Removing Painted-On Door Screws

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In most older houses there's a good chance the door screws have been painted over, which makes it difficult to remove the door screws. On top of that, the screws are probably flat-head screws, and removing painted flat-head screws without stripping the head can definitely be challenging. Here are a few tips and tricks for removing painted-on door screws without using paint remover.

Tools for removing painted door screws

The tools you'll need to remove the door screws will vary. You'll need two screwdrivers - one about 1.5" long, and one about 6" long. The screwdriver tips need to be about the same width as the door screws you're trying to remove - usually about 5/16" wide which is normally a #2 screwdriver. You'll also need a hammer, and possibly a pair of vise-grips and a lubricant such as WD-40 or PB B'laster. The image below shows the tools we use to remove painted door screws.


Tools for removing painted door screws

Best screwdrivers

The screwdrivers need to be in good shape - forget the ones you've been using to pry open the paint cans or the ones you've used to scrape the dandelions out of the cracks in the driveway. They need to have a decent tip in order to seat properly into the door screw slot.

The screwdrivers also need to be one piece - the ones with the switchable bits might work, but not as well as a one-piece screwdriver. The handle needs to be hard plastic or composite - the 'comfort-grip' handles will absorb the hammer's blow. The small (1.5") screwdriver removes 60-70% of the painted screws but it's not as widely available as the longer screwdrivers. If you're totally confused about the screwdrivers at this point, this screwdriver set (ad) on Amazon shows the type of screwdrivers you'll need. Amazon also sells the stubby screwdriver by itself.

Steps for removing painted door screws

Step 1. Using the small stubby screwdriver, align the tip with the drive slot in the door screw and give it a good whack with the hammer (it's a good idea to wear eye protection). Putting all your weight on the screwdriver, try turning the screw. If that doesn't work go to Step 2. The image below shows Step 1.


Removing painted door screws Step 1

Step 2. Using the medium screwdriver, repeat Step 1. If the screw still doesn't turn, clamp the vise-grips as close to the bottom of the screwdriver's shaft as possible, and use the vise-grips to turn the screwdriver. If you have two people, that's even better. One can put all their weight on the screwdriver handle while the second person turns the vise-grips. The image below shows Step 2 - the screwdriver by itself on the left of the image, and with the vise-grips attached on the right. If that doesn't work go to Step 3.


Removing painted door screws Step 2

Step 3. At this point the screws have almost always cracked, even if just a millimeter. If so, give the screws a shot of lubricant. Have some paper towels handy so it doesn't drip onto the floor. The WD-40 will work and most homes have a can floating around, but the PB B'laster works even better although it's slightly more expensive. The B'laster is probably not worth buying if you only have to remove a few door screws, but if you work with nuts and bolts on a regular basis it's good to have on hand. You can find it at most hardware stores, as well as on Amazon (ad).

Step 4. After letting the lubricant penetrate for 15 - 20 minutes, try turning the screws. If the slots are starting to strip you may need to use a pair of pliers to grab the screws. The image below shows a pair of needlenose vise-grips clamped to the door screw.


Removing painted door screws Step 4

Luckily we almost never have to go to Step 5, but if the screws slots are stripped from someone else's prior removal attempt, the final two solutions are drilling and tapping the screw, or using a Dremel to cut a deeper slot into the screw head. We'll cover that in a future article.