Removing drywall anchors from the wall
October 3, 2008 7:51 AM   Subscribe

I need to remove drywall anchor bolts from the wall, but the recommended method (just unscrewing the screw until the bolt drops into the wall cavity) is not working. Suggestions?

I am trying to remove hideous 70's Motel Six bathroom things (towel racks, toilet paper holders, that kind of thing) from the new place. The brackets which held the towel racks in place are mostly-flat ovals about two inches across which are held in place by a single very long screw, which is anchored into the wall with a metal bolt (probably the spring-loaded type), inside a 1/4 inch pilot hole. I have tried pulling on the screw to brace the bolt against the drywall so that I can simply unscrew the screw from the bolt, but that's not working. I also tried cutting through the bracket so I could punch the screw through into the wall, but either my cutters or my muscles were not up to the task.

If it were just the screw, I'd punch it through the wall and spackle / paint over, but the screw is holding a two-inch-across bracket to the wall. The screw head can't pass through the bracket into the wall, and the toggle won't come out of the wall, and the screw won't come out of the toggle. This is maddening!
posted by crush-onastick to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Use bolt cutters to cut the screw head close to the wall and then let it fall down in the cavity. That or a hack saw should do the trick for you.
posted by wavering at 8:05 AM on October 3, 2008

You could also try nailing two small long nails on opposite sides of the screw head with the hope that they will catch the toggle on the other side and prevent it from spinning freely. Then you might be able to unscrew the screw from the toggle.
posted by wavering at 8:07 AM on October 3, 2008

If you don't have bolt-cutters, and the screw is thin enough, you can use the built-in wire-cutting edge on Vice-grips. They produce more leverage than wire-cutters.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:12 AM on October 3, 2008

Maybe I'm not following, but does the screw come out of the anchor? If so, remove the screm put a screwdriver into the anchor and hammer it through the wall and let it drop.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:55 AM on October 3, 2008

If you don't have the muscle you could buy a Dremel tool and use a cutting wheel to cut the screws. Dremel tools are great for dozens of things, so the $50.00 or $60.00 is well spent. There are plenty of Dremel knock-offs. Check the home center.
posted by Gungho at 8:58 AM on October 3, 2008

I assume you're dealing with a number of these things. Have you been able to unscrew any of them, or do they all just spin when you try to back them out? If you really do have a toggle inside the wall, your technique of pulling to jam the toggle up against the inner surface of the drywall and then unscrewing should be working. A single screw failing to back out would seem to indicate that it's threads somehow got stripped or damaged, but if all of them are behaving the same way I'd seriously question whether or not you're really dealing with toggles. A picture would help.

Just to be clear, is there anything lining the hole in the drywall, such as a metal or plastic sleeve? A toggle would leave a ragged hole in the drywall, much larger in diameter than the screw, and with nothing lining it; looking at the hole you'd be able to see the gypsum that forms the core of the wall. If you can't see that, you're dealing with some other type of anchor.

Looking at the hole, if you can see any kind of colored "collar" surrouning it, you're dealing with plastic anchors. They are merely inserts that are pounded into a hole in the wall, providing a gripping surface for the screw threads. It's not uncommon for cheap labor to install these things with power drivers, and they invariably overdo it, stripping the threads that the screw tapped into the sleeve on the way in. If that's the case, you won't be able to unscrew them. Instead, work a putty knife under the edge of the collar, and gently start prying the whole thing out. Once you've got it loosend, just grab the screw with a pair of pliers and pull the whole thing out.
posted by dinger at 9:47 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Drill through the screw head until you have removed enough of it to take the bracket off. Remove bracket. Punch screw into wall.

Alternate method, if the drywall is badly damaged behind brackets: Cut around bracket. Patch drywall. If you are installing a cabinet or something else that will cover this, you can skip step 2.
posted by yohko at 11:08 AM on October 3, 2008

It the hole in the plaster is only 1/4" then you're not dealing with spring-loaded toggle bolts, which typically require a hole closer to 1/2" in diameter. My guess would be that these are the ones that mushroom out on the far side of the drywall and can't be un-mushroomed. You might be able to unscrew the screws from whatever is back there, but only if you can keep the anchors from turning. The only thing you can use to keep the anchors from rotating with the screw is friction with the backside of the drywall. To accomplish that, you have to be able to pull the head of the screw towards yourself. firmly, while turning it. If you can get a small pry bar between the bracket and the drywall then you might be able to simply lever the bracket towards yourself while turning the screws, thus keeping the anchors pressed against the inside surface of the drywall.

Failing that, cut the screws. A small pair of bolt cutters would be the easiest way -- the tool dept. at Lowes carries their generic brand.
posted by jon1270 at 12:45 PM on October 3, 2008

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