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Drywall nail pops: this article discusses the causes, cures, & steps to prevent nail pops - those unattractive mounds or sometimes open "sores" in finished interior drywall ceilings & walls. We explain why drywall nail pops occur, where they occur, and how they are repaired.
We suggest definitions of closed drywall nail pops and open drywall nail pops such as shown in our page top photo. In most cases drywall nail pops are a cosmetic defect, though in some locations such as near a center partition below a truss roof, they may indicate interesting structural movement such as arching roof trusses. We compare these drywall nail pops with thermal tracking or spots caused by ghosting.
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The drawing of nail pops shown below is provided courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates and appears in their Illustrated Home.
Nail pops in drywall walls or ceilings are usually a minor cosmetic issue that is common in new construction.
As wood studs shrink, nail heads ‘pop’ out from the drywall surface, causing a bump or the blemish on the wall or ceiling. This usually happens only on new work, and only one time. Repairs are straightforward.
Smash and dash nail pop repair
We [DF] repair nail pops by setting (hammering) the nail about 1/16" to 1/8" below the flush surface of the drywall.
The indentation is filled with joint compound, or if time is short, with Dash Patch™, and the wall is re-painted. It makes sense to wait to repair nail pops until you are planning to paint the building interior.
Screw and smooth nail pop repair
If nail pops have been recurrent you may want to install two drywall screws about 1/2-inch on either side of the popped drywall nail to prevent further movement in this area. You'll want to hammer in the popped drywall nails (gouging them out is possible but makes a much bigger mess).
A hammer with a clean face works fine, or if you're fussy, use a nail set (I don't know anyone who does that). Then screw a drywall screw about an inch away on either side of the bad-behaving drywall nail.
Set the drywall screw just below the drywall surface. Ideally you'll stop before the drywall screw tears the paper surface. Then use drywall compound or a Dash Patch or Dash Patch mix with drywall to speed up the smoothing process before re-painting.
Just be sure your drywall screws are fastened into the wood or metal joist or stud, as just screwing into the drywall alone is not effective.
Open vs Closed Nail Pop Types vs Ghosting Spots: a cute little photo catalog of drywall nail pops & round ghosting stains
Below we illustrate nail pops in drywall. At below left are typical closed nail pops associated with normal wood and material shrinkage - this in a home built in the 1970's. The drywall nail head extends above the surrounding drywall but the paper surface has not torn. You can see that the original drywall hanger used pairs of drywall nails at each nail location.
At below right is an open drywall nail pop in drywall characteristic of material movement. You'll see that now that the bulge of pushed-up joint compound ("mud") has popped off of the wall or ceiling completely, the actual head of the drywall nail may itself not poke out of the wall. Still it needs to be re-set. If I see a lot of rust on the drywall nail I look for a building moisture problem as well.
Below is a drywall nail pop that is barely discernable and does not merit special attention. You can spot even the slightest nail pop or concavity in drywall by careful use of oblique lighting. LIGHT, GUIDE to FORENSIC USE and LIGHT, FLASHLIGHT for MOLD illustrate the technique.
This closed drywall nail pop shows up as a very slight raised bump that in some lighting may appear darker or lighter than surrounding area. I added a light gray circle so that you can find the spot I'm showing.
Don't confuse a drywall nail pop with the dark spot or shadow that may form at drywall nail or drywall screw locations due to thermal tracking (THERMAL TRACKING BRIDGING GHOSTING), like the soot spots shown at above right. Drywall nail pops normally extend above the surrounding surface.
How to Prevent Drywall Nail Pops
Nail pops found in some building ceilings and actual tears or cracks at the wall/ceiling juncture at building walls located under the center of certain roof trusses when moisture & temperature differences between the truss bottom chord and upper members cause the truss to arch.
Details and more illustrations of the roof truss uplift problem & more steps to prevent drywall cracking & nail pops are found at
The drawings of roof truss uplift and corrective measures for truss uplift shown here are provided courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates and appears in their Illustrated Home.
Quoting from USG's "Finishing Drywall Systems",
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