Repairing Drywall Nail Pops

by: Dale Cox

Nail pops occur in walls and ceilings when the nails or screws holding the wallboard to the framing become loose over time. This allows the wallboard to move and as a result, the nail heads push through the surface causing an unsightly blemish. Using the repair technique on this page, the wallboard can be stabilized and the pop permanently repaired. Check the bottom of this page for a video demonstrating this wall repair process.

photo a drywall nail pop

First, locate the framing behind the wallboard. In many cases there will be several nail pops in a row, indicating the direction of the ceiling joists or wall studs underneath. If only one nail pop exists however, determine the direction of framing by looking in an attic or other exposed area. Otherwise, tap the wall or ceiling and listen to find the framing. In general, a hollow sound indicates empty space behind the wall and a sharper sound indicates wood framing. The difference between the two sounds will give you a rough idea of the location of the framing. Using this method, you should be able to determine which direction your framing runs.

Reattach the Wallboard

photo driving screws on both sides of a nail pop

Drive 1-5|8 inch drywall screws through the wallboard and into the framing, about 2 inches away on both sides of the nail pop. Sink the screw heads slightly below the wall surface. You can do this with a screw driver in cases where only a few nail pops are involved. But if you have many nail pops to repair, a cordless drill-driver will save a lot of time and effort.

Dimple the Nail Pop

photo using a hammer to make a dimple over a drywall nail pops

The best way to ensure that loose nails will not pop again is to remove them. However, if pulling the nails will cause more damage, sink the heads instead using a hammer to drive them well beneath the wall surface. In any case, "dimple" the drywall surface over the pop using a hammer to crush the gypsum a bit. This will make a depression in the surface that can be filled with joint compound to cover the damage and level the surface.

If the wallboard around the nail pop is ragged or crumbling, remove all the damaged paper and gypsum using a sharp drywall knife to cut it away. To be sure the drywall paper won't pucker up and separate when the repair compound is applied, seal the surface with a shellac-based primer-sealer and let it dry for about an hour before proceeding with the repair.

Cover the Nail Pop with Joint Compound

photo covering a dimpled nail pop with joint compound photo joint compound over a nail pop

You can use setting-type or ready-mixed joint compound for this repair. The setting compound will dry faster and be harder when done, but it must be mixed with water before using. Ready-mixed is easier, but it takes longer to dry and will never be as hard as setting compound. If you have very deep holes to fill, use the setting compound to ensure a durable repair.

Use these instructions for mixing and handling joint compound, or mud, and cover the pops and the new screw heads with a thick coat. Spread the mud to overflowing over the depressions and immediately skim off the excess using a joint knife held at about 30 degrees.

Press down hard enough with the blade to remove most of the mud, while floating it over the depressions to fill them. Try to leave only a thin coat on surrounding areas to avoid a lot of unnecessary sanding when you're done. Return the collected mud to the pan and move on to the next pop. When you're done, let the mud dry completely before proceeding.

It will take at least two, and possibly three coats of mud to level and smooth out the dimples. Let the mud set and dry for about 30 minutes if you're using setting compound. If you're using ready-mixed, wait an hour or more for it to dry before proceeding.

Before applying a second coat over the pops, scrape off any roughness in the surface first using upward strokes with the joint knife. Apply the second coat of mud, spreading it thick first to completely cover the area, and then skim it off to level and smooth the surface. Again, remove any excess mud from the surrounding area to keep things clean.

Sand and Touch Up Wall Paint

photo nail pop covered with joint compound

When the second coat is dry, examine the patch to determine if another is needed. If so, lightly sand the whole area with medium grit sandpaper and then gently wipe the dust away with a damp cloth.

Apply the third coat of mud going over the entire repair area. Work as before spreading a thick coat first, and then skim off the excess to smooth it out. When the final coat of mud is completely dry, lightly sand again. Smooth the patch over the dimples and feather the edges into the surrounding surface.

To finish, brush away the sanding dust and lightly wipe off the residue with a damp rag. Touch up the paint using a flat latex paint. If the finish paint you're using is flat latex, you can use it to prime. If you're using semi-gloss or any other shiny paint, prime the mud work with a latex primer or any flat latex paint first.