Whether you’re hanging pictures or a new TV, a bit of wall decor does wonders to make a room feel cohesive and complete. But before you pick up that hammer to put the finishing touches on your space, stop to consider what it is you’re hanging.
To securely hang anything heavy — substantial pictures, wall-mounted shelves, a mirror or tech equipment, for example — you’ll need to locate a wall stud, a vertical piece of framing within your walls, says Rachel Rothman, chief technologist and executive technical director of the Good Housekeeping Institute. Otherwise, whatever it is you’re hanging won’t have something sturdy to latch on to, leaving your piece susceptible to falling, which can damage your wall in the process.
Here’s how to find a stud in the wall quickly and easily, with or without a stud finder:
1. Locate the nearest light switch or power outlet
The most reliable method, find a light switch or a power outlet, says Rothman. Electrical boxes are typically attached to studs, so start by locating the one nearest to the area where you want to place something that needs a little extra reinforcement. Then, measure 16 inches from there, since wall studs are typically spaced 16 inches apart by code, she explains. (Some are placed 24 inches apart, so you may have to measure twice.)
2. Look for dimples in the wall
Though less reliable than the above method, dimples are a telltale sign of where drywall is fastened to the edge of a stud, particularly in plaster walls, says Rothman. You can sometimes spot these with the naked eye, but a flashlight can be helpful for illuminating any slight dimples in the wall. To try this trick, hold the flashlights upright, parallel to the wall.
3. Use windows as a guide
Windows usually have a stud on each side, but finding the edges can be tricky, rendering this method less reliable than the ones noted above, says Rothman. Still, when all else fails, locating the edge of your window and measuring 16 inches from there can help provide some general guidance.
4. Tap the wall
To verify whether or not you’ve found a stud without doing any damage to your wall, knock or tap the area gently with your hammer, says Rothman. If you hear a hollow or empty sound, tap a little to the left or to the right. When the sound is muffled, you’ll know you’ve hit a stud.
5. Drill a hole
No matter which method you use, you should always confirm your findings before proceeding to hang your piece. To do so, drill a hole in the wall. You’ll know you’ve hit wood (a stud!) if you feel resistance.
6. Fish around with a wire hanger
If you can’t find the stud even after drilling, there’s one more technique you can try: Grab a wire hanger and untwist it, fashioning it into a right angle. Use your new tool to fish around behind the wall, says Rothman. When the wire makes contact with a firm object, that indicates you’ve found a stud.
7. Try a stud finder app
Today, there’s an app for just about everything — and that includes finding studs. Most stud finder apps are magnetic, which means they rely on your smartphone’s built-in magnetometer to pinpoint metal objects inside the wall. While this can help you find a wall stud, it can also turn up a false positive, since the app may detect things other than studs, like nails or electrical wires, says Rothman.
8. Or just use a stud finder!
The easiest way to find a stud: With a stud finder, a handheld stud finder gadget that does the hunting for you. To use a stud finder, decide where you want to hang your item, then place the stud finder in the approximate spot the mounting hardware would sit. Hold the tool flat against the wall, slowly sliding it horizontally to the left or right. Depending on your model, it will flash or beep to alert you to a stud.
Brigitt is a writer, editor and craft stylist with nearly 15 years of experience. She specializes in lifestyle topics, including home, health, parenting, beauty, style, food, entertaining, travel and weddings. She has written for Glamour, People, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Real Simple, Martha Stewart, Apartment Therapy, The Spruce, and more.