How to Install Toggle Bolts

Toggle bolts are the strongest way to anchor heavy items to hollow walls. Learn how to install toggle bolts correctly and easily.

Toggle bolts on a workbench with text overlay

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When you are installing anything on drywall, you need to find studs to screw into. The drywall by itself is too soft and crumbly to hold a screw.

What if you don’t have a stud in the spot you need? That is where drywall anchors come in, and toggle bolts are the strongest anchors there are. They are the best choice for hanging heavy items on hollow walls.

Once you learn how to install one and see how strong they are, you will never go back to using the cheap plastic anchors.

What are toggle bolts?

Toggle bolts are heavy-duty anchors perfect for installing anything in the drywall where you cannot find and screw into studs. They consist of two parts –

parts of a toggle bolt
  • The bolt – the length and diameter of these decide their strength
  • The toggle – The butterfly-shaped nut whose size also determines the strength.

How toggle bolts work

The butterfly toggle is pinched and inserted into the hollow drywall, where it opens up. As the bolt is tightened, it presses against the drywall. This causes the bolt to anchor in the drywall. The larger the area of the butterfly toggle in contact with the drywall, the stronger the anchor and the higher the weight rating.

What size toggle bolts do I need?

Toggle bolts are available in many sizes. To pick the right-sized toggle bolt, you have to consider both the application and your wall type.

  • The first thing to consider is the thickness of your wall. ⅜” and ½” are the most common drywall thicknesses. The toggle bolts should be long enough so that when you fold and push the toggle into the wall, there should be enough clearance for it to open up behind the wall.
  • Next, it the weight rating. If you need a heavy-duty toggle bolt, you will need to get one with a larger surface area on the butterfly nut.

I am installing a DIY floating shelf in the example below and using a 4″ x ¼” toggle bolt. The 4″ long bolt is because it needs to pass through the 1½” thick board and then through the drywall. ¼” is the diameter of the bolt. Since these shelves will be holding dishes etc., in my kitchen, I went with the highest weight rating I could find.

DIY gloating wood shelves in a kitchen

If you are hanging something like a coat hook, you will likely not need such a long bolt, and the bolt diameter will depend on the hole in the hook.

Do you need a stud for a toggle bolt?

No. You do not need a stud to use a toggle bolt. In fact, toggle bolts are specifically meant for locations where you are unable to find a stud and need a heavy-duty anchor. You won’t be able to insert the butterfly toggle into the wall if there is a stud behind it.

If you do have a stud, you could simply use a long heavy-duty screw to attach your object to the wall.

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Material needed for installation

  • Drill bits – ⅛” and a larger bit depending on your toggle bolt size.
  • Toggle bolts of choice. Here is an option to use
  • Drill/ Driver

How to install toggle bolts in drywall

When you first look at a toggle bolt, it may seem intimidating, but, in fact, it is straightforward to install!

Step 1 – Identify location

You must identify the exact location for the toggle bolt and verify that there is no electrical or plumbing running behind it.

Step 2 – Make the holes

  • Once you have identified the toggle bolt’s location, use the ⅛” drill bit to make a starter hole at that location.
  • Use the larger drill bit to make a hole in the wall. This bit should be the size of the butterfly nut when folded. In my case, it was ½.”
woman making hole in wall with drill bit to install toggle bolts

Step 3 – Thread the toggle bolts

  • Insert the bolt into the item you would like to attach.
  • Screw in the butterfly toggles on the other side of the item. Pay attention to the direction the toggles face.
Woman threading toggle onto bolt to attach board to wall

Step 4 – Insert into the wall

  • Pinch the butterfly wings together.
Pinching butterfly toggle to insert into drywall
  • Push the entire toggle nut into the large hole in the wall.
  • Once inside, you should hear it open.
Woman inserting toggle bolt into wall to install

Step 5 – Tighten

Using a screwdriver or a power driver, tighten the bolt from the front.

Installing toggle bolt by tightening with a power drill

Important The butterfly toggle should be resting on the drywall on the inside for the bolt to tighten. If not, the bolt will spin and will not tighten. This is a very common problem people encounter with toggle bolts. It has a straightforward fix. Just pull the bolt outward to rest the toggle on the drywall and start tightening. As it tightens, the bolt will pull the item towards the wall and form a strong anchor.

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What can toggle bolts be used for?

You can literally use toggle bolts anywhere you need to attach something heavy to a hollow wall – think coat hooks, shelves, large paintings. They are basically the perfect anchor to use and install. They are also super easy to install and much stronger than other plastic options. They are especially great when hanging items from the ceiling.

How to remove a toggle bolt from the wall

Uninstalling toggle bolts are easier than installing them! You simply unscrew the bolt from the front with a screwdriver. The only drawback is – the toggle or the butterfly wing will fall off inside behind the drywall and cannot be recovered. You will need to purchase new toggle nuts if you want to reuse the bolt.

Toggle bolts are the strongest way to anchor heavy items to hollow walls. Learn how to install toggle bolts correctly and easily.

How to Install Toggle Bolts

Toggle bolts are the strongest way to anchor heavy items to hollow walls. Learn how to install toggle bolts correctly and easily.

Materials

  • Drill bits - ⅛" and a larger bit depending on your toggle bolt size.
  • Toggle bolts
  • Drill/ Driver

Instructions

    1. You must identify the exact location for the toggle bolt and verify that there is no electrical or plumbing running behind it.
    2. Use the ⅛" drill bit to make a starter hole at that location. Use the larger drill bit to make a hole in the wall. This bit should be the size of the butterfly nut when folded.
    3. Insert the bolt into the item you would like to attach. Screw in the butterfly toggles on the other side of the item. Pay attention to the direction the toggles face.
    4. Pinch the butterfly wings together. Push the entire toggle nut into the large hole in the wall. Once inside, you should hear it open.
    5. Using a screwdriver or a power driver, tighten the bolt from the front.

Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

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4 Comments

  1. Linda Weeks says:

    Thank you, Anika! This is the kind of project I would be intimidated by!

  2. Marc Callaert says:

    Hi Anika … Belgium ‘calling’.
    In this way I recover the ‘butterfly’ from a toggle bolt myself.
    1. Turn the screw back as far as possible so that you get some ‘play’ between the wall and the suspended object.
    2. Place a heavy magnet against the hollow wall as close to the screw as possible.
    3. Take a ‘bad’ knitting needle and fold a small hook in L-shape at the point, the size of the hook (= diameter of the screw) slightly less than the diameter of the butterfly hole.
    4. Unscrew the screw completely but hold the butterfly with the magnet (hollow wall plates are not that thick, usually made of plaster, the attraction of a magnet is strong enough).
    5. Insert the needle through the drill hole and through the center hole of the butterfly with the L-shape vertically up.
    6. Pull it out (it certainly works, I have already done this several times).
    Greetings, Marc
    P.S. Don’t throw away the knitting needle, it can be used for other things!

  3. Michael Toney says:

    Quick tip: if you find that someone has made a hole in the wall by not properly anchoring a screw for a clock, photo, etc, you can still use a toggle bolt for this too. Before you place the screw into the toggle, thread a nut onto the screw, then a washer larger than the hole. Install the toggle the same way mentioned above, and the tighten the nut to apply the force to the toggle. Then you have the screw to hang the item on.

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