How to hang a picture without losing your deposit

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Photo by Kevin Dooley. Remixed under Creative Commons license.
Let’s Learn a Thing today! I hear a lot of comments on Offbeat Home about the difficulty people have with hanging things, so I’mma put on my Housewife hat and lay it all out for you:

How to hang art on notoriously-difficult plaster walls


How to break the rules of your lease the smart way. (If you do it right, no one will know!)

HELP I live in a plaster cage of sadness!

You can hang smaller frames with just a nail — I, personally, have had luck hanging paintings on 2×2 panels of wood — about six pounds — on two nails. If you want to be on the safe side use them with picture hangers — this helps to spread the weight of the picture out across the plaster and reduces the chance you’ll wake up one morning and find a sad crumple of priceless artwork and plaster on the floor. I think it’s a good idea to test nails in your plaster in an inconspicuous spot like the inside of a closet. In shoddier buildings, I’ve had whole chunks of plaster come out when I tap a nail in — but the plaster walls in my house take small nails like a champ.

Plaster can chip with the weight of a heavier frame or mirror, especially if it gets nudged and the nail shifts. To hang something large, you’ll need:

Pre-drill a hole into the stud at a downward angle. Drive in the screw, and hang the picture!

By doing it this way, you’ll find it easy to repair the walls when you move out. For a large bore left behind by a screw, use spackling paste. You need to patch nail holes left in plaster OR drywall? WHA-BAM:

Comments on How to hang a picture without losing your deposit

  1. Um, any similar advice on how to patch a hole in a wall on the cheap? Say, one that is about 6″ x 6″? Not that I have a hole to cover….but it could be useful….for someone else…

    • Home stores will sell patches that you use to cover up the hole. The process is pretty basic–patch, spackle, sand. BUT (as a landlord) I beg you to not tackle projects like this if you don’t have a bit of experience with them. If not done well, the repair job will still be quite visible–so your landlord will notice anyway. And you could do more damage than good, making it all the harder for the landlord to fix it up nicely for the next person (especially on plaster).

      I know most renters send their monthly checks to nameless big rental companies who may or may not do a good job at landlording. But for the sake of us small-time landlords who put in a lot of time, money, and work to keep our rental properties pleasant and functioning, please don’t do things we ask you not to do. We have rules because we need them to ensure that we can keep our rents reasonable, continue to pay the mortgage(so you don’t lose your place to foreclosure) and keep your home nice. Not at all aiming that at you or anyone else here, just at the general “screw my landlord” mentality (that maybe some landlords deserve, but not all).

      Thanks for listening!

      • Can you give tutorials to my landlord? You seem great; she’s a total jerk. To the point where I actually would rather deal with the real estate company she *sometimes* uses. She makes appointments for inspections and doesn’t turn up (keeping me waiting ALL DAY); she turns up without appointments; she has been noticed (by my neighbour) snooping around while we were away for the weekend; she asked us to clean up the front yard of stuff that was there when we moved in (and recieved a flat NO); we have had earthquake inspectors (we live in Canterbury NZ) turn up without her passing on the appointment time (I felt sorry for them so let them in anyway) … etc etc etc. She drives me mental. I have never in my life had this issue with landlords before.

        /end rant

      • See, we need nice landlords like you that don’t station loud sex having, loud swearing, refuse to fix things maintenance men above our apartment.

        Thanks for the advice, I will ask our landlord to have it fixed, but I doubt they will. They didn’t fix a leak over an outlet, nor do all of our heaters work still.

  2. If you have very small holes and white walls, you can also use plain white toothpaste to fill the holes. It will dry just like the plaster.

    …don’t use blue toothpaste, though. I knew someone who did that. Not the same effect at all…

    • Before I rolled up my sleeves and got all up in my apartment’s business, I tried the toothpaste thing, too. Can I just say, as someone that used to be intimidated by these foreign hardware products and processes – DON’T DO THAT. The toothpaste is NOT the same, it WILL react different when painted, and it is MORE work. Spackle costs a couple dollars, and like you saw in the video, you can literally smear it on with your finger. It holds paint. It’s simple, and responsible. Don’t take this not-shortcut, trust me – doing it the right way is cheap, easy, and you’ll feel way better about it later.

  3. The toothpaste never worked so well for me. It was always too transparent to hide the hole and too white in comparison to the not-quite-white walls that are popular in apartments. For a 6″ by 6″ hole, buy a repair kit from Lowes (or somewhere similar) that has a small piece of what looks like a window screen. This will span the hole and give the plaster a solid base to hold to. Be sure to use plenty of spackle. Let dry completely (this may take a couple days for a large hole) and then sand the hell out of it until the wall and spot are completely flat. Use a sanding block like this with some sandpaper to make the spot nice and flat.

  4. Note to cheapskates – actual spackling paste from a hardware store is NOT expensive! It’s under ten bucks, max. Unless you punched a hole in the wall with your fist, you won’t need more than that will buy. Even the fancy little ‘repair kits’ are $10-$12. Remember, this is a minimal investment to get your rental deposit back, so pony up & repair it right.

  5. First, a small brag. My landlady is a NUN. A BUDDHIST NUN. And I’m not using a metaphor for “she’s really great”, I mean she is REALLY a Buddhist nun who rents out the apartment she owns as her small “I care not for material things” income while she lives in a monastery a few hours away.

    So, of course, she’s awesome.

    Now, for this. If you don’t have plaster walls but have concrete ones, don’t even bother with a drill and nails for anything that 3M tape won’t hold up (most of our stuff has gone up with 3M tape but not everything will).

    See if “Dr. Hook” is sold where you are – they’re super hard thin masonry nails already positioned in a plastic hanger (plastic hangers come in different shapes, from little nubs to large hooks) and they ACTUALLY GO INTO CONCRETE (or is it cement? Whichever one is used in walls) WITH JUST A HAMMER. And they hold really well. Occasionally one will break off as you are hammering and fly off, so be careful, but otherwise they’ve been a lifesaver. Plus they leave two or four very thin holes rather than one large one, so when it’s time to take them out, you pry them out and the resulting holes are easier to repair.

  6. I have JUST MOVED OUT OF MY RENTAL and have done this.

    Mind you, our landlords were pretty cool about us making holes, so long as we filled them in. So on the second last day of us living in the home, we bought some plaster filler, put in the holes (and loads of holes we didn’t make; we’re great tenants!), found some matching paint (via stacks of samples) and painted them holes up. You cannot tell that there were holes ever there! The house is in better nick than when we moved in.

    I just wanna put a BOO-YA! out to the internets

  7. If you’re just hanging a canvas (no frame), you can use one or two thumbtacks. The holes are barely noticeable, and wood-frame canvases are extremely lightweight.

  8. I’d say to anyone… just ask your landlord or rental company what their expectations are. Usually, they’re pretty flexible if you ask FIRST. Explain what you’d like to hang and where, and you’ll usually get a go-ahead.
    As a safeguard, if you get the OK to hang something in a place where you’re really not supposed to, ask if they mind to note it on their copy of your lease, just in case someone else does the move-out inspection. Stand around and watch them pen it in. Then go home and make a note of it with the date and the person’s name.
    And seriously, can’t be repeated enough: 3M hooks.

  9. As a renter with lots of heavy art work and stuff discovering Monkey Hooks changed my life. They only work for dry walls (sorry, plaster folk), but they hold 50 to 60 pounds each and only leave a little, easily repairable hole. I have my pot rack hanging off two of the heavy duty ones and a bathroom cabinet with doors hanging off two more. Though for everything else I use thumb tacs.

  10. Be sure to also check the tenants’ rights in your area. There are places in the US where the landlord is required to allow you to hang pictures, etc. on the walls.

    • Whoa! I had never heard that before!

      And, as in all conversations about landlords/fixing up one’s place, I am SUPER SUPER grateful that our landladies are so rad. We just have to ask if we want to make holes (and there’s a flat per-hole charge if we don’t). Since we have picture-hanger rails, I haven’t yet found a need (in a year and a half), but I’m glad to know they’re open to it if we talk to them.

  11. I have always used regular push pins to hold up… well, everything. Some require two or even three, but they leave such tiny holes that paint can cover them up. My kitchen wall was covered in retro tin signs and my landlord didn’t have any complaints when we moved out. I lived in California on a fault line too.

  12. Related sticky situations: does anyone know of a way to hang things on plaster and lath walls? My apartment is in a house that is *really* old. The stud finder method doesn’t work because even if you can find a piece of lath to try and nail into, the small strips of wood now bend because they’re not so well attached to the plaster any longer. I’m beginning to feel like it’s a lost cause but I’ll see what you guys have to say before I throw in the towel.

    • With a plaster and lath wall, you HAVE to find the studs. You may be able to see marks where a builder marked the studs — possibly at the bottom of the wall. Otherwise, I realllllly wouldn’t hang a thing unless you know you’ve got the stud. I’ve heard some high end stud finders sometimes do the job with lath, and some people have luck with rare earth magnets and looking for the nails in the studs.

      • You can also just drill a toggle bolt into the wall if you can’t allow for/locate studs on plaster lath. Messier, definitely, and you actually have a legitimate hole in the wall now, but you can always take the bolt out and patch the hole with a bit of rolled up paper and drywall mud and paint. Plus, toggles are rated to absurd weights so if I’m hanging something heavy I know it’s not going anywhere without taking the wall with it. It’s how all my sketchy looking shelves are affixed to various walls around my place, but then, I’m on slum lord number five so I’m not too concerned about how I leave the joint and don’t expect my deposit back.

  13. I am a huge fan of the 3M hanging strips. Just pull the tab and it comes clean off. I’ve used them on brick(college), concrete (also college), and drywall(home and college!) and have never had a problem with them leaving residue or holes. That’s if you’re willing to pay $3-8 for a pack.

    • I’ve also had great luck with command strips, EXCEPT on cheap rental walls. When I peeled those off, it took some chips of the paint and drywall with it. This was on cheap cheap paint, maintenance grade paint that basically works as a primer. You can tell if you have it, it is extremely matte and dirt will cling to it. I also had poor lick on these walls with poster putty; the moisture sucked into the walls, leaving large discolored parts and the putty dried up so much you had to chip it off when we moved.

  14. I OWN a house with lath and plaster walls (1889 construction FTW). If the object you want to hang is not too heavy or has some brackets to spread the weight plastic Drywall anchors (the ones that look like plastic screws) seem to work really well. I’m currently using them to suspend a shelf holding a potted plant over my TV, so I must have mad confidence in them. That noted, I’ve also had those things rip out of the wall and leave a giant hole to patch for heavier things like closet rods and curtains. I’ve solved those two dilemmas by hanging the curtains from the window frame and just giving up on the closet rod entirely and outfitting the closet with hooks (like it’s still 1889)

  15. I think you have a typo in the first step:”This is also where you’d click to read on the cmmoents.” Perhaps it should be “This is also where you’d click to read the cmmoents.” Also, are the cmmoents actually displayed, or are they embargoed/screened somehow? I would include a comment about that policy here. Thanks!

  16. You say in your instructions to use a bit slightly larger than your nail – don’t you mean slightly SMALLER? Larger = wiggle room = nail sagging down = broken picture and cracked plaster…

  17. Everything in my apartment is hung with 3M hooks: my framed posters, my curtain tie hooks, my full length mirror. They come in different sizes and strengths. Some are just little velcro tabs. Some can hold the weight of a pair of roller blades. They are AMAZING in the bathroom. I hang my shower caddy (you know, the one that always slips down when you hang it from the actual shower head) on the other side of the bathtub with a 3M hook. They were hard to find when I first moved into my place 6 years ago, but now they are available at major retailers.

  18. I have the best land lords! I never see them or hear from them, and when I need something fixed they come that day! When we moved in we asked if we could build shelves in one of the closets, and they said, we don’t care what you do! Thank God! Since then I’ve hung tons of stuff! Tiny nails of course 😉

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