How to remove a stripped screw with pliers

Some screw heads have very shallow or soft grooves that get rounded off easily by a screwdriver tip or bit resulting in a stripped screw head. Stripped screws are hard to remove using conventional methods and can frustrate you. That’s why you have to think outside the box whenever you encounter them.  

An alternative way to remove a stripped screw when a screwdriver or driver bit fails is by pair of pliers. Yes, I know pliers are not designed for removing screws but they can double up as a screw removal tool in difficult times. Pliers are handy emergency tools for many tasks. You can even use them to grip the shaft of your trusty screwdriver when its handle breaks.

Before I delve much into how to unscrew a stripped screw using pliers, let me first explain to you how a screw becomes stripped.

How does a screw become stripped?

Basically, a screw gets stripped when the grooves on the drive get rounded off. As a result, the screw remover tool (either a screwdriver, driver bit, or allen wrench) loses the grip on the drive grooves and starts to spin off. This makes it very hard to turn the screw to tighten or unscrew it.

Sometimes a screw may not be visibly damaged but you can tell it is stripped if your screwdriver or drill bit tip starts to wobble inside the screw head grooves.

What causes a screw to strip?

stripped rusty screw head
rusty stripped screw head

There are many reasons why a screw head may become stripped. From quality issues concerning the screw to how you handle it. These are the 10 most common reasons:

  1. Using the wrong type of screwdriver
  2. Poor quality screwdriver or driver bit.
  3. Overtightening a screw.
  4. Rusty screw head.
  5. Shallow grooves on the screwdriver.
  6. Using a screwdriver or bit driver with a worn-out tip.
  7. Using the wrong size of a screwdriver or driver bit.
  8. Applying too much force on a screw.
  9. Continuing to use a screw that has already shown signs of stripping.
  10. Inserting a screwdriver or screw bit at an angle

Those are some of the things that cause a screw to strip, Now let’s look at how to unscrew a stuck strip screw with pliers when your screwdriver, driver bit, or Allen key cannot get it out.

How to remove a stripped screw with pliers

Pliers are some of the unsung heroes when it comes to removing stubborn screws that have stripped heads. They provide great gripping strength, enabling you to turn a screw without slipping. Unlike the official screw drivers which turn a screw from the top of the head, pliers extract screws by gripping the side of the head.


Step 1: Inspect the screw

Check the screw to see if there is anywhere to grab with a pair of pliers. The head must be exposed so that your pliers can have somewhere to grip. your pair of pliers. If there is nowhere to grip, remove some material around the screw to create a gripping point. This might not be possible on a metallic surface.

Step 2: Grab the screw with pliers

You can use either locking pliers, needle nose pliers, or regular pliers. Locking pliers such as Irwin Vice-grip pliers are the best. They provide the most secure grip, allowing you to apply as much torque as possible to turn the screw.
Needle nose pliers are also very effective for small screws in tight spaces. You can use them, especially those designated as screw extractor such as the Vampliers screw extractor needle-nose pliers.
Alternatively, you can use any other pliers with a screw extractor tip. The most recent screw extractor pliers that are in everyone’s mind are the Knipex Twin Grip Pliers. They are the first slip joint pliers with a screw extraction teeth. They are the best for removing large stripped screws and bolts.

Step 3: Turn the pliers to extract the screw

Once you get a good grip on the screw, twist the pliers gently to break loose the stubborn screw. Make half turns until the entire screw comes out.

If the screw does not turn at all, try using a screwdriver with rubber band or wire wool. This works if the screw has a Phillips head.

Place a piece of a rubber band or some wire wool on the stripped screw head and then use a screwdriver to untighten the screw. The material will increase friction so that the screwdriver has a better grip on the screw.

If you don’t have a rubber band or wire wool, use masking tape or electrical tape to tape the screw head. The materials should keep the screwdriver from slipping and increase the grip.

Lastly, if the stripped screw remains unfazed, try these other stripped screw removal hacks. The screw extractor bit is my favorite after pliers.

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Julio a.k.a Pliersman is the owner and creator of the Pliersman Website. A blog that informs and educates you about different types of pliers and their uses. Julio is a handy person and has used a variety of pliers including general-purpose and specialty pliers to accomplish tasks. He holds an electrical engineering degree and has previously worked as an O&M manager for minigrids where his love story with pliers and other tools began.