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Do Wall Anchors Need A Stud? How Wall Anchors Work

Wall anchors are an important part of hanging things in your home.

But if it’s your first time using a wall anchor, you might have a few questions… like, do wall anchors need a stud?

Wall anchors do not need studs. In fact, they are designed to be used where the wall is hollow, and will not work properly if installed in the same location as a stud.

But there are a few more things you should know about how your wall anchor works before you install, so keep reading!

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When (and Why) You Need a Wall Anchor

Drywall is a weak surface, and isn’t designed to hold significant weight on its own.

Because of this, wall anchors were invented to help spread out the weight of an object so that drywall alone could support it.

If you’re hanging an object in a location where there is already a stud, you don’t need a wall anchor, because the stud can hold the weight of the object instead of the drywall.

It’s fairly easy to hang something from a stud – most of the time you can just drive in a screw and go. But if you want to check out some of the fancier techniques, take a look at this post on hanging objects without wall anchors.

If you’re hanging an object where there isn’t a stud, then you’ll probably need a wall anchor. You can get away without one if your object is super light, but anything over a pound or so and you’ll need an anchor.

How Wall Anchors Work

There are bunch of different types of wall anchors (I test 9 types in this post,) but most generally work like this:

  1. Drill hole
  2. Insert anchor
  3. Insert screw
  4. Anchor expands in wall

How the anchor expands differs from type to type. However, that expansion is what adds security to anchor.

By expanding, the anchor distributes the weight across more of the drywall, strengthening the hold.

Here is what a bunch of different types look like from the back:

Backs of wall anchors installed on drywall

The more the anchor is able to distribute the weight, the stronger it will be. In the picture above, anchors 1, 2 and 4 are the strongest, because the wings distribute the weight across more of the drywall.

These types of anchors (with the wings) are usually called “toggle bolts.” The more sleeve-like anchors are called “molly bolts.”

While molly bolts are usually weaker than toggle bolts, they’re often cheaper and make more sense when working with fairly light applications, like towel racks and home decor.

Molly bolts expend too, although it’s not as obvious in the above photo. Here’s anchor 9 up close:

Alligator-style drywall anchor from back

Originally, this was a tube that was inserted into a small hole. When the screw was added, the tube split, expanding the anchor and distributing the weight to more of the drywall.

It might also be clear at this point why wall anchors shouldn’t be placed in stud locations; wall anchors need the hollow space behind the drywall to expand.

If they’re placed where the stud is located, they won’t make it all the way into the wall, and won’t be able to expand and add security.

Choosing a Wall Anchor

I have a whole post where I test a bunch of anchors and pick my favorites, but the quick version is this.

If you need to hang something really heavy, like a shelf, this giant metal style toggle bolt is the way to go:

Big metal wall anchor

The individual bolt styles don’t really have names, and you might not be able to find this exact brand, but I’d look for the big, metal, self-drilling toggle bolt.

I found it to be significantly easier to install than the plastic version.

Important Disclaimer: Never hang something heavy and breakable with drywall anchors alone. Get a stud. To be even more specific: if you’re hanging a TV, you need a stud. Find a stud.

For lighter duty situations, I liked what I called the “alligator-style” wall anchor:

Alligator-style wall anchor

These were easy to use, well-priced, and very secure. This was the number 9 bolt in the pictures above.

I also want to mention the one type of removable wall anchor. Most wall anchors can’t be removed, although there usually is a way to countersink them so that they can be spackled and painted over.

However, the one “screw-like” anchor can be removed:

Removable screw-style wall anchor

The plastic ones are crap – I usually manage to strip the “plus sign” before I manage to get the entire plastic piece into the wall.

But the metal ones are actually really nice, and obviously don’t strip as easily as the plastic ones do.

So if you want your drywall anchor to be removable, give the metal version of these a shot!