DIY Tools

This Is the Best Way to Remove a Stripped Screw—Plus 11 Methods That Work in a Pinch

Even the most conscientious DIYer is bound to strip the occasional screw. The next time you’re faced with removing a screw with a stripped head, try one of these tried-and-true methods.
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Several tools and materials for removing stripped screws on a home workbench.

Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

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The best-laid DIY project plans can hit a snag if a stripped screw turns up. Though stuck fasteners with stripped heads can certainly slow down your progress, they’re not impossible to deal with.

We tested several methods for removing stripped screws and found a clear winner. Ahead, learn how to remove a stripped screw the best way, as well as alternatives you can try using materials you likely already have on hand.

Removing Stripped Screws From Metal, Wood, and Plastic: Why the Material Matters

Most of the methods described below will work if a stripped screw is embedded in metal, wood, or plastic. Removing a stripped screw from each material, however, presents its own challenges.

  • Stripped screws in metal need to be removed carefully, otherwise you risk scratches or damage. Be extra diligent when using power tools and cutting materials.
  • A stripped screw in wood will likely be flush with the material or slightly lower than the surface, so using a stripped screw extractor is your best bet to retrieve the screw.
  • Plastic is a fairly soft material, and a light touch is a must if you want to reuse a hole in plastic after removing a screw. Hammering, grinding, and cutting to remove the screw may render the hole unusable.

No matter which material you’re working with, you’ll need a bit of muscle to remove stripped screws. You must use firm pressure and patience, moving the screw a fraction of a turn at a time, otherwise you risk breaking the screw and making the removal process all the more challenging.

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The Best Method for Removing Stripped Screws

A person using a stripped screw extractor and a cordless drill/driver to remove a stripped screw in a wood stud..
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Do you come across a lot of stripped screws in your projects? A dedicated set of stripped screw extractors is the ideal tool to have on hand. These attachments for your drill come in different types and sizes, and they involve a two-step process. You first use a drill bit to create a deeper hole in the screw head, then you use the extractor to remove the screw.

“I recently stripped a few screws while installing prehung interior doors—even after drilling pilot holes into the studs. I tested the methods listed in this article, and one sifted to the top as the most effective: using a stripped screw extractor. While it costs a little extra money up front, the tool will come in handy many times over if you’re an avid DIYer.”
— Jenny Stanley, Executive Editor, Service & News, Bob Vila

RELATED: The 15 Most Useful Power Drill Attachments

Alternative Methods for Removing Stripped Screws

Don’t have a screw extractor on hand? Before heading to the hardware store to buy one, give one of these other options a try. You likely already have what you need in your toolbox or junk drawer.

1. Use rubber bands.

A person using a rubber band to remove a stripped screw embedded in a wood stud.
Photo: Tom Fenenga

The steps for this method are simple: Put a rubber band—the wider, the better—over the top of the stripped screw. Firmly insert the point of your screwdriver, then slowly unscrew the fastener.

The rubber band adds traction, creating a better grip for your screwdriver to twist the screw. Expect to go through a few rubber bands when using this method, as they tend to break from the pressure of the screwdriver. If you don’t have a rubber band handy, substitute a bit of steel wool or some of the abrasive material from the scouring side of a sponge.

2. Size up your driver bit.

Two different sizes of drill bits laying next to a stripped screw in a wood stud on a home workbench.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

If you’re trying to remove a stripped screw using a driver bit that’s sized for a screw in pristine condition, you’re likely wasting your time. When the slots in the head of the screw have worn out, the driver bit you’d typically use won’t fit properly. Try a bit that’s a little larger to see if it fits better.

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3. Hammer in a screwdriver.

A person using a hammer and a handheld screwdriver to remove a stripped screw.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

If the screw is made of soft metal, which is the kind most likely to become stripped in the first place, grab your hammer. Use the hammer to tap the screwdriver down into the screw head. Lodge the screwdriver as firmly as you can into the screw head. Doing so may provide the extra grip you need to twist the fastener.

4. Drill deeper into the screw head.

A person using a metal drill bit to drill into the head of a stripped screw stuck in a wood stud.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Sometimes drilling a small hole into a stripped screw can allow your screwdriver to reach deeper into—and achieve a better grip on—the stuck fastener. If you’re going to try this approach, make certain to use a drill bit designed for use on metal, not wood. And don’t drill too far down; the screw head could pop off!

5. Cut a slot with an oscillating tool.

A person using an oscillating tool with a cutting wheel attachment to remove a stripped screw.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

If there’s an oscillating tool in your workshop, such as a Dremel (and if you’re a committed DIYer, you probably should own one of these tools), affix the metal-cutting disc and create a new, deeper slot in the screw head. Follow up with a flathead screwdriver, pressing it firmly into the indentation and twisting it slowly.

RELATED: The Best Oscillating Tools Tested by Bob Vila Experts

6. Twist it out with pliers.

A person using a pair of pliers to remove a stripped screw stuck in a wood stud in a home workshop.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Inspect the screw head closely. If there’s any daylight between the screw head and the surface to which it’s fastened, see if you can get hold of the screw with a pair of locking pliers (these are also known as vise grips). If you can get the tool to grab a firm hold of the screw, you should be able to turn the pliers until the screw loosens and pulls away.

This isn’t the least labor-intensive option, but under the right circumstances it works like a charm.

7. Switch to a flathead screwdriver.

A person using a flathead screwdriver to remove a stripped screw stuck in a wood stud.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Does the stripped screw have a Phillips head? If so, reach for a flathead screwdriver narrow enough to fit (in its entirety) within the Phillips-head hole. Keep in mind that it takes real muscle to pull this off. To facilitate things, it’s smart to combine this clever strategy with the rubber band method described above.

8. Top the screw head with hot glue.

A person using a glue gun and a driver bit to remove a stripped screw stuck in a wood stud.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Rather than run out to purchase a new tool to remove stripped screws, turn to something you probably already have at home: your glue gun. Fill the screw head with glue, and stick in your screwdriver until it cools and dries. Then it’s just a matter of slowly twisting the stripped screw with a screwdriver until it comes out.

9. Apply a liquid abrasive.

A person pouring a drop of liquid abrasive onto the head of a stripped screw.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Give your screwdriver or drill bit something to grip by using a liquid abrasive, which can be a great stripped screw remover. These fluids contain tiny crystals that anchor between the screwdriver and the screw to create friction where there was none. These liquids generally don’t stain, and you don’t need much more than a drop per screw.

RELATED: 15 Demolition Tools Every DIY Remodeler Should Know

10. Try a left-handed drill bit.

A person using a left-hand drill bit to remove a stripped screw from a wood stud in a home workshop.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Typical screws loosen by turning to the left. The less common left-handed drill bit has flutes that twist in a counterclockwise direction. The torque applied by a left-handed drill bit can be more effective than a right-handed bit at loosening a stripped screw. For it to work, however, the drill must be set in reverse.

11. Weld a nut to the screw’s head.

A person using a ratchet wrench to remove a stripped screw with a nut welded onto the head.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

If you’re experienced with welding and have the necessary equipment on hand—and you really want to remove that pesky stripped screw—here’s a last-ditch effort you can make: Spot-weld a nut to the top of the screw head, wait a sufficient period of time, then remove both screw and nut by means of a socket wrench.

Final Thoughts

Removing a stripped screw is a beginner-level skill, one that you can easily do yourself as you work your way through many home projects. That said, expect that stripped screw removal will take time. Don’t try to rush the process, otherwise you might damage your project.

Armed with all these tips, the next time you strip a screw you can rest assured that it’s not the end of the world—it’s just another solvable, albeit annoying, problem. For the best results, we recommend using a stripped screw extractor. If you don’t have one on hand, try the other methods listed above. Once you know how to remove a stripped screw and become familiar with all of the options at your disposal, you’ll gradually learn to recognize which scenarios call for which particular solution.