How to Use Drywall Anchors to Hang Heavy Things

It’s time to upgrade from thumbtacks

Paul Pogue
Written by Paul Pogue
Updated September 1, 2022
A woman getting ready to hang a heavy framed mirror on a wall
Photo: Robert Knesch / Adobe Stock


Simple project; big impact.

Time to complete

5 minutes



Keep it wallet-friendly.

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What you'll need:


  • Power drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Hammer
  • Wall stud finder


  • Drywall anchor or drywall anchor kit
  • Screws
  • Drill bit

You finally figured out where to hang up that vintage mirror you’ve been holding on to—now you just need to figure out how.  

The safest way to hang a heavy fixture on the wall is by attaching a nail into a wall stud. But, there are ways around it if the spot you want to hang your fixture doesn’t have one. All you need is a drywall anchor, a hammer, a drill, and a screw.

What’s a Drywall Anchor?

A drywall anchor is a plastic or metal housing that is inserted into the drywall layer when there’s no wall stud to support a screw. Since drywall is not solid like a wall stud, an anchor provides more support than using a screw on its own. 

Before going the drywall anchor route, check for a wall stud first. It’s a sturdier and safer option than solely relying on drywall and an anchor.

4 Common Drywall Anchor Types and How to Install Them

Find these common drywall anchors at your local hardware store and use the instructions below to learn how to install them. Always refer to the manufacturer’s guide first for specific directions and information.

  1. Expansion Drywall Anchors

    A close up of a man’s hand inserting a plastic expansion anchor into drywall
    Photo: branislav / Adobe Stock

    Expansion drywall anchors, also known as drywall sleeve anchors, are the most common anchor type. They often come in small kits with mirrors, large frames, and other wall decor. This wall anchor can usually hold up to 20 pounds. 

    To use an expansion anchor, you will first need to drill a pilot hole. Read the anchor kit packaging to figure out the drill size you need to use. 

    Then, insert the anchor into the pilot hole. You may need to use a hammer to push it through all the way. 

    Drill the screw into the anchor. As you do this, the sides of the anchor start to expand on the other side of the drywall, securing it from falling out of the pilot hole.

  2. Molly Bolts/Hollow Wall Bolts

    A side view of a metal molly drywall anchor installed in a piece of drywall
    Photo: Andy Rely / Adobe Stock

    A molly bolt, or hollow wall bolt, is a metal anchor that transforms as you drill. With each turn of the screw, the back mechanism expands out, creating four points of pressure on the back of the drywall to firmly hold it in place. 

    This type of anchor comes in different sizes, so it’s important to get the correct size for the width of your drywall. Though the manufacturer’s guide can give you a more specific weight limit, most molly bolts can hold upward of 55 pounds.

  3. Threaded Drywall Anchors

    Two hands palm-side up holding a bunch of threaded drywall anchors
    Photo: Kayeveazey / Getty Images

    Threaded drywall anchors are plastic or metal shells that have a spiral groove around the outside. Unlike the anchors mentioned above, threaded anchors do not expand on the other side of the drywall. Instead, it relies on the spiral ridge to keep it securely in place. 

    Threaded anchors don’t need a pilot hole. You can drill them directly into the wall using a screwdriver or a drill. 

    The metal version of these anchors can typically hold up to 75 pounds, but it can vary depending on the brand. Check the packaging for more accurate information.

  4. Toggle Bolts

    A profile view of a piece of drywall with an expansion drywall anchor going through it
    Photo: Lost_in_the_midwest / Adobe Stock

    Toggle bolts are arguably the strongest out of all drywall anchor options. As you drill the screw into the anchor, the back mechanism expands out, creating four points of pressure on the back of the drywall to help firmly hold it in place. 

    These anchors come in plastic or metal options with the ability to hold up to 25 or 100 pounds, respectively. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on the anchor kit package to know for sure.

Troubleshooting Your Drywall Anchor

Though drilling a drywall anchor is a relatively easy DIY, it is easy to make mistakes. It’s important to carefully read all manufacturer’s instructions that come with your anchors before you drill. Most importantly, triple check the required drill size before drilling your pilot hole. 

Simple mistakes can happen to even the most experienced DIYers, so don’t fret. There are solutions and troubleshooting methods you can try.

You Drilled the Wrong Size Pilot Hole

If you drilled a pilot hole that is too big to securely hold a drywall anchor, there are a few things you can do:

  • Insert the anchor and fill the surrounding space with construction-grade adhesive. 

  • Patch up the hole and find a new spot. 

  • Purchase a new wall anchor the same size as your pilot hole.

The Anchor Is the Wrong Size

There are some drywall anchor options that come in various lengths depending on the width of your drywall layer, so you will need to know that measurement in advance. 

You can measure the thickness of your drywall by locating a stud behind the wall you’ll be installing the anchor in. 

Once located, push a small hex key into the drywall until it touches the stud. Grip your fingers around the hex key where it meets the drywall surface and pull it out. 

Measure the length between your fingers and the tip of the hex key to know how thick your drywall is.

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