How to Repair Drywall: A Homeowner’s Guide

Learning to repair drywall can save the homeowner time and potentially a ton of money. Drywall, also known as sheet rock, plasterboard or wallboard, was invented in 1916 and quickly caught on because it was relatively cheap and easy to erect. The disadvantage? Even today, it can be easily damaged by accidental knocks from heavy furniture or leaking pipes behind walls.

If your own walls or ceiling have large dents, cracks, or flaws, you may be wondering how to fix them. Is drywall damage easy to repair or is it better to leave it to a professional?

While a professional contractor is better at putting up new walls or doing major repairs, many say repairing drywall can be a DIY job – at least with guidance. So buckle your tool belt on, grab some sandpaper and the right mix, and read these steps to learn how to do drywall work yourself.

Drywall Repair 101

Small holes or cracks in drywall (i.e., less than an inch wide and deep, like nail crackers or damage to picture hooks) can be filled with plaster. You can purchase this repair solution from your local hardware store, where it can be called a putty paste, grout, drywall compound, or mud.

If you’re just learning how to fix drywall, choose a paste or grout that will dry in about 45 minutes so you have time to make and correct spreading errors that 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 off loose drywall particles in the damaged area so the hole is clean.
  2. Using a 3, 6, or 8 inch wide putty knife, completely fill the hole with a first layer of paste or grout and create a smooth wall surface. For deep holes (over 2 inches deep), layer the compound and make sure each layer is dry before adding the next. If you use a filler that dries in 45 minutes, it will take that long. Check the drying time on your label if you are not sure.
  3. After the final layer of joint has dried, try sanding the repair area lightly with 80-120 grit sandpaper or fine-grit sandpaper until it is smooth and flush with the surrounding wall or ceiling.

For repairing large drywall cracks

If the crack or hole is large (that is, more than an inch wide or deep), you’ll need to cut a piece of drywall from scrap or buy a pre-cut piece to fix it. Then do the following:

  1. If the damage to your wall or ceiling is irregularly shaped instead of trying to match your drywall patch to the hole, it’s easier to match the hole to your patch by making a neat square around the hole in your wall with a utility knife to cut.
  2. Either cover the hole with a self-adhesive fiberglass mesh patch, or if pegs are visible (the wood behind the wall that anchors the drywall sheets), fill the hole with a similar sized piece of drywall, and then nail or screw it in to the pens.
  3. Once you’ve placed your mesh plaster, spread a thin layer of paste or compound along the perimeter, then apply drywall tape over the mud to hide the seam where new and old drywall meet. Let the repair dry for 10 to 20 minutes.
  4. Apply two or three more thin coats of putty paste or grout over the seams of the patch until the entire area is flush with the surrounding wall. Apply even pressure as you spread and smooth the joint.
  5. Once your patch looks flush with the wall, sand the area so the seams really disappear. After sanding, wipe the wall with a damp rag to pick up drywall dust.

Hide your repairs

Even if you’re a pro and have known how to fix drywall for years, you’ll usually find that once it’s all 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 Perez. “Bad repairs can show bumps, especially when the lights are on.”

Use a touch up brush to paint small repairs, feathering the edges of the plaster so it will blend into the wall. However, if you have a large section or multiple repairs you will need to repaint the entire wall to keep the paint completely even.

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Observe: Do you need to remodel before you sell?

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