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How to Patch that Hole in Your Wall (So You Can Make More)

Ditch your fear of drywall-patching and hang your art up already!

February 12, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

I am… pretty rough on my rental apartment. I’ve painted, nailed, drilled, peeled and stuck tiles, changed light fixtures, and shuffled furniture around more times than I can count. This has inevitably led to people asking, “is it worth it for a place you don’t own?” and to that I say: absolutely, 100 percent yes.

For some of the more permanent updates I’ve made (like painting wood doors), I did check with my landlord first, and this is one of the biggest hoops I think people are nervous to jump through. It’s awkward to say, “hey, can I fix this ugly blemish on the house you own?” but I’ve been met with a surprising amount of, “sure, do whatever you want.”

So, to that end, I like to think I’m a motivational speaker for renters afraid to make changes to their spaces. Swap out that boob lamp! Hammer in that drywall anchor! Live out your floating shelf dreams! Now, especially, when we’re spending a lot of time staring at our walls, hanging your favorite items is well worth the patch job on your way out.

Luckily, of all the home-improvement tasks, patching holes in walls is extremely straightforward. I’m even willing to bet if you didn’t read on and just went for it, you’d figure it out. But you don’t have to, because I’ve done it approximately 6,854 times, so I’ll walk you through it.

What You’ll Need:

Note: Or you can opt for an all-in-one drywall repair tool. Senior Editor, Arati Menon, has just laid her hands on one, and has her weekend bookmarked for the task.

Spackling over the drywall-taped hole. Photo by Caroline Mullen
Sanding it nice and smooth. Photo by Caroline Mullen

What You’ll Do:

  1. Flatten out the surface you’ll be spackling as best you can, so for example, if you yank out a drywall anchor and it pulls some dried paint up with it, just rid the area of any bubbling or excess material. It’s always best to start with the most structurally sound piece of wall as possible.
  2. If your hole is ¼ of an inch wide or larger, you’ll want to reinforce the spackle with some drywall tape. It’s not so much “tape” as it is sticky woven fiberglass threads which give the spackle something to grip onto. Cut a piece a little larger than the hole, and stick it on.
  3. Spackle time! This is the fun part: it’s like playdough on the wall. If you’re patching small nail holes, you won’t even need a putty knife, I usually just dip my finger in and add a tiny dollop to the hole. For larger holes, though, you’ll use the putty knife to scrape off excess and get as smooth a finish as possible. I’m not too precious with it, either, because it always needs to be sanded after anyway.
  4. Let your spackle fully dry before moving onto the next step. Some of them start pink and dry white so you know exactly when it’s set, but in general, spackle is really quick to dry, and you’ll likely be able to add another layer or sand it down within an hour.
  5. Once your spackle is fully dry, give it a sand first with 150 grit sandpaper to get the larger imperfections out, then follow it with 220 grit to buff the area totally smooth.
  6. Wipe your newly patched wall clean with a damp cloth to clear away any dust, and you’re ready to paint! How easy was that?

What was the last thing you mounted on the wall that needed patching? Tell us below!

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8 Comments

Karen February 15, 2021
The hole-filling is the easy part. Getting the paint to match is the hard part. That's what stops me from moving stuff around on my walls, the painting part. When I patch-paint, it looks like it, unfortunately.
 
Smaug February 12, 2021
The devil's in the painting- filling small holes is easy enough but unless your paint job is brand new you'll have to repaint the room. You may (or may not) have better luck with paper tape rather than mesh. Fillers that dry rather than setting chemically will shrink when setting, but you can fill larger holes or dings with something like Fixall or water putty; just be sure to keep it low as you can't sand (it can be shaped with a damp sponge before setting) and finish over with a sandable compound such as spackle or sheetrock compound. Sheetrock compound (known generally as mud) will trowel better than spackle and is a better choice for anything but the smallest areas; it comes in various versions including quick setting types that set chemically, and are generally best for patching applications. Most of these articles seem to be written for NYC apartment dwellers; I'm not sure how prevalent plaster walls are there, but I understand a lot of these buildings are pretty old so probably a lot of plaster. You can make a horrible mess driving nails into plaster and repairs can be quite tricky. Large holes (in sheetrock) will need to be filled in with a piece of sheetrock, which will require some backing; too large a subject to go into here.
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. February 12, 2021
Smaug, I'm curious, what do you do for a living? You have a lot of knowledge about all manner of home improvement tasks, and since we chat about these things a lot, I'd love to know more about your background!
 
Smaug February 12, 2021
Well, I worked for some years as a "general" for a general contractor; I was primarily a carpenter with a minor in electrical, but it was my job to be able to do a professional (if not always fast) job of just about anything that came up in too small an amount to hire a specialist- this suited me well, though not awfully remunerative, because my main interest in life has been in learning how to do things. I later gravitated to woodworking, though the only way to make any money out of it was cabinet work, which is pretty boring. I was working on learning to make guitars when I had to give it up to take care of my father- may get back to it some day but I'm getting old and it gets REALLY expensive really fast.
 
Jamie C. February 15, 2021
Thanks for mentioning plaster...I'm in nyc in a prewar building that was constructed in 1900...so yes, wall are plaster! When I moved in a few years ago, the person before me had placed a ton of nails in the wall...I'm scared to remove them and make a mess or have a bunch of holes.
 
Sparky2335r February 12, 2021
Where can I buy that shelf?? 😁
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. February 12, 2021
It's in our shop! Search for "wall-mounted pot rack with shelf" :)
 
Sparky2335r February 12, 2021
Awesome! Thank you!