Fix-It Friday: Anchors Aweigh! How To Put Anchors Into Walls

Wall Anchors on a White Background
Fix-It FridayHome Improvement 2 Comments

“How do you put anchor screws into the wall?” – WYSK Reader Norma

NV: Great question and then some Norma… by the way, I really LOVE your name! Now back to the matter at hand. Not only are so many of us unsure of how to install anchors, but which ones to use! Plastic sleeve, self-drilling, toggle, molly bolts, etc. UGH!

Above all, we’re concerned about installing them properly so whatever we hang doesn’t end up on the floor in pieces (or on your head as you’re in bed sleeping under it… happened to my friend), while afflicting the least amount of damage to our walls. A tall order if you’re not anchor savvy, so let’s get acquainted with anchors.

How does an anchor work?

Generally speaking, anchors expand and “bite” into the wall as you sink a screw into it, creating an anchor point for secure hanging. Without them, a nail or screw would just spin around and break out of the wall.

Above all, we’re concerned about installing anchors properly so whatever we hang doesn’t end up on the floor in pieces… or on your head.

But what if I have plaster walls?

Lath and plaster walls can’t accept typical plastic anchors. Toggle or molly bolts are required. Be sure to use ones that are long enough to get behind the plaster and lath. Drilling a whole with a masonry bit will be required, more below on installing toggle and molly bolts.

Which anchor for what?

Anchors are rated by weight, so what you’re hanging will determine which anchor to use. Often a product will come with its own hanging hardware. But if it doesn’t, choose an anchor appropriate for the weight or “duty” of what you’re hanging.

General rules of thumb…

  • Light duty, under 10lbs (i.e. paper towel rack), use plastic anchors
  • Medium duty, 10lbs to 25lbs (i.e. metal curtain rod with heavy drapery), use self-drilling (threaded) anchors
  • Heavy duty, 25lbs to 50lbs (i.e. cabinet), use a molly bolt or toggle
  • Mega heavy (i.e. flat screen TV bracket), screw directly into a stud, add toggle bolts for ancillary securing depending on where the object is placed on the wall

WAIT: Before going on, let me state that there are dozens of types of anchors out there – far too many for me to discuss. I’ve chosen four of the most common types of anchors that will satisfy from light to heavy hanging needs.


How To Put Anchors Into Walls

Sink A Plastic Sleeve Anchor (nautical pun unintended)

plastic anchor

  • Mark your hanging point with a pencil
  • Take a nail-set, awl, or nail and with a hammer tap a “pilot hole” into the wall
  • DO NOT make the hole wider than the anchor
  • Place the anchor over the hole and firmly tap it in until it’s flush with the wall

Note: If you tap the anchor into the wall and it won’t go in all the way, don’t try to smash it in flush. You’ve likely hit a stud. In this case, no need for an anchor. Use a coarse drywall screw and secure directly into the stud instead.

Sink A Self-Drilling (Threaded) Anchor

self drilling anchors

  • Mark your hanging point with a pencil
  • Tap the pointed tip of the anchor into the wall with a hammer
  • Once the tip is in the drywall, with a screwdriver, screw the anchor in until it’s flush to the wall

Install A Molly-Bolt (Hollow Wall) Anchor

Molly-Bolt-Wall-Anchor

  • For pointed molly-bolts, make a pilot hole (as described above) then hammer the molly into the wall until the head is flush to the wall
  • For un-pointed molly-bolts, drill a hole through the wall with the recommended drill size (for plaster walls, drilling a whole is the best method no matter what kind of anchor)
  • Tighten the bolt in the sleeve of the molly (this will cause the molly to expand and grip behind the wall)
  • Once tightened, back the screw out of the sleeve; now you can hang your object through this anchored hole using that bolt

Install A Toggle Bolt Anchor

Note: Toggle bolts should only be used to hang heavy objects suitable for this type of anchor. Meaning, it must have a bracket that works with a toggle and is able to cover the hole it makes in the wall.

  • Mark your hanging point with a pencil
  • Drill a hole using the recommended drill bit size (the width of the toggle ends)
  • Slip the bolt through the hole of what you’re hanging (i.e. a bracket) then thread on the toggle with the tips facing the screw head
  • Squeeze the toggle closed and tap the bolt, toggle and all, into the wall
  • Tighten the bolt, pulling back on the threads of the bolt until the toggle grabs onto the back of the wall; tighten until snug

toggle bolt


Important Things To Know…

  • If an object is very heavy, the wall itself can fail before the anchor
  • If drilling into your wall, don’t drill right next to an outlet or plug to avoid hitting wiring
  • If drilling in a bathroom or an adjoining wall to one, be mindful of where the faucets are to avoid hitting a water pipe

Now you’re ready to go hang that shelf you bought 6 months ago… anchors aweigh!

Norma sig


Got A DIY Question? Ask-The-Expert!

If you have a DIY home repair, maintenance or improvement question for Norma, now is your chance to ask-the-expert and have her answer. Your burning question may just be the “star” of an upcoming Fix-It Friday column.

Add your question to the comments section below or email it to Women You Should Know.

Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.

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  • gargouille

    Thank you for the breakdown of types! One of the hardest things to do is make sense of the genera and species on the wall at the hardware store. Helpful images, too.

    • Norma

      You’re welcome, gargouille!

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