How to Repair Drywall: A Homeowner's Guide

If you own a home, odds are very good that the walls (and ceilings) surrounding you are made of drywall. Also called Sheetrock, plasterboard, or wallboard, drywall was invented in 1916 and quickly caught on, since it was relatively cheap and easy to erect. The downside? Even today, it's pretty easily damaged from random bumps by heavy furniture or leaky pipes behind walls.

So if your own walls have major dents or blemishes, you might be wondering how to repair drywall. Is it easy, or better left to a pro?

While a professional contractor is better for putting up new walls or doing major repairs, many say that repairing drywall can be a DIY job -- at least, with some guidance. So strap on your tool belt and check out these steps to learn how to repair drywall yourself.

For small repairs…

For small holes (meaning less than a centimeter wide and deep, like nail pops or picture hook damage), you can fill them with plaster paste. You can buy this at the local hardware store, where it may be called spackling paste, joint compound, or mud.

If you're new to drywall repair, select a spackling compound that dries in about 45 minutes, which will give you time to make and correct spreading mistakes, says Luis Perez, owner of Primary Colors, a drywall and painting company in Falls Church, VA. Then try the following steps:

  1. Scrape or cut away any loose drywall particles so that the hole is clean.
  2. With a putty knife that's 3, 6, or 8 inches wide, completely fill the hole with paste and create a smooth wall surface. For deep holes (over 2 inches deep), layer the filler, making sure each layer is dry before adding the next. If you're using filler that dries in 45 minutes, that's how long it'll take; check the drying time on your label if you're not sure.
  3. After the filler is dry, lightly sand the area with 80- to 120-grit sandpaper until it is smooth and flush with the surrounding wall.

For large repairs…

If the hole is big (meaning more than a centimeter wide or deep), you'll need to cut a patch of drywall from scrap, or buy a pre-cut patch. Then take the following steps:

  1. If the hole in your wall is irregularly shaped, rather than try to make your patch fit the hole, it's easier to make the hole match your patch by using a tool to cut a neat square around the hole in your wall.
  2. Either cover the hole with a self-adhering fiberglass mesh patch, or if studs are visible (the wood behind the walls that anchors the drywall sheets), fill the hole with a similarly sized piece of drywall and then nail or screw it to the studs.
  3. When you've placed your patch, spread a thin coat of spackling paste along the perimeter, then place drywall tape over the mud, which will help hide the seam where new and old drywall meet. Let dry for 10 to 20 minutes.
  4. Apply two or three more layers of spackling paste over the seams of the patch until the entire area is flush with the surrounding wall. Use an even pressure when spreading and smoothing the compound.
  5. Once your patch looks flush with the wall, sand the area to make the seams truly disappear. After sanding, wipe the wall with a damp rag to pick up drywall dust.

Hide your handiwork

Once everything's filled or patched, you'll want to paint over it to hide your repair.

"The trick is to make the repair look like it never happened," says Luis Perez, owner of Primary Colors, a drywall and painting company in Falls Church, VA. "With a bad repair, you can see bumps, especially when the lights are on."

Paint small repairs with a touch-up brush, feathering the edges of the patch so it blends with the wall. However, if you have a large patch or several repairs, you'll have to repaint the entire wall to keep the color entirely uniform.

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