Asked on Feb 04, 2015

Plaster vs drywall

Ddiane D
by Ddiane D
Is there anyway to identify if my walls are plaster or drywall. I have no contractor skill, simple housewife. I need the easy way.
  15 answers
  • Christina Christina on Feb 04, 2015
    Plaster is harder and it is hard to put a nail in without the plaster crumbing and enlarging the hole. Drywall is what is put on studs and often has a "skim coat" of plaster on top in better quality homes. During WWII drywall started to become popular. By 1945, it was widely in use. So if you house was built after 1945, it is most likely drywall. Also, if plaster is not in the best shape it will start to bump into the room and crack. If you can press the wall with a little pressure and the wall gives then is is plaster. If you describe your walls I might be able to tell you for sure. By the way, there is no such thing as a "simple " housewife. You are a Home or Domestic Engineer, a very valuable career!
  • Dedi Davis Dedi Davis on Feb 04, 2015
    I want to hang pictures and put up curtains, but I am afraid about the plaster crumbling
    • LeeAnn Gerleman LeeAnn Gerleman on Feb 04, 2015
      @Dedi Davis I have plaster walls and don't have a problem hanging things, I use screws and a battery screw gun. No problems with screws.
  • Drywall or sheetrock walls can be determined by removal of the face plates on switches or outlets. The drywall will be indicated by a paper coating both on the front and the back side of the plaster material in the middle. If you have plaster, you will find that no paper will be present, and you may find wire lath or material that is hard like cement. A small awl or screw driver poking it will tell you what you got. Soft, drywall, hard like cement, plaster. if you have plaster walls and want to install photos, you have a few options. They make special photo hanging hooks just for plaster. They do not have large nails as most hooks come with, but several tiny pins that puncture the surface and hold the photos up. These are great as long as your plaster is in good shape and the pictures not to large. The 2nd method is to use a tiny drill and install a plastic molly into the wall with a screw. While this may seem a bit drastic, it is suggested if the photos are larger or heavy and could not be held using the pin system. Using standard nail type hangers risk damaging the wall, while you may be successful in driving the nail in without to much if any on the surface of the wall, the real damage is occurring behind them. Small boards called lath were nailed across all the wall studs. These boards are thin and very weak, combined however they provide the necessary support for the brown coat, which is the base of the wall surface and the top or finish coat which is that thin white layer of plaster that tends to chip and fall off when the wall is disturbed. The nailing action causes the small lath boards to flex and bend, The gaps, or keys between each board is what the plaster base coat relies on to hold the material securely in place. The result is these keys crack off. If this happens in a larger area over time the surface of the wall begins to fail causing the plaster to crack and fall off. Another method is to use the new 3-M removable glue strips for hanging photos, They claim that they will last until you decide to remove them. All without damaging the surface of the wall itself. Me personally, if the photo frame was valuable, or if falling risked breaking of glass, I would not use them, but many have with great success. Ideally and lastly is to do what many older plaster homes have done in the past, install a picture framing molding along the ceiling and hang tiny wires down to hold the photos. you may already have this if the home is old enough. Its the wall/ceiling molding that has a small gap between the top of the molding to the bottom of the ceiling. A special hook goes in that space between the molding and the ceiling and a very thin and strong wire drops down and connects to the picture. These are very popular in art museum's where they tend to move their photos around a lot and do not want to deal with nail holes all the time. In regards to the curtains, you will need to use long screws first. Drill a small pilot hole where the screw goes. If you hit wood, all that is needed is the screws to hold the hardware in place. If you hit air, with no wood behind, you will need a molly screw/bolt to support the drapes. These are secured using a drill to make the correct size opening for the molly. Simply push the molly in and tighten the screw. There are several types and sizes, just ask the sales people to help you decide on how large the molly should be based upon the weight of the curtains your installing.
    • See 3 previous
    • 9530106 9530106 on Feb 05, 2015
      I have used them on sheetrock painted with semigloss paint, also. Did you clean the area first with rubbing alcohol as they recommend? To be honest, I don't always do that. The ones that are outside on glass aren't even the ones made for that application. One has been up three years, and it is on a door, so it gets a lot of action!
  • Dedi Davis Dedi Davis on Feb 04, 2015
    Thanks! @Woodbridge Environmental wow!! that was a lot to digest! the fourth paragragh has me googling terms i don't know. Thanks for the information, it is very detail and If I follow it to a "T" I will have a home displaying beautiful pictures and window treatments.
  • Below is a cross hatch photo of a true plaster wall. While it may show horse hair which was one of the binding materials used back in the day, later on they began to use asbestos and other fiber type materials to strengthen the first coat on the wall so it would not become brittle and crack later on.
    comment photo
  • Ashley Freeman Ashley Freeman on Feb 05, 2015
    drill a hole in an inconspicuous area. Does it crack and crumble? If so it is plaster. Does it look like chalky powder that comes out? Then it is drywall,
  • Bonnie kerr Bonnie kerr on Feb 05, 2015
    Simply pound a nail in it. From my experience if it's plaster, it kind of crumbles or the hole is a lot bigger than the nail; if it's drywall the nail will go in clean. The other clue, drywall is smooth, plaster normally is not.
    • See 2 previous
    • Lizbet Thomas Lizbet Thomas on Apr 18, 2018

      @Woodbridge Environmental Why can’t I screw into my plaster? I guess maybe some guy did when he put security stuff in, but I didn’t watch- when I tried and my mother then father we were shocked that it just made a bigger wider hole, wouldn’t go in... Dad said I’d have to drill a hole, then put in an anchor- then screw? If I got the hole wrong... can I take it all out and patch it with mud like you do drywall? Also, it looks like maybe my bedroom might have picture hanging molding..... how can you know between that or if you just need to caulk the gap? If it was in the rest of the house they make have caulked it or purposely scooted the molding up since this house has been redone a lot and I asked the last two owners and they had no idea, had never heard of picture hanging molding. Can you hang big stuff like large tvs from it as well?

  • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Feb 07, 2015
    Some good tips to find out if plaster or drywall. Like Bonnie Kerr's and Ashley Kerr's suggestion to try a nail in an inconspicuous spot. . I have both plaster and drywall. My plaster is in pretty good shape so sometimes it kind of chips instead of crumbling. A friend suggested placing a bit of tape on the spot you want to put the nail if plaster, and someone else suggested heating the end of the nail before pounding it in. The suggestion about predrilling a hole is good. Me? Plaster or drywall - I just pound away! Next time I paint will fix up any blems under the pics!
  • Dedi Davis Dedi Davis on Feb 13, 2015
    thank you all I have plaster all over the house except for the laundry room they made, so on side of the wall is drywall. whew! the outlet trick is the best.
  • Mary Mary on Sep 29, 2017

    A contractor says they put in plaster (more moola for them) and two other general contractors, a carpenter, and a licensed certified home inspector ALL say the contractor put up drywall. The contractor is still fighting me over this because it represents a large amount of money for the difference. How can I prove that this is drywall like four other professionals are telling me its drywall? What are the ways to tell the difference once the walls and outlets are up?

    comment photo
    • See 1 previous
    • Annie Annie on Jun 16, 2021

      That is so obviously drywall. All you need to do is keep that photo there's your proof right there.

  • We've always lived in old houses and often it can be hard to tell. Sometimes the texture of the walls makes it obvious. If not, the lightswitch plate trick is the way we've always determined what the walls are, since you can see by the cut. One tip, you need to check every room, since sometimes houses do have a combination of plaster and sheetrocked walls.

  • Annie Annie on Jun 16, 2021

    Remove a few light plate switches and outlet boxes. You can tell if your have drywall or plaster by looking at the wall at those spots.

  • Remove an outlet cover or lightswitch plate. If they are plaster, you will see lathe (wood).

  • Chloe Crabtree Chloe Crabtree on Jun 16, 2021

    Take off a switchplate and you will be able to see if it is plaster or drywall.

  • Removing a switch plate or outlet cover should give you an answer real quick. If your home was built after a certain time or remodeled in more recent history, it could more likely be drywall.