Do Drywall Anchors Work in Plaster Walls? (Yes but It Depends)

Whenever you intend to hang something onto a wall, you’ll most likely need a drywall anchor. Drywall anchors are a type of insert that secures the screws to the drywall (also known as plasterboard). However, some walls are built with plaster and lath rather than drywall, especially in older homes. So, do drywall anchors work on plaster walls? The answer is that only molly and toggle drywall anchors work on plaster walls. You should not use expansion and threaded drywall anchors on plaster walls. 

Read on to find out:

  • Types of drywall anchors and whether they work on plaster walls
  • How to install molly bolts on plaster walls
  • How to install toggle bolts on plaster walls

Types of drywall anchors and whether they work on plaster walls

Expansion anchors: These plastic anchors will split and expand as you install them into the drywall. However, they are not suitable for plaster walls because they will pull out easily. If you insist on using expansion anchors, you could opt for expansion-type masonry anchors as they are work in plaster walls. 

Threaded anchors: Also known as self-drilling anchors, they do not require a pre-drilled hole during installation. However, threaded drywall anchors are not suitable for plaster walls because they too will easily pull out. 

Molly bolts: Molly bolts are metal anchors that are suitable for both drywall and plaster walls. They are usually used to support medium-heavy weights such as big picture frames. 

Toggle bolts: Also made of metal, they support the heaviest of fixtures onto the wall— televisions, bookshelves, etc. Toggle bolts are one of the two drywall anchors that work in plaster walls. 

Before you begin installing wall anchors

Wooden drywall studs that support the framing of a home.

Credit: The Spruce

Wall anchors are not necessary if you’re drilling directly into the wall studs (vertical beams that support the frame of your home). These solid wooden or metal beams will provide sufficient support to screws that are directly drilled into them. You can detect the locations of the wall studs by using a magnet or stud finders. 

Wall anchors are necessary when you are drilling in between the wall studs. These anchors will replace the wall studs in providing support for the screws. So, these anchors will hold your fixtures in place and ensure that they don’t suddenly crash and fall. Nonetheless, you should always try to directly drill into wall studs for heavier fixtures because they are stronger than wall anchors. 

How to install molly bolts on plaster walls

Metal molly bolts.

Credit: Amazon

You’ll need: Electric drill, a drill bit that is slightly smaller or the same size as the molly bolt, painter’s tape, electric screwdriver/screwdriver drill bit

1. Mark the wall anchor locations

You should put a strip of painter’s tape on where the molly bolts are drilled into the wall. The tape will help prevent cracks on your plaster walls when inserting the wall anchors inside. Like all drilling projects, you’ll want to measure twice and drill once. Extra holes are unsightly and require extra effort to patch up.

When marking the locations for the molly bolts, you’ll want to detect any studs, wiring, or pipes behind the wall. Stud finders won’t work on plaster walls; they detect the lath boards rather than the actual studs. Instead, you’ll want to use a magnet to detect the nails on the studs. 

2. Drill the holes at the marked locations

With an electric drill, slowly drill into the marked locations. You shouldn’t rush this step in case you accidentally drill into any wires or pipes. Also, the drill bit should be either the same size or slightly smaller than the molly bolt. 

3. Ensure that the screw is secured in the sleeve

Ensure that the screw is set in place in the molly bolt’s sleeve. You should also insert a washer to prevent the screw from shaking in the hole. 

4. Insert the molly bolt into the hole

If the hole is the same size as the molly bolt, you can insert it into the hole with no issues. However, if the hole is slightly smaller, you’ll have to drill the wall anchor inside with an electric drill. You’ll want to avoid hammering the screw into the plaster wall, or the plaster will come loose from the lath. Once the molly bolt is in the wall, tear out the plaster’s tape. 

Note: When inserting the molly into the wall, the screw head should be flush against the wall. 

5. Tighten the screw

With an electric screwdriver, turn the screw clockwise for the anchor to expand. After the molly bolt is secured to the wall, you can remove the screw to install any other hardware such as screw brackets. 

Video guide

How to install toggle bolts on plaster walls

Metal toggle bolts.

Credit: Amazon

 

You’ll need: Electric drill, a drill bit the same size as the toggle bolt, painter’s tape, electric screwdriver/screwdriver drill bit

1. Mark the wall anchor locations

If you are drilling into a stud, you do not need a toggle bolt. Most times, you’re drilling into the lath boards, which are in between the studs. Again, it’s best to measure the anchor locations more than once because you do not want your fixture to be misaligned, or worse, have an extra hole on the wall. 

Moreover, you should do your best to avoid drilling into wiring or pipes. This is is something that you have little control over. However, there are several general rules of thumb to help you minimize the risk you may find here

2. Tightly secure the screw in the toggle bolt

Secure the screw about half an inch in the toggle bolt. The flat side of the toggle bolt should be facing the screw head. A washer is also recommended because it’ll prevent the screw from shaking and moving about. 

3. Drill a hole at the marked locations

Slowly drill into the plaster wall with an electric drill. You shouldn’t drill too quickly in case you accidentally drill into any wires or pipes. 

4. Collapse the toggle bolt in half and insert it into the hole

Slowly push the toggle bolt into the hole until you hear a ‘click’ sound. The click indicates that the toggle bolt has extended and secured the screw to the wall. 

5. Tighten the screw into the wall

With a cordless screwdriver, slowly tighten the screw into the wall. If you are hanging picture frames, you should leave about 5-6mm of space rather than driving the screw all the way in. This will ensure that the frame doesn’t lean and scratch against the wall. 

Video guide

Key takeaways

There are four types of drywall anchors: expansion anchors, threaded anchors, molly bolts, and toggle bolts. Only molly bolts and toggle bolts are suitable for installation on plaster walls because of the metal parts that make them more stable. If you are drilling into a stud on plaster walls, you do not require any wall anchors. 

Written by Jason Beischel

Jason Beischel is a Remodeler by profession and is always ready for the challenge and surprise that the next remodeling job throws at him. And given his extensive knowledge in real estate, contracting, and interior design, he provides actionable DIY tips online and has consolidated extensive excerpts with details on how to go about the various home repair activities. Enthusiasts will also access information on the best products that they can use in the process. Jason leads a team of renovators, he loves traveling and does not shy away from challenging opportunities that present away from familiar ground. According to Jason, every human deserves a comfortable home from where they can build their future.

July 20, 2021

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