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The Best Method for How to Fix Nail Pops on Walls and Ceilings

Could there be anything more frustrating than waking up one morning and finding a little round bulge protruding from your wall or ceiling? Probably not. If the nail pop occurs in a subtle, out-of-sight location, your instinct might even be to let it be—but if you ever plan on repainting that particular wall, your best bet is to learn how to fix nail pops as quickly as possible!

Fortunately, nail pops have an easy fix! Read on to learn all about nail pops, and most importantly, how to fix nail pops.

How to fix nail pops on walls and ceilings

What are Nail Pops?

A nail pop is more or less exactly what it sounds like: a nail that has popped out of place beneath the drywall. When this happens, the pop will most likely damage the drywall covering it, resulting in a little round-shaped bulge with a crumbly edge. If the popping distance is significant, the drywall might even crumble away and reveal the nail head completely.

nail popping out of drywall

The good news is that one or two nail pops are usually just a cosmetic problem and aren’t symptoms of a bigger issue. In that case, all you have to do is learn how to fix nail pops, execute it, and enjoy the satisfaction of having completed a DIY project!

If, however, you’re noticing nail pops all over your home, then unfortunately you might be dealing with more deeply rooted structural issues, and the solution is much bigger than learning how to fix nail pops alone. To confirm this, check for other symptoms around your home, which could include diagonal cracks around windows or on brick walls, windows that have a hard time opening and closing, and more. Foundational and structural damage in your home is not something you want to tackle on your own—this might be a good time to call in an expert!

What Causes Nail Pops?

Broadly speaking, nail pops are caused by small movements in the wood that makes up the framing of your home (wood studs). The movement is mostly expansion and deflation caused by changes in temperature and humidity. This could be a natural occurrence dependent on the weather of your geographic location, or the wood may have accumulated humidity during pre-construction while being stored either outdoors or in an open-air warehouse and is finally drying out.

More severe movements could even be twisting and deforming, which is caused by the more severe structural and foundational damages mentioned above. Usually, however, it’s just the weather!

Nails compared to screws
What a nail looks like (left) vs. what a screw looks like (right)

Unlike screws, nails are smooth, and so any of the movements listed above can loosen the grip of the wood fibers around the nail and consequently dislodge said nail. Nail pops break through the joint compound and the drywall covering them—nail pops don’t happen beneath plaster walls.

Because of this loss of friction, you cannot just hammer the nail back into the wood. Not only does this possibly ruin the cosmetic damage even further, but the nail will certainly pop back out before too long. It’s important to learn exactly how to fix nail pops, without taking any shortcuts!

So why not use drywall screws instead of nails? The truth is that nail pops are becoming obsolete, and are nowadays mostly a problem in buildings constructed before the 1970s (that have not been remodeled), which used drywall nails. These days screws are the best option for drywalls: the head might break off when the wood expands and contracts, but the screw itself remains solidly fixed.

How to Fix Nail Pops

So what do you do if you find yourself with nail pops all over your pre-1970s house (or maybe a younger home whose installer simply preferred nails over screws)? Luckily, it’s easy to learn how to fix nail pops by following the guideline below. Let’s start with the materials you’ll need.

Recommended Products for Learning How to Fix Nail Pops

Here is a list of the products we recommend for learning how to fix nail pops:

Steps to Follow

When learning how to fix nail pops, the first thing to do is acknowledge that the drywall has most certainly been compromised—even if just an inch or two around the popped nail.

Thus the first step is to remove the bits of damaged drywall. After gearing up with protective gloves and glasses (you never know what debris might project towards your face during the operation!) use a taping knife to cut away the damaged drywall in a circular or oblong shape around the popped nail. Of course, the least amount of drywall you cut out means the least amount of patching you’ll have to do in the later steps, so try to keep as close as possible to the circumference of the damage.

The next step, which involves what to do with the offending nail, varies from professional to professional. Some pull the popped nail out completely, and then hammer it back into the wood directly next to the original nail hole; others pull it out and then use a new nail; some simply hammer the nail back into the wood; others hammer the nail back into the wood, and then hammer another nail right next to it so that the nail head of the second nail overlaps with the nail head of the popped nail, and prevents it from popping back out.

Hammering a nail into drywall

And still others just remove the nail completely, and leave it at that! As you can see, the rules for learning how to fix nail pops aren’t set in stone, but the main idea remains the same.

Whatever step number 2 you decide to go with, experts tend to agree on what happens next. Drill two screws into the wall, about an inch above and below the hole you’ve cut into the drywall. Make sure the screws can penetrate the wood at least three-fourths of an inch deep—so take careful note of how thick your drywall is to decide on the best screws to use.

How to fix nail pops on walls and ceilings with screws

The screws will help fix the surrounding drywall into the wood and get rid of any space that may have formed beneath the drywall. You don’t want any air under there, which could eventually form into bubbles and cause even more of a headache

Next, clean the area as well as you can from dust, scraps, and debris, and then fill and cover it with a multipurpose compound using your putty knife. Once the compound is dry, sand it smooth with fine-grit sandpaper—if you’ve spent any time on our website, you already know that painting on an unsmooth surface can cause a lot of painting issues!

Applying drywall putty after fixing nail pops

Congratulations! You’ve learned how to fix nail pops. Now the only thing left to do is repaint the sanded compound. Remember to use a good-quality primer!

How to Prevent Nail Pops?

If you haven’t built your house yourself, unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to prevent nail pops—just learn how to fix nail pops to be prepared if the problem ever arises!

In any DIY projects in which you’re fixing drywall to a wooden stud, make sure to use screws instead of nails.

Wrapping Up How to Fix Nail Pops

I hope next time you spot nail pops in your home, you now feel equipped to fix the nasty little buggers on your own. Though the list of tools required seems a little extensive, learning how to fix nail pops is actually very simple.

If you’re interested in learning more about potential paint issues, how to avoid them—and most importantly, how to fix them—head on over to my Paint Problems Page.