Want to know how to remove drywall – without creating a mess?
Then ditch the sledgehammer and grab the right drywall tools, prepare the room (plastic sheeting works well), and follow our step-by-step instructions, whether you’re fixing damages, making space for a new appliance, or renovating an entire room.
Our easy-to-follow tips show you exactly how to quickly and easily remove drywall in your home.
Is There a Right Way to Remove Drywall?
Properly removing drywall doesn’t exactly make for good TV…
If you watch a lot of DIY TV shows (like I do), then you’ve undoubtedly seen overeager remodelers demolishing drywall with a sledgehammer.
While swinging a sledgehammer is certainly an enjoyable way to let off some steam (and also makes for exciting TV), it’s far from efficient.
Not only does using a sledgehammer unnecessarily waste your energy, but it’s also likely to cause a huge mess – not to mention, create a lot of potentially harmful dust and debris.
A more careful, precise technique is a far better option, especially if you prefer to keep the space clean and minimize cleanup when your project is done.
So, swap out the sledgehammer in favor of a utility knife, pry bar, framing hammer, and maybe a drywall saw or even an oscillating saw (depending on the project). A shop vac and plastic sheeting will help keep your worksite even cleaner.
There’s not really a right way and a wrong way to remove drywall – but there is a way that’s a heck of a lot cleaner than the other.
How to Remove Drywall Fast and Without Mess
Just because you’re trading in your sledgehammer for a framing hammer, doesn’t mean that removing drywall can’t be just as fast.
Preparation is Key
Before you dive into your project, take a few minutes to prepare the room.
Start by turning off the circuit breaker for the room you’re working in. Take note of the location of any utilities in the room, including electrical outlets, plumbing, and HVAC vents. A stud finder can help.
If you’re removing drywall in a room that’s currently in use, move as many items as you can out of the room before starting your project.
Larger furniture, that you can’t or don’t want to move, can be covered with plastic sheeting (or a tarp or drop cloth).
Even if you’re working in an empty room in an unoccupied house, a layer of plastic sheeting is super helpful for cleaning up drywall dust and other debris created during the project.
Finally, keep yourself safe. A simple dust mask (or a respirator mask if the drywall is old enough to potentially contain lead paint or asbestos) is a must. Eye protection is also helpful.
Remove Any Obstacles
Start by removing any obstacles that will get in the way of the drywall removal.
Common obstacles include things like moulding (remove carefully with a utility knife and pry bar if you plan to reuse), electrical outlet covers, light switch plates, and HVAC grills/vents.
Make sure to not only remove these objects themselves, but also any associated nails or screws.
Cut the Corners
To remove drywall like a surgeon, ideally all in one piece, start by cutting the corners with a drywall saw or utility knife.
You don’t necessarily need to cut all the way through the drywall, just score it, although cutting all the way through certainly helps. An extra-long utility knife blade ensures you don’t scrape your knuckles along the wall.
Scoring along the corner beads and through the drywall tape ensures that the paper doesn’t peel back onto adjoining surfaces and create a mess when you do go to remove the drywall.
Remove Screws and Nails
Before pulling off the sheets of drywall, remove the drywall screws and nails holding it onto the studs.
You’ll be able to located many screws/nails visually, but a magnetic stud finder is essential to locating them all.
A cordless drill is the best way to remove screws from drywall. Sometimes using a smaller Phillips bit can help you more easily dig through the drywall mud to remove the screw.
Drywall nails are quite a bit more difficult to remove (especially if you hope to reuse the drywall). A slide hammer nail puller or cat’s paw puller can help remove nails without much damage, even through joint compound.
Remove the Panels
Now that the corners are cut and as many screws as possible are removed, it’s time to pull the pieces of drywall from the wall.
This is typically much easier by first cutting through the panels horizontally with your drywall saw so you’re not trying to remove an entire panel at once.
I like to do this about four feet up the wall. Flatten out the angle of the saw when you go past the studs and make sure not to let the saw go into the wall much further than required to make the cuts to protect any wires or plumbing.
Slowly push the drywall from the wall. If you were able to remove all of the screws and nails, it should come off quite easily. Your framing hammer or pry car can help remove difficult pieces. Just try to pull off the drywall in as large of sheets as possible.
Often, drywall is laid in two rows so you don’t have to cut horizontally (although it can still help).
Remove Extra Screws and Nails
Once the drywall is completely removed, inspect the studs for any remaining screws and nails.
If there were any screws or nails left before pulling off the sheets, there is likely bits and pieces of drywall stuck to them.
Clean Up Debris
With proper care taken to pull off full drywall panels, you’ll be left with very little to clean up.
Break down larger panels you don’t plan to keep by scoring them with your utility knife and folding them in half. This makes them much easier to remove from your home.
If you put down plastic sheeting or a tarp like we recommended above, just fold the ground cloth up and remove from your home with much of the debris inside.
Any small debris left can be first swept and then vacuumed up.
Removing a Small Section of Drywall
The drywall removal technique outlined above is targeted for those attempting to remove all the drywall from a wall.
But sometimes you only want to remove a portion so as to fit in a new appliance or possibly to repair damages like that from mold or water.
For water damage, the lower piece of drywall is most likely damaged while the top sheet is fine. You can employ the same method as outlined above to just remove the bottom sheet and replace it with a new sheet while keeping the upper panel intact.
For cutting in an appliance, electrical outlet, or HVAC vent, you can use a utility knife, a drywall saw, or an oscillating saw. Out of the three, a handheld drywall saw is the easiest and most accurate to use, in my opinion.
Removing Drywall With a Sledgehammer
The “old-fashioned” way to remove drywall is with a sledgehammer.
Although still a favorite among demolition crews (as well as the above-mentioned DIY TV shows), we definitely don’t recommend this process, unless you’re doing a full-blown gut renovation.
Our slightly slower (but still fast) method above is much better for smaller projects (especially with people currently living in the home) because it’s much cleaner and removes the panels in bigger pieces.
If for some reason you do prefer the sledgehammer method, all you have to do is bang holes in the drywall, tear off leftover pieces, remove screws and nails, and then shovel and sweep the debris away before vacuuming up any dust.
Note that this method is also a bit riskier in terms of damaging any wiring or plumbing hidden behind the drywall.
Can You Remove Drywall and Reuse It?
It’s certainly possible to remove drywall and reuse it, but we don’t recommend it, unless you’re seriously strapped for cash.
It’s super difficult to remove drywall carefully enough so as not to damage it. Even if you’re able to do so, the rough edges might render it unusable.
If you’re attempting to reuse drywall, take extra care during removal, especially when removing nails and screws.
In my opinion, it’s better to just plan to hang new drywall from the get go since the chances of removing drywall in one piece are slim, especially for a home DIYer.
Final Thoughts on Removing Drywall
It’s totally possible to remove drywall – even a small section, rather than an entire wall – without breaking out the sledgehammer.
In fact, taking the extra time to remove drywall in big pieces (rather than smashing it to bits) saves you a whole lot of time on cleanup – and is much safer, especially if it’s aged drywall that possibly contains lead paint or asbestos.
Looking for more information for your next drywall DIY project?
Still have questions? Then don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. I answer every question left here on DIY Painting Tips!