How to Loosen a Stuck Screw?

You’re in the middle of repairing a fence and one of the screws just won’t budge. You’ve tried everything you could think of!

How do you loosen the stuck screw?

Nothing stops a repair faster than a stuck screw. It can happen to anyone. But before you bust out the heavy hitters and strip the head of the screw, making things worse, try some of these tips to remove stuck and stubborn screws. Begin with a simple screwdriver, and if needed, move on to the more complex.

Table of Contents

Loosening a stuck screw  

Step 1: Use a screwdriver

The simplest and most old-fashioned way of loosening a screw is using a screwdriver. It may sound like common sense, but it’s not as simple. If there is old paint around the screw, the first thing you will have to do is scrape all the paint off. Old paint holds the screw in place like super glue, especially if it is in the screwdriver slot. An old chisel or a razor knife should do the trick of removing the unwanted paint. Once the areas are nice and clean, try and loosen the screw. You may be able to grab the screw with a pair of pliers if the screw head sticks up enough and unscrew it. However, if this doesn’t work, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Use a rubber band

If you have a rubber band lying around, place the rubber band over the screw head and try to push your screwdriver into the screw slot and remove the screw. It’s a simple hack that doesn’t have much science behind it. The rubber band helps the screwdriver make better contact with the screw slot. The key to getting this right is using a rubber band that is at least as wide as the screw. Thinner rubber bands won’t work. If you can’t find a rubber band that fits the role, sewing elastic can also work. This fix works more often than not. However, if this doesn’t work either – there are more tricks where these came from.

Step 3: Use a lubricant

If the screw is tightened into a metal surface, put some penetrating oil on the screw and let it soak in for at least a few minutes before you unscrew it. If it doesn’t work the first time, let the screw soak in the oil overnight. Sometimes, soaking the screw in hydrogen peroxide does the trick as well. Once the oil has thoroughly penetrated the screw, insert the proper size screwdriver, and try to unscrew. If that doesn’t work, hit the screw with the screwdriver in place a couple of times using a hammer. By doing this, you’re breaking the screw loose from the surrounding metal. If it still doesn’t unscrew, strike the screwdriver again, but this time, press and turn while you’re at it. If at this point, it still won’t budge, hitting it harder may just break your screwdriver. Fortunately, there are still plenty more things to try.

Step 4: Heat up the stuck screw

Being a repair enthusiast, it can get quite frustrating if you cannot do something as simple as unscrewing a screw. The next step in this “unscrewing a screw” escapade involves using a propane torch to heat the screw.

The next step comprises using a torch to heat up the screw. The equipment required to do this is a propane torch. The purpose behind heating the screw is to break the rust off by allowing one side of the screw to expand with the heat applied. Once you’re done heating the screw-up, pour warm water over it so the process of cooling it down is sped up. Once cool, try and break the bar again. If you’ve done it correctly, the broken rust seal should allow the screw to turn. The trick usually works better for nuts going through-bolts but the same dynamics apply to metal screws. 

Warning: this is not a good idea around rubber bushings and flammables.

If metal expands with heat, how does it loosen a bolt?

The answer is quite simple. The bold expands, however, the nut expands more. What happens here is good for thermal expansion. The radius of the bolt increases as the bolt is heated and expands outwards. Same goes for the radius of the nut. But since the radius of the nut is slightly greater than that of the bolt’s, the nut expands a little more. As the bolt cools, it expands and shrinks in all directions. Making it slightly smaller. Once it’s cooled, it should be smaller and easier to extract.

Step 5: Still stuck? Try valve grinding compound

All you need is a dollop of valve grinding compound to pull this off. Before you do anything, spray the screw with rust penetrant. Squirt the valve grinding compound into the head the screw and jam the screwdriver into it. The trick is to jam it firmly enough and then turn it to coax out the stubborn screw. The penetrant can take at least 15 minutes to work, so you need to be very patient. Next, respray it and tap the screw with a hammer several times. Try the screwdriver again. Apply the valve grinding compound. The fine grit of the compound will help the screwdriver bite into the head of the screw. If you can’t easily find valve grinding compound, you can also just use superglue in place of it. This trick definitely ought to work!


How large should the hammer be?

A large hammer of at least 300 g should be good enough to loosen screws that are seized up with rust or too tight.

Can I use an impact driver to loosen the screw?

If you’re in a situation where the screw just won’t budge, no matter what you do, an impact driver will be a better way out. Impact drivers transform the blow of a hammer into a powerful rotational force. You don’t even have to worry about the head of the screw getting damaged. You just need to make sure that you’re using an impact driver that fits snugly into the screw to loosen it. The impact driver will knock the screw loose while you’re trying to turn it free.

How long does it take for penetrating oil to work?

If you’re trying to turn a screw that’s overtightened, you will need to leave the penetrating oil for at least 15 minutes to overnight for it to work. The oil will help loosen up any visible rust in the thread and help the screwdriver blade fit optimally.

Can I just use a water pump pliers to loosen the screw?

If you have one available and can get it to grip the head of the screw firmly, then yes. Although, you will need slip-joint pliers to turn the screw slowly. You will need to use your strength here, so you need a tool that does not slip.

Here is another good video on How To Remove Rusted or Damaged Fasteners:

Leave a Comment