How to remove a stripped screw

Within this article I explain 12 ways on how to remove a stripped screw. Screws are extremely common in almost every aspect of DIY and building. 

A stripped screw occurs when the head of the screw is damaged so much it’s impossible to remove with a screwdriver. The cause is human error or by using incorrect tools in the first place. Over my 25 year career in construction I have stripped countless screws and successfully removed even more. 

Most articles only cover a few of the more common ways to remove stripped screws. Many people only try one or two methods before giving up. This is why I have explained lots of methods of removing stripped screws from the simple and effective through to the ‘last ditch attempt’. If none of these methods work, I don’t know what will! 

Using a Screwdriver 

Sometimes it’s possible to remove a stripped screw just with a screwdriver. It’s important not to ram a screwdriver into your stripped screw and hope for the best. 

  1. Use a larger screwdriver than the original. 

Okay, hear us out first; this might not seem like what you should be doing. But sometimes, it’s better to just go about things the old fashioned way. Using a drill for screws may cause more damage. And the grooves will only fade away more if you keep pushing it.

So, what to do? Grab a screwdriver larger than the original screw size. Apply enough force for the screwdriver to grip to the remaining screw thread. Try this easy and hassle-free approach before trying anything else. 

  1. Use a Flat Head Screwdriver (and a hammer!)

This is also a viable option when it comes to prying out a stripped screw. Most screws are either Philips (diamond shaped) or hexagonal. Obviously the flathead screw will not fit into the hexagon shape. Angle the flathead screw in the stripped part and rotate carefully until you find a good fit. 

Use some force to ensure a good fit between your flat head screwdriver and screw. By applying downward force on the screw whilst turning, you may get enough leverage to generate some movement. 

Consider hammering down your flathead screwdriver into the screw. This creates a new indentation in the head of the screw. It’s possible you can then easily unscrew using your new ‘flat head screw’… Note: There is a risk that you hammer the screw even further into the object you are trying to remove it from. Only use the hammer method as a last ditch attempt. 

Add leverage and friction to the screw

Here we are going to get your screwdriver to grip to your stripped screw. If you can add leverage and get it to grip, you stand a good chance of removing the screw. 

  1. Rubber Band.

This is a cheap and creative approach to removing stripped screws. Generally, whenever the indentation fades, the inner surface becomes rough due to wear and tear. Sometimes a screwdriver can’t hold onto those grooves. If you try to force the screwdriver often this damages the screw even further. We therefore use a rubber band to add traction. 

Use a standard rubber band. Place part of the rubber band over the head of the stripped screw. Then insert your screwdriver into the rubber band. This covers the head of your screwdriver in rubber, adding traction and grip. Then carefully turn the screwdriver anti-clockwise to remove the screw. 

  1. Use an abrasive powder. 

Sand, cleaning powder and salt are examples of abrasive powder. The more friction you can apply to the head of the screw, the easier it becomes to remove it. 

Sprinkle a small amount of abrasive powder to the surface of the stripped screw. We use powder to create better friction between the screwdriver and the screw. This can prevent the screwdriver from slipping.

This process is not suitable for screws that have been badly stripped. You need to have at least some thread left in the screw for the powder to ‘cling on’ to. 

  1. Liquid Friction.

There are some specially designed products for stripped screw removal. These products include ScrewGrab and Drive Grip. 

The purpose of these products is to create greater friction between the stripped screw and the screwdriver. The liquid is applied to the head of the screw. This is similar to both the ‘rubber band’ and ‘abrasive powder’ methods. 

And just like the abrasion powder, the liquid friction solution is also only suitable for screws that haven’t been stripped too much.

  1. Heating the Surface Area

Another great way to remove a stripped screw is by heating the surface area of the object the screw is placed in. For this you can use something like a portable radiator or hair dryer. 

We know from elementary physics that when you heat a surface or an object, it expands. When you heat the surface area, the screw and any remaining thread will expand. You will then stand a better chance at unscrewing it. 

Brute Force 

Not always the best solution, but brute force sometimes does work. Note: this is controlled brute force and is carefully thought out. 

  1. Plying it out.

This method is straight forward but requires a bit of luck. This only works if the screw isn’t completely screwed into the wood or metal. 

Use vice-head grip pliers and place horizontally with the screw for maximized grip. Try to grip the head of the screw and turn slowly anti-clockwise. If you do manage to loosen the screw at all you should be able to back it out the rest of the way using a screwdriver.  

Top tip: if you don’t have a rubber band laying around, use steel wool. Whilst not as effective, steel wool will provide some traction to the screw head. 

  1. Hammering In

When all else fails, the brute force is the way to go. It’s also oddly satisfying and even if you can’t remove the screw, you’ll feel better after hitting it with a hammer. 

Use the hammer to carve new indentation on the screw. Simply get your screwdriver and hammer it down hard on the stripped screw.

With enough force, there should be a new indentation in the shape of the screwdriver. You should easily be able to unscrew it from here. 

However, we do not recommend this as an initial attempt at removing the screw. Depending on the density of the screw, a good hammer might actually crack the screw in half. This is even worse than the original problem! It’s extremely difficult to remove a cracked screw. 

Weird and wonderful 

Well if you’ve got this far and still haven’t been able to remove the stripped screw, keep reading… 

  1. Reverse Drilling with a screw extractor drill bit. 

This process is a bit complicated and you’ll need both a power drill and a screw extractor. If you’ve never used a drill before we would not recommend using this method.

The screw extractor drill bit has two ends. One end – the ‘burnisher’ – is used to cut away some of the original driver profile. This leaves a clean surface within the head of the screw. 

The other end is the ‘extractor’ which has sharpened threads. These threads cut in the opposite direction of the ordinary screw head. The extractor bites into the screw head enabling the user to drill out the stripped screw. 

  1. Oscillation Tool

This is another specialized method to remove your stripped screws. If you’re into DIY, you probably have one of these tools in your home. These are very handy when it comes to cutting small objects, sanding and sawing. 

Most oscillating tools come with a round ‘disc saw’. The round saw blade is normally quite acute and could be used to cut an indentation in the top of the screw head. This would enable a flat head screwdriver to grip the indentation created and remove the screw. 

This requires precision and a very steady hand. There are certainly easier methods! 

  1. Welding Method

This method requires the most equipment, expense and time but is probably the most effective. Take a nut and weld it to the top of the screw. Then, use the nut as an impact mechanism to hold onto and simply unscrew. Simple! 

This is a very elaborate process and requires considerable expertise. Moreover, you cannot use it on sensitive materials like electronic devices. It’s also very unlikely you have a welding machine lying around the house. So all said and done, just use a rubber band instead?  

Final Thoughts

I personally understand how frustrating a stripped screw is. Still, hopefully I’ve demonstrated a few viable ways of removal. The rubber band and screwdriver method is the most successful and pain-free way of removing stripped screws. 

What’s even worse than a stripped screw? Rusty tools! Click here to learn how to remove rust from your hand tools. 

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