Drywall vs Plaster: 6 Important Differences You Must Know About

Are you planning to install a new interior wall in your home? Indeed, when you decide to construct a wall for your home, you’ll have to choose between drywall and plaster(amongst other things).

The battle of the two finishes has ensued for a long. But here, we bring the drywall vs plaster debate to rest, with a comprehensive analysis.

someone working on a ladder on a wall with plaster and another one with drywall


The drywall finish is not only quick to install but also cheap and easy to maintain. Plaster, on the other hand, is pricier, tougher, more brittle, and durable of the two finishes.

Table showing the key differences of drywall vs plaster

DifferenceDrywallPlaster wall
MaterialSheets
Boards
Screws
Adhesives
Tapes
Gypsum 
Cement, sand, water, stucco, or lime
Cost of material$10 to $60 per 0.5” sheet (6)$7 to $13 per foot
Cost of labourAbout $2 per foot (7)$2 to about $10 per foot
Maintenance costs$50 per hour (7)$75 per hour (11)
DurabilityWarranty of 1-5 yearsBreaks easily Termites eat the cellulose (8)Can stand for centuries
SoundproofCan achieve soundproofing under special installation procedures.The plaster is hard enough to discourage penetration of sounds
FireproofThe sheets are flammable except for type-X & type C drywalls. Gypsum has chemical compounds that resist fire. (9)The plaster is fireproof but can be damaged (not burnt) by the heat.
BulletproofNot bulletproof unless enhanced with special fiberglass (10)Most plaster walls stop the standard gunfire
AnchorsSupports light anchors, including plasticsEvery anchor has to be drilled into the concrete.
Hanging weightHangs 10-100 pounds with anchorsCan hang as much weight as you need, as long as you have the proper anchors

Key differences between Plaster and Drywall

Here are the ways in which plaster is different from drywall.

Material

Drywall and plaster have distinct elements that magnify their differences. Drywall is basically a set of sheets nailed or screwed into the wall.

Some adhesive gypsum powder or tape then fastens the sheets or boards together to form continuous drywall. High-end gypsum drywalls have an advanced skin coating that makes them look like concrete.

On the other hand, plaster is a mixture of sand, water, and lime or cement.

You can paste over other concrete or bricks or on wallboards and blackboards. The sheetrock holds moisture and wet plaster, just like the bricks would.

After the first course layer of plaster, you can add a smooth layer for aesthetics. The top thin layer can be stucco or any other skim coating.

Skim coating also offers a durable finish onto which paint and wallpapers easily articulate. The fiberglass mesh below these layers protects them from cracking.

Pro Tip

If you choose to install either of these materials on your walls, you will need a stud finder later on when it comes to hang stuff on the wall. (after all that hard work, you DON’T want to screw or nails things in the wrong places: pipes, wires, etc)

Overall quality

Plaster wins hands down in its overall finish. Yes- you can still love the convenience and easy handling that drywalls provide.

But, ask yourself- do you know any drywall that has stood its place in the open ground for a century or two? Your guess is as good as mine! 

Plaster is so durable that it can stand for several millennia. The ancient Egyptians used it to construct pyramids and other structures, and they still stand strong thousands of years later.

Historians agree that Egyptian concrete (1) was made of clay, sand, and stucco.

Plaster also beats drywalls in their insulation, fire, and soundproofing quality. Burning drywall is just as easy as striking your lighter! As long as the wall is not type-C or type X drywalls, they’ll burn.

In fact, the sheets, tapes, and boards are fuel to fire- only the gypsum compound survives!

But, you’ll need more than just the ordinary fire to damage a plaster wall. Plus, the resistance also applies to sound and pressure.

With a small nail hammer, you can utterly destroy drywall. Yet, it’d take you a massive gong to down a plaster wall.

Advanced plaster can even withstand a direct shot from a Kalashnikov rifle. (3)

However, installing a bulletproof wall needs to follow sophisticated installation procedures that include thick metal, sand, and cement.

The Costs

Plaster is the higher-end finish between the two.

The materials and labor make plaster far pricier than drywalls. The process of applying plaster requires more time and extensive periods due to the complexity of the work.

On the other hand, drywalls only need screwing and nailing into the walls. The boards, screws, and sheets are far cheaper than the cement and sand required in plaster finishes.

However, the costs can vary depending on your location and skill level. In some places, the materials involved in the drywall installation are more expensive than the wet plastering.

Drywalls come in premade form, so you just attach them to your wall, and that makes them cheap. Applying the wet plaster is the work of a professional whose labor fetches high prices.

If you’re DIYing, you could bring the costs of plaster down by a considerable margin.

Maintenance

To retain their quality, both drywall and plaster need upkeep. Drywall wins here because it’s lighter, cheaper, and easier to maintain.

Drywall boards are inexpensive, and you will need minimal assistance to work on them. But, when there’s an issue with your plaster, the repair will be more tedious and expensive.

Drywall vs. Plaster Anchors

Drywall anchors
Plaster and Lath Anchors

You’ll certainly want to hang a portrait of yourself or your family. You won’t want to let go of the beautiful paintings or the trophies you’ve achieved over the years.

And, whether you’re hanging a TV or a simple painting on your wall, you’ll still have to use anchors. Walls are flat, and these anchors support the weight of the objects you hang.

Pro Tip

It’s very useful to have a laser level at hand to hang pictures and other small items on your drywall or plaster walls. (it helps with achieving a nice and leveled PRO finish)

Yet, there are specific anchors for drywall and plaster, respectively. So, you have to choose these anchors wisely.

Drywall anchors are a little lighter than their plaster counterparts. Concrete varieties mainly hold high-density attachments such as bathtubs.

Some light drywall anchors don’t even need drilling. Soft anchors like these shouldn’t be used on plaster walls.

Also, the plaster walls won’t accept any plastic anchors. Of course, you can use them to stick light things on the wall. But, they are certainly not the best.

It’s advisable to use metal anchors such as the toggle and molly bolts on the plaster walls.

If yours is drywall, you don’t have to screw in metallic anchors. A nail or plastic screw will comfortably hold your mirrors and paintings.

However, they come in handy when hanging bulky items. Anchors give your drywall enough strength to carry 50 pounds.

Painting drywall vs plaster

Painting drywall is quite different from plaster. For a plaster, all you do is wait for the wall to dry, then start the painting. But, the drywall is a little tougher because it requires special prepping.

Painting a plaster

For a newly plastered wall, you have to let it dry. The paint places a skin cover on the wall and prevents moisture from evaporating. Painting a wet plaster, therefore, results in a moldy damp surface that’s toxic to breathe. 

A damp wall could quickly expand and break due in case the moisture is trapped inside the plaster. Also, an emulsion may not lather well with wet plaster and could peel off.

In the future, you may incur huge costs repairing the walls.

Ideally, you should give your wet plaster about six weeks to dry thoroughly before applying the paint. And, if you have several levels of plaster, you may have to wait for more than two months.

However, the actual wait time depends on room temperatures, ventilation, and area of coverage. Confirm that the walls are dry by checking on the fading of deep colors.

Speed up the drying process by carefully increasing the room temperatures and ventilation.

When the plaster dries, apply a mist coat and leave it to dry for 24 hours. Then, bring the decorative topcoat.

And no- you won’t have to sand it down. But, you can achieve optimum results by applying several layers of coat.

Painting a drywall

Painting drywall is more rigorous than a plaster wall because you have to prime it. Room temperature can easily affect your coat, so; you have to put in measures to make the paint stick.

Clean the drywall by sanding, vacuuming, and rubbing it with a cloth. When you wipe away all the dust, you can dry it and begin applying the coats and primers.

But, the actual process of applying paint to your drywalls is a little more sophisticated. You have to fill up all the gouges with gypsum or pastes.

Plus, after sanding your walls clean, you’ll use vinegar water and a cloth to wipe away all the dust.

Then, face a speedy fan and to the wall and dry it thoroughly. You shouldn’t apply paint to wet drywall lest you get the unwanted results we’ve seen with the plaster.

If you don’t prepare your drywall well enough, the paint can peel off.

You can paint drywall by brushing, rolling, or spraying. Spraying is the fastest and most effective of the three, but; it requires thorough prepping.

Although satin coats are popular among home painters, they’re not flat or glossy. But, they’re durable and will hide any touch-ups.

Flat latex doesn’t leave any marks after a touch-up. Then, higher-sheen works well for your bathrooms, kitchens, and other messy places.

Allow your paint to dry for two hours before bringing the next coat. Well-painted drywall could last for over twenty years!

Learn more

Is your drywall or plaster wall painted already with silk painting? Check out here if you can paint matte over silk and other useful information!

FAQ

How do I tell whether my wall is drywall or a plaster finish?

In all honesty, it’s difficult to tell drywall and plaster apart just by looking at them. For instance, some advanced drywalls have veneer plastering that makes them look like the traditional plaster.

So, check for other qualities such as toughness and insulation. It’ll be easier to push a pin through drywall than a plaster. Also, the plaster wall is colder than drywall.

Another way to know what type of wall finish you have is by disassembling the power switch. Drywalls have boxes behind the electric button, while the wires in a plaster wall are loose.

In the utmost curiosity, you can try knocking the wall with a hammer. The concrete plaster will be challenging, while you could actually damage drywall by doing this.

Which hangs stuff best: drywall or plaster?

So, which wall is better at hanging stuff on the wall? Both drywall and plaster walls can hold things on the wall. Some items are best hung on the latter than the former.

 A drywall is easy to drill and hang things. You have to dig into the plaster to make enough anchors for hanging items.

Sheets can hold up to 10 pounds without the anchors. With the help of these items, you can hang up to about 100 pounds. That’s enough for your 65 inch TV as long as you mount the brackets to the studs.

However, you have to be careful as the boards and sheets can break. If you want to hang something heavy, the drywall is undoubtedly not the best route to take.

The plaster anchors are, therefore, the outright winner here. Plaster walls are so strong that they take as much load as you want them to carry. The only challenge is that they’re brittle and need you to be careful when drilling.

Which one should I use: Level 5 Drywall vs. Plaster Veneer?

After you install your drywall, the next challenge will be choosing the type of finish to apply. Level 5 drywall and plaster veneering are possibly the two best ways to improve your surfaces.

Level 5 Drywall

Level 5 drywall is the highest-ranked drywall you can get.
Drywalls rank from level 0 to level 5.

  • The 0 level has no finishing and is simply drywall attached to the ceiling or wall.
  • Level 1 has a joint tape, while level 2 has a light coat of compound over the tape. Level 3 drywalls have the tape, joint compound, and heavy texture finish.
  • The level 4 drywall has a classic finish with tape and a sanded joint compound. It’s the ideal surface for painting or covering with wallpaper.
  • Then, level 5 adds all these features, plus a skim coat. Each step requires more investment of labor, material, and costs than the previous level. So, each level is cost-effective for specific walls and settings.

Level 5 is the most advanced form of drywalls that’s ideal for ceilings. The finish rakes all the bumps, depressions, and gouges on your walls. Level 5 drywall, therefore, offers a premium finish that’s smooth and flawless.

Some professionals are using these automatic drywall bazookas for amazing finishes.

Plaster Veneer

Veneer plaster is a fine layer of plaster applied on drywall (13). A veneer plaster makes the drywall hard and resistant. The monolithic surface simply gives the drywall some qualities of the plaster wall.(14)

Plaster veneer renovates old walls, and professional home improvement technicians prefer it to drywalls.

The plaster veneer is cheaper than the level five drywall, and it’s easier to install too. However, it will show the imperfections of your finish while the level 5 drywall conceals it all.

Which are the pros and cons of drywall vs Plaster?

ProsCons
DrywallEasy to maintain and install
Inexpensive
Gypsum is fireproof
Little experience and skills needed
Exquisite and aesthetic
It remains flat and is not as malleable as plasterBreaks easily
Plaster WallsPlaster constructions stand for centuries
Harder and tougher
Effective soundproofing
Malleable and moldable
Expensive
Brittle
Tedious and requires advanced skill and experience to apply.

Winding up: Drywall or Plaster, Who Wins?

How do you want your coat- drywall or plaster?  Is there any surefire winner between drywall and plaster?

By now, you’ve already seen how each finish works for you. Consider every material’s pros and cons and make a solid decision depending on your wall and situation.

If you’re looking for a cheap, quick wall, drywall boards will work best for you. If you want to have complete control and ease of making exquisite hangings, the drywall it’s a great option.

However, if you have an abundance of skill, resources, and time, plaster is the best way to go. The plaster will remain intact on your walls for several years. The material gives your surfaces a high-end look, design, curves, and textures.

If you want a sip of both finishes, the veneer plaster serves you the perfect shot!. Veneer plaster provides you with a cocktail of the benefits of both plaster and drywall.

Which is your favorite finish and why? Let’s know in the comment section below!


More resources to learn about drywall and plaster

  1. http://www.ce.memphis.edu/1101/interesting_stuff/pyramids_in_concrete.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_pyramid_construction_techniques
  3. https://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/09/prweb12164192.htm
  4. https://www.knauf.de/wmv/?id=15766
  5. https://www.thisoldhouse.com/walls/21014946/choosing-the-proper-fastener
  6. https://howmuch.net/costs/drywall-installation
  7. https://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/walls-and-ceilings/repair-drywall/
  8. https://www.orkin.com/termites/damage/drywall
  9. https://www.finehomebuilding.com/project-guides/drywall/whats-the-difference-fire-resistant-drywall
  10. https://www.offthegridnews.com/self-defense/no-your-walls-are-not-bulletproof-but-they-can-be/
  11. https://www.fixr.com/costs/plaster-repair
  12. http://www.paintinganddecoratingconcourse.com/articles/painting-new-drywall.html
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plaster_veneer
  14. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Types-of-walls-where-monolithic-action-is-required_fig1_245305585

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Adrian – Construction Professional

Construction Professional, driver, crane operator, handyman … As a construction pro I love to get creative and see things done with my hands coming to life. Here I share with you some of the things I learn and hopefully you’ll get something out of it. Enjoy 🙂

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