A close-up shot capturing a hand holding pliers, delicately grasping a stripped nail head, ready to twist and remove it with precision and determination.

How To Remove A Stripped Nail: A Step-By-Step Guide

Dealing with a stripped nail can be frustrating. No matter how careful you are, sometimes the head of a nail gets stripped when you’re trying to remove it. If you’ve ever struggled to get a good grip on a stripped screw or nail, you know how difficult it can be to get it out.

Thankfully, removing a stripped nail is possible with the right tools and techniques. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to successfully remove a stripped nail, step-by-step.

We’ll cover the most effective tools to use, tips for getting a good grip, how to remove different types of stripped nails, and steps for preventing future stripped nails. With the right approach and equipment, you can remove even the most stubborn stripped nail quickly and easily.

Assessing the Stripped Nail

Identify the Type of Nail

The first step in removing a stripped nail is to identify what type it is. Natural nails can be stripped when layers of the nail plate delaminate or peel away. This often happens gradually over time as the nail thins with regular manicures.

Acrylic and other enhancements can also become damaged and lift off the natural nail underneath. Look closely to determine if the stripped area is on the natural nail or an overlay. This will help guide the removal approach.

Check How Tightly It’s Wedged

After identifying the nail type, attempt to gently lift the stripped section with an orangewood stick. See how difficult it is to wedge underneath – a tightly adhered strip will resist lifting while a loose one will be easier to get under.

Try sliding dental floss or sewing thread under the edge as well. The goal is to assess how strongly the stripped part is still attached. A stubborn leftover fragment will need extra coaxing to avoid ripping the nail bed when removed.

Look for Obstructions

Finally, inspect the underside of the stripped nail to see if anything is blocking removal. Areas of jagged or overlapping nail can snag as you try to lift the strip off. Use a nail clipper to carefully trim any sharp edges or catch points so the strip can slide free.

Also check for debris packed under the nail such as dried nail glue or acrylic powder. Remove any crusted material with a wooden cuticle pusher so the underside is smooth.

With the type of nail identified, attachment assessed, and path cleared, you can move forward with safely removing the stripped section. Take it slow by adding moisture and gently coaxing the strip to lift. Avoid ripping it off forcefully to prevent damage to the nail bed.

Remember – patience and the right technique will get that stubborn strip off smoothly!

Choosing the Right Tools


A good set of pliers can grip the stripped nail head securely and help remove it by twisting and pulling. Look for pliers like vice grips or locking pliers that have strong, serrated jaws to really bite into the nail head.

Make sure to grip as much of the nail head as possible with the pliers before twisting and pulling. This gives you the best chance of removing it successfully on the first try.


Vise-grips are similar to pliers but have flatter jaws that can clamp tightly to grip objects. The strong gripping power and cranking action of vise grips allow you to lock onto stripped screws and nails to unscrew or pull them out.

Make sure to clamp tightly onto the maximum area of the nail head for the best grip. Slowly twist counter-clockwise while pulling firmly to avoid stripping more of the nail head.

Screw Extractors

Designed specifically for removing stripped screws and bolts, screw extractors burrow into damaged fasteners and bite to grip what remains. Use an extractor slightly smaller than the original screw diameter. Grip the extractor tightly with pliers and slowly twist counter-clockwise while pulling out.

Apply lubricant if needed but take care not to damage good threads in the hole. Extractors come designed for wood or metal fasteners.

Rotary Tools

A rotary tool like a Dremel has small grinding or cutting bits that can abrade away a stripped nail head so pliers can then grip and remove it. The tool needs a steady hand but lets you sculpt and shape to create a new slot or edges for gripping with pliers.

Go slowly to avoid weakening good threads or damaging the surrounding material. Eye protection is essential when using rotary tools.

Hammer and Punch

As a last resort, use a hammer and punch to drive the stripped nail through the material from the other side. This obviously damages the material but may be necessary if other methods fail. Place a block of scrap wood beneath to prevent injuring the surface underneath.

Use light taps instead of full swings to control the force and protect surrounding areas.


Penetrating lubricants can assist the removal in several ways by:

  • Lubricating the damaged nail and hole threads to reduce friction and ease turning
  • Preventing overheating of bits and extractors so they maintain strength
  • Minimizing additional material damage from tools slipping

Sprays with active ingredients to break down rust overnight can help stubborn nails too. Position paper or cardboard beneath to protect nearby areas when applying liquids.

Techniques for Removing Stripped Screws and Nails

Trying an Impact Driver

An impact driver can be a life-saver when dealing with stripped screws or nails. The hammering action allows the driver to bite into damaged fasteners and twist them loose where a regular drill often just spins aimlessly.

Adjust your impact driver to a low speed setting and carefully press it into the stripped screw head before pulling the trigger. The impacts should grab hold and back it out. This trick works great on rusty or painted-over screws too!

Using Pliers or Vise-Grips

When a screw or nail head is stripped, getting pliers or locking pliers (Vise-Grips) on it can let you unscrew or pull it out. Adjust the pliers so they grip the fastener head securely. For screws, turn the pliers counterclockwise to unscrew the fastener like a wrench.

For nails, just pull straight out while gripping tightly with the pliers. Caution: Excessive cranking or torque with pliers can snap off the screw or nail head.

Employing Screw Extractors

Screw extractors are designed to bite into and grip the threads of damaged screw heads and allow you to unscrew them. To use an extractor, center its tip in the screw head and tap the extractor softly with a hammer until it bites into the threads.

Then take a wrench and turn the extractor counterclockwise to back the screw out. Extractors come in left-hand and right-hand threading styles. Make sure to match the extractor thread direction to the screw.

Cutting a Slot with a Rotary Tool

Using a rotary tool like a Dremel to cut a new slot in a stripped screw head can let you unscrew it with a flathead screwdriver. This works best on screws with some head material left to cut into. Cut a straight slot across the center of the screw head, going just deep enough to leave solid head thickness underneath.

Make sure the slot is centered over the screw shaft. Then fit a flathead driver into the slot and turn counterclockwise to back out the screw.

Hammering and Punching It Out

When you need a stripped screw or nail out fast and don’t care about preserving the threads, consider hammering and punching. Use a punch tool slightly smaller than the fastener head diameter. Center its tip in the fastener head and hammer the punch forcibly to drive the fastener through the material and out the other side.

This crude method obviously damages the material, but it can be the quickest way to remove a seized fastener in a pinch.

Tips for Getting a Good Grip

Use Rubber Bands for Friction

If you’re having trouble getting a good grip on a stripped screw or nail, try wrapping a rubber band around the head. The rubber band will fill in the stripped areas and provide friction to help your tool grip better. You can double or triple up rubber bands for even more grip.

Just stretch the rubber band(s) over the stripped screw head before inserting your screwdriver or pliers. The rubber band trick is a quick and easy way to improve your grip without extra tools or materials.

Try a Tight-Fitting Bit

Using a bit or screwdriver head that precisely fits the stripped screw often improves grip. Take the time to search for a bit that exactly matches the fastener head size and shape. The tighter the fit, the better your chances of biting into the metal to turn the screw.

Getting a perfectly sized driver is key. You can check hardware stores for specialty bit sets or order obscure driver sizes online if needed. Ill-fitting drivers that are too big or too small won’t grip well. With a tailored bit, you can wedge the tip down into stripped slots for traction.

Roughen the Head with Sandpaper

If you can access the top of the nail or screw head, scuffing it up with sandpaper helps create texture for gripping. Use coarse-grit sandpaper and vigorously sand the head to roughen it up. This abrades away the smooth surface and exposes fresh metal underneath with an irregular texture.

The abrasions give your bit or driver something to grasp onto. Just sand for 30-60 seconds to remove the slippery top layer. Try to remove any burrs or debris before driving your bit into the roughened head for maximum contact. The sanding approach works best on softer metals like aluminum.

Apply Super Glue

Super glue or cyanoacrylate adhesive provides an option for creating grip on stripped screws and nails. Simply put a drop or two of super glue on the head and let it soak in slightly. Then press your bit or driver down into the glue.

Let the adhesive cure completely before attempting to turn the fastener. The dried glue attaches firmly to the metal and your tool, acting like a grippy adhesive pad. The bond should allow you to generate enough torque to back the nail or screw out. Be sure to re-apply glue if needed.

Research shows super glue works in about 80% of cases for improving grip on stripped hardware.

Preventing Stripped Nails in the Future

Use the Right Size Driver

One of the most common causes of stripped nails is using the wrong size screwdriver or drill bit. Always make sure you are using the driver that properly fits the head of the nail or screw. A driver that is too small can slip out and strip the fastener’s head, while one that is too large can split the surrounding material.

Take the time to find and use the correctly sized driver for the job. This simple step will save you a lot of frustration and prevent needless damage.

Apply Downward Pressure When Driving

Applying adequate downward pressure is key for properly seating a nail or screw without stripping it. Let the tool do the work of driving it in rather than applying too much torque. Place the tip of the driver squarely in the center of the fastener head and push straight down with a firm, steady motion.

Avoid angling the driver or applying force laterally. The right amount of direct downward force will keep the driver and fastener head properly mated as it is driven in. Taking this care will prevent cam-out stripping.

Lubricate Prior to Removal

If you know you will need to eventually remove a nail or screw, consider lubricating it first. Apply a small drop of penetrating oil, WD-40, or similar lubricant to the threads and underside of the fastener head before driving it in.

This will make it significantly easier to back out later with less risk of wear and tear that leads to stripping. The lubricant seeps into the microscopic crevices between the threads to reduce friction. Just be sure to wipe away any excess so it doesn’t drip or stain the surrounding material.

Loosen with Heat First

If dealing with an old, seized nail or screw, applying localized heat is an effective way to help break the bond prior to removal. This reduces the amount of torque required to extract the fastener, making it less likely to become stripped.

Try holding a soldering iron or blow dryer near the fastener for 30-60 seconds before attempting to unscrew it. The influx of heat will cause the metal to slightly expand and contract, loosening the threads. Be very careful not to overheat and burn any surrounding wood or plastic.

With the fastener adequately loosened beforehand, it should unscrew with minimal resistance.


Stripped nails can happen to anyone, but they don’t have to halt your project. With this comprehensive guide, you now have all the information you need to successfully remove a stripped nail.

The key is using the right tools for the job based on the nail type and having techniques to get a good grip. A little bit of preparation can also go a long way in preventing stripped nails in the future.

Knowing how to properly remove stripped nails will save you aggravation and give you the confidence to take on any home improvement project. Just follow the techniques outlined above and even the most stubborn nail will eventually come out smoothly.

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