so I’ve had to anchor into this material when installing our hose, flag pole, address sign, and more. With this application, you’ll need to change things up quite a bit. First, you need a hammer drill to make your pilot hole. A regular power drill won’t be powerful enough. You’ll also want to use masonry bits for this step.

Instead of using an anchor and a screw, you’ll use steel anchor screws that have self-tapping threads. This will grip into the brick or exterior block wall and create a strong hold. This blog post walks you through the step-by-step process.

What are the steps to use an anchor?

The biggest mystery about wall anchors is what the heck is going on behind the wall. I thought it would be eye-opening to show you what it looks like on the other side of the wall, so I bought a piece of drywall for this experiment.

Steps to Install a Drywall Anchor (Installation Guide)

The first thing you want to do is use your stud finder to ensure that there isn’t a stud behind the wall. If you’re in the clear, then it’s time for a wall anchor.

Use a pilot bit to drill a hole in the wall

  1. Use a pilot bit to make a hole in the wall roughly the same width as the end of the plastic anchor. Insert the wall anchor
  2. Insert the tip of the anchor into the wall.Screw in the wall anchor
  3. Use a screwdriver to get the anchor flush with the wall.Screw in the screw
  4. Use a screwdriver to twist in the screw.The back of a wall anchor
  5. You’ll hear a click once the screw is inserted far enough into the wall. That’s the plastic anchor splitting in two to grip the back of the wall.

Steps to Insert a Snap Toggle Bolt

Remember, snap toggle bolts are a good idea if you’re hanging heavy objects on your walls. I use them on both drywall and plaster, so they should work for any wall type.

Use a large pilot bit on the drill to make a hole

  1. Use a 1/2-inch drill bit to drill a hole into the wall to make a pilot hole. Insert the metal end into the wall
  2. Insert the metal portion into the hole.The back of the drywall
  3. Pull the plastic to make sure that the metal is pulled tight against the back of the drywall. Use the plastic portion on the wall
  4. Pull the plastic taut until it is flush with the wall. Snap off the plastic portion
  5. Snap the excess plastic off.Insert the screw
  6. Insert the screw into the wall. Back portion of the drywall
  7. Here’s what it looks like from the back of the drywall. See, it’s super secure!

How do I remove a wall anchor?

To remove a wall anchor, you can either pull it out the way it came in or push it into the drywall cavity. If you’re pulling it out, use needle-nose pliers.

If you used winged anchors, then this might be tricky to do as the wings are gripping the back of the drywall. In most cases, I think it’s best to use a screwdriver to push the anchor into the drywall cavity. Then you can patch and paint right over the hole. (Here’s how to do that!)

My Favorite Wall Hanging SuppliesHow to use wall anchors

Here are the right tools you’ll need when using a wall anchor to hang just about anything on your walls.

How to hang anything on your walls

Stud Finder // Tape Measure // Drill // Screwdriver // Pilot and Masonry Bit // Winged Plastic Anchors // Snap Toggle Bolts // Self-Drilling Metal Anchors

I hope this post gives you more confidence to tackle that next hanging project and to choose the right type of drywall anchor. I promise this isn’t as scary as it may seem.

wall anchors 101 how to hang anything in your walls

Don’t be afraid to make some holes in your walls, friends!

Casey

More Hanging Resources

Figuring out the perfect gallery wall layout

My best tips to hang a gallery wall


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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