How do you loosen a bolt that won\’t budge?

How do you loosen a bolt that won't budge? - Fix It Cape Town

In the world of Repairs and maintenance, dealing with stuck or seized bolts is almost inevitable. The accumulation of rust or corrosion over time can make even the simplest task a frustrating challenge. However, there are a variety of strategies you can employ to loosen those stubborn bolts and get your project back on track. From using penetrating oil and heat to other creative techniques, this article will guide you through the process step by step.

1. Understanding the Problem and Its Causes

Before diving into the strategies, it’s important to understand why bolts become stuck or seized in the first place. The most common cause is rust or corrosion, which occurs as a result of exposure to moisture, air, and other elements. When metal bolts are exposed to these factors, a chemical reaction begins, leading to the formation of iron oxide, commonly known as rust. Over time, this rust can bond the bolt to the surrounding material, making it extremely challenging to loosen.

2. Applying Penetrating Oil for Loosening Stuck Bolts

One of the most popular and effective strategies for loosening stuck or seized bolts is to use a penetrating oil. These oils are specifically designed to penetrate tight spaces and break down the rust or corrosion that is binding the bolt. Follow these steps for the best results:

  1. Begin by spraying the penetrating oil generously onto the stuck bolt. Ensure that the oil reaches all sides of the bolt, even if it means using an extension nozzle or straw.
  2. Allow the penetrating oil to sit for a minimum of 15 minutes. This will give it time to seep into the rust and corroded areas, making it easier to break the bond.
  3. Using an appropriate wrench or socket, attempt to loosen the bolt. Apply consistent pressure while turning slowly and steadily. If the bolt does not budge, repeat the process by applying more penetrating oil and letting it sit for an additional 15 minutes.

It’s worth noting that not all penetrating oils are created equal, so it is advisable to choose a quality brand. Additionally, some bolts may require multiple applications of penetrating oil, especially if they have been severely seized.

3. Utilizing Heat to Loosen Seized Bolts

Another effective strategy for loosening stuck or seized bolts involves the use of heat. Heat can help expand the metal and break the bond caused by rust or corrosion. Here’s how you can use heat to your advantage:

  1. Using a heat source such as a propane torch, apply heat to the area surrounding the stuck bolt. Be cautious not to direct the flame towards any flammable materials nearby.
  2. Heat the area evenly, moving the flame back and forth to prevent overheating a specific spot. Aim to heat the surrounding metal, rather than targeting the bolt itself.
  3. After heating, allow the bolt to cool for a few minutes before attempting to loosen it. The temperature change can create a difference in size between the bolt and the surrounding metal, making it easier to break the bond.

It’s important to exercise caution when working with heat, wearing appropriate protective gear and taking necessary safety measures. Avoid using excessive heat, as it can potentially damage or warp the surrounding material.

4. Other Creative Techniques to Loosen Stuck Bolts

If the above strategies fail to loosen the stuck bolts, there are a few other techniques you can try:

  • Vibrating the bolt: Using a vibrating tool, such as an impact driver or hammer, can help break the bond caused by rust. Apply the vibrations directly to the bolt while simultaneously attempting to loosen it.
  • Tapping or striking the bolt: Lightly tapping or striking the bolt can also help dislodge the rust and corrosion. Use a hammer or mallet to apply gentle force while turning the bolt.
  • Applying a bolt remover: Bolt removers, also known as bolt extractors, are specialized tools designed for removing stuck bolts. These tools have reverse threading and are inserted into the bolt, allowing for counter-clockwise removal.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Will WD-40 work as a penetrating oil?
A: WD-40 is a popular choice for lubrication and rust prevention but is not specifically designed as a penetrating oil. While it may offer some help, using a dedicated penetrating oil will likely yield better results.

Q: Can I use a torch to heat a bolt that is close to flammable materials?
A: It is not advisable to use a torch near flammable materials. Ensure the immediate area is clear of any objects that may catch fire and always prioritize safety.

Q: What if I’ve tried all the techniques and the bolt still won’t loosen?
A: If you have exhausted all the strategies mentioned and the bolt remains stuck, it may be time to seek professional help or consider more advanced techniques such as cutting or drilling the bolt.


Loosening stuck or seized bolts requires patience, precision, and the right techniques. From applying penetrating oil and using heat to employing other creative methods like vibration and tapping, there are various strategies to try. Remember to exercise caution, wear appropriate protective gear, and prioritize safety throughout the process. With perseverance, you can overcome the challenge of stuck bolts and successfully complete your repairs and projects.

Handyman Cape Town

Open chat
Contact us now
Scan the code
Hello 👋
Can we help you get a free quote?