How to Remove a Rusted Screw With a Stripped Head

What do you do when you have a damaged screw head and are pressed for time to take it out? Is there a quick and easy method to remove it? This depends on the condition of the screw you’re dealing with.

To remove a rusted screw with a stripped head, deal with the rust first and then the stripped condition. Break the bond made by the rust by applying a rust remover. Once the rust flakes off, extract the screw with the right tool. For a challenging screw, you may need to change its structure.

We sourced extraction techniques from various experts. Read on for the specifics of their recommendations.

What Is a Stripped Screw?

We can define it as one whose head is so damaged that it becomes a challenge to take out with a screwdriver.

What causes a stripped screw:

  • The drive slips out of the recess, damaging the head and stopping the screw from turning properly.
  • One over-fastens or over-tightens a screw into a hole, preventing the screw from burrowing down further, even though the threads are still capable of spinning. As the threads sink into the surrounding surface, they won’t have anything to hold on to, freeing the screw to turn independently.

No single technique works on all screws, so match the method to your particular circumstance. For safety, wear protective eyewear and thick gloves before undertaking any extraction. We’ve compiled some tricks of the trade from experts. Choose a method that works for your situation.

Use a Succession of Tools From Mildest to Harshest

Materials needed:

  • Screwdriver
  • Self-locking pliers
  • Cordless drill
  • Screw extractor
  • Tapered wood plug

Stripped screw removal in a nutshell—from gentle to aggressive:

Do these steps after removing the rust from the screw with a spray-on rust remover available from any hardware store or online retailer:

  1. First, try removing the screw with a manual flat-head screwdriver. If this fails, lightly tap the screwdriver down into the screw head with a hammer to make a dent. Lodge the driver tip firmly into the screw head. This gives you extra grip to twist the fastener. Slowly reverse the screw out. If this still doesn’t work, go to step two.
  1. If the stripped screw has a Phillips head, use a flat-head screwdriver narrow enough to fully fit into the Phillips-head hole. This requires lots of elbow grease. You may find it easier to use a rubber band with this strategy (see below).
  1. For a screw head that sticks out, use self-locking pliers to grip it and twist it off. If you can grab a firm hold of the screw with locking pliers (aka Vise-Grips), you should be able to turn them until the screw loosens.
  1. For tougher screws, attach a left-handed bit to a cordless drill, switch it to reverse mode, then drill a small hole into the screw head. Attach a screw extractor to the drill. While still in reverse mode, back the screw out.
  1. For a snapped-off screw head, use a hollow-boring screw extractor to drill out the entire screw. Use a tapered wood plug to fill the hole left behind.

Use a Rubber Band

You can use any wide rubber band for extra grip. The elastic fills in the areas where the screw has been stripped, providing friction and allowing easy removal.

Spray a little WD-40 on the screw and its surrounding area. Let it seep into any seam behind the screw head. Place the elastic over the driver tip. Pull tightly; ensure there’s no slack, then insert the driver bit into the screw head. Turn the screw loose.

If you don’t have a rubber band, we suggest using the abrasive side of a dishwashing sponge or a bit of steel wool.

Use an Electric Drill

We recommend drilling a small hole into a stripped screw for the screwdriver to get a better grip on the stuck fastener and dig deeper into it. Use a drill bit designed for metal, not wood. Don’t drill too far down or the head could break off.

If the screw hasn’t sunk into its surrounding surface, use an electric drill, like the Decker DR260C, to grab it and pull it out. Open the chuck of the drill, place it over the screw head, and then hand tighten it to clamp the chuck’s teeth over the screw. Switch the drill to reverse mode. Back the screw out of its surface.

This works on any type of stuck bolt or threaded screw, as long as a portion of the chuck head remains for grabbing on to.

Use a Screw Extractor

Screw extractors, like the Nasum Magnetic Extractors, are special tapered drill bits with square heads. They are counter-threaded to how screws are threaded. Screw extractors have a left-hand twist, while screws have a right-hand twist.

An extractor bit has two ends:

  • The burnisher—looks like a short twisted drill bit. It cuts away some of the stripped original driver structure, paving the way for a clean surface.
  • The extractor—whose sharpened threads are cut in the opposite direction of regular screw threads. The extractor end bites into the screw head and turns it when the drill is in reverse mode.

EssentialTools sells a 4-piece damaged screw extractor set for $13. Choose the right size extractor to fit into your stripped screw head, attach it to the chuck of your drill, and tighten the chuck to hold the extractor firmly.

Set the drill into reverse. As the extractor is reverse-threaded, the extractor bit will drill into the stripped screw and bite into its head. Continue drilling in reverse so the extractor turns the screw in reverse and back it out of its surface.

Use a Dremel Tool With a Cutting Disc

Of all the oscillating or rotary tools, Dremel’s cordless 8220 is the favorite among DIYers, hobbyists, woodworkers, and professionals. Use it with a metal-cutting wheel to cut a new, deeper notch into the screw head. Next, press a flat-head screwdriver firmly into the indentation and twist it slowly to edge the screw out.

Use Wood Plug Cutters to Reach Buried Screws

If the stripped screw is deep inside its surrounding surface, use wood plug cutters to remove material around the screw. This allows you to reach it easier.

Place the plug cutter in an electric drill and position above the screw. Plunge the plug cutter into the wood and remove material surrounding the stripped screw until the plug cutter has reached the screw head.

Remove the plug cutter and any generated waste. This should give you better access to the screw head for easy removal.

Drill a Hole Into the Screw and Use Easy Out to Extract It

We suggest drilling a hole into a broken screw and then screwing in Easy Out to remove it. Here is the process:

Of the two types of Easy Out, you should use the one in the demonstration for dealing with broken bolts. The other kind is a screw extractor (discussed previously), which works best for stripped screw heads.

Weld or Glue a Nut to the Head, Then Extract Both

If you’re nifty with welding equipment, spot-weld a nut to the top of the stripped screw head, wait for the attachment to take hold, then remove both screw and nut with a socket wrench.

The same principle applies if you use Epoxy glue or any strong adhesive.

Expand the Screw With Heat, Then Extract It With a Screwdriver

This method deals with both the rust and the stripped condition of the screw.

Materials needed:

  • A screwdriver (Phillips or flat-head)
  • A butane lighter
  • Rags
  • A grease-cutting household cleaner (water-based)
  • A rust penetrant (aerosol)
  • A fire extinguisher

If the above methods don’t work, we suggest heating the screw head to break up the rust (corroded screw) and expand it (stripped screw). This process should be carried out with extreme caution, as the rust penetrant is flammable.

For using heat on screws, apply these steps:

  1. Spray rust penetrant liberally on the screw head to remove the rust. Leave it for 15 minutes to let the lubricant do its work.
  1. Use a kitchen/oven degreaser or a water-based household cleaner and rags to wipe off the rust and all traces of the rust catalyst. Have a fire extinguisher handy in case of an emergency.
  1. Use a butane lighter to heat the screw head. Stop when smoke or steam emanates from the head.
  1. Spritz the screw head with water or use a wet rag to cool it. The expanding and subsequent contracting will zap the rust bond. Do this heat-cool down process several times.
  1. Use a Phillips, star, or flat-blade screwdriver to remove the cooled screw. If the screw starts to yield, but stops halfway, spray some rust penetrant on the head. Twist the screw up and down several times to allow the catalyst to seep into the threads. Keep doing this until the screw slides out.

Conclusion

Now that you know several techniques for dealing with rusted and stripped screws, we hope the next time you encounter a similar problem, you will be better equipped with the knowledge and materials for handling it. Eventually, you will be adept at determining which solution or tool to use for a specific scenario.

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