How to Remove Cabinet Shelf Clips

Cabinet shelf clips are small metal or plastic brackets that hold cabinet shelves in place. They slide into slots or holes along the sides of the cabinet and keep the shelves from slipping down or detaching. Over time, these clips can become stuck or stripped, making shelf removal difficult. Removing stubborn cabinet shelf clips takes patience and the proper techniques. With the right approach, you can detach those pesky clips and free your shelves without damaging the cabinets.


Cabinet shelf clips, also called shelf pins or supports, are essential hardware for installing shelving. However, when it comes time to remove or rearrange cabinets, these tiny clips can cause major frustration. Stripped, stuck, or stubborn clips refuse to slide out of their holes, forcing you to get creative with tools and techniques for removal.

Removing old cabinet clips is part of any kitchen or bath remodel involving cabinet resurfacing or refacing. It’s also necessary when replacing damaged cabinets or adjusting shelf positions. While removing shelf clips may sound simple, it becomes considerably more difficult if the clips are stuck, rusty, or broken.

This article will cover how to remove various types of troublesome cabinet shelf clips, from plastic to metal varieties. With the proper methods and a dose of determination, you can conquer the most stubborn of clips. The key is using the right tools and techniques to avoid damaging the cabinet in the process.

Why Shelf Clips Get Stuck

Before tackling a stuck shelf clip, it helps to understand why they become lodged in cabinet holes in the first place. Here are some of the most common reasons these hardware pieces refuse to budge:

  • Friction buildup – Normal use leads to dirt, grease, and grime accumulating around clips. This creates friction that makes the clips stick.
  • Paint or glue – Old paint drips or accumulated glued residue around clip holes can cause sticking.
  • Shelf weight – Excessive weight placed on shelves can cause the clips to wedge tightly into holes.
  • Loose cabinets – Cabinets that shake or move when opening/closing doors or drawers can cause clips to become off-center and jammed.
  • Clip corrosion – Metal clips may corrode or rust after prolonged exposure to moisture, leading to sticking.
  • Damaged holes – Cracked or stripped cabinet hole edges prevent easy clip removal.
  • Incorrect clip sizing – Using clips that are too small or large for the cabinet holes can lead to sticking.
  • Bent or broken clips – Clips that are warped or broken often get stuck mid-removal.

By understanding why shelf clips become stuck, you can better focus your removal techniques. Inspect the clips and cabinet holes to determine likely sticking causes before taking action.

Tools Needed for Removing Shelf Clips

Removing stuck shelf clips requires patience and the right tools for prying, twisting, tapping, and pulling them free. Having these basic supplies on hand will make the process much easier:

  • Flashlight – Illuminate inside cabinets to see clips clearly.
  • Gloves – Protect hands from sharp clips and hardware.
  • Safety goggles – Guard eyes from debris while tapping clips.
  • Pry bar – Wedge under clips to pop them up and out of holes.
  • Hammer – Tap a punch to dislodge stubborn clips.
  • Needle nose pliers – Grip and work clips free from holes.
  • Lubricant – Penetrating oil or WD-40 helps loosen stuck clips.
  • Rag – Wipes away lubricant and debris during removal.
  • Putty knife – Scrapes and dislodges paint and gunk around clips.
  • Punches – Allow targeted hammer tapping to jar clips loose.
  • Screwdrivers – Pry and twist clips free when hammering isn’t practical.

The key is having thin, strong tools that can grip, wedge, and lever stubborn clips without damaging cabinet surfaces. Take your time gathering supplies so you can tackle those stuck clips properly.

Removing Plastic Shelf Clips

Plastic shelf clips are common in modern ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinetry and furniture. Made of nylon or PVC, these white clips generally have ridges or teeth to improve their grip. While plastic clips are inexpensive and easy to install, they become brittle and easily stripped over time. Fortunately, some simple techniques can help coax out stuck plastic clips:

Lubricate Generously

Penetrating lubricant is magic when dealing with stubborn plastic clips. Spray or drip lube into the clip holes and around the clips themselves. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes so it can fully penetrate. The lubricant creeps into micro spaces caused by friction and corrosion, allowing clips to release.

Work Them Back and Forth

After lubricating, use pliers or adjustable wrench to grasp the clip end and gently rock it back and forth while pulling outward. The motion helps work it out of the hole. Take care not to bend or break plastic clips while working them.

Use a Tap & Twist Approach

For truly stuck clips, use a hammer and nail punch to firmly (yet carefully) tap on the clip end. This helps jar it loose. Follow up with needle nose pliers to twist and pry the clip from side to side. The combined tapping and twisting action typically frees the stubbornest plastic clips.

Remove Deformed Clips

At times, you may find plastic clips that are warped, bent, or badly stripped. These deformed clips require removal before new ones can be inserted. Use pliers and pry techniques to extract damaged clips. If necessary, drill pilot holes to break apart the clip for removal in pieces.

Watch for Cabinet Damage

Plastic clips usually come out more easily than metal varieties. However, take care not to crack or split cabinet holes by over-twisting. If holes become damaged, fill with wood filler epoxy and re-drill new holes for replacement clips.

With generous lubrication, targeted tapping, and gentle prying, those stuck plastic shelf clips will release from cabinet holes. Just take it slow to avoid breakage.

Freeing Paint-Stuck Metal Clips

Old latex paint drips and spills often glue metal shelf clips into a death grip with cabinet holes. Solvents and scraping can free paint-stuck clips, but this approach requires care to avoid marring cabinets. Here are proven methods to remove enamel-encased metal clips:

Soak with Penetrating Solvents

Mineral spirits, paint stripper solvents, or heavy degreasers work wonders to dissolve paint and varnish buildup. Use an eyedropper or syringe to direct solvent right where clips enter holes. Allow 10-15 minutes of soaking time, then tap clips with a hammer to break the paint grip.

Loosen with an Awl or Knife

Use a fine awl, hobby knife, or dental pick to carefully pry under clips encased in paint. Gently lift and scrape away paint around all clip edges. Take care not to score or scratch cabinet surfaces while digging at paint.

Lubricate After Loosening

Once you’ve freed clips from paint using solvents and scraping tools, spray lubricant under loosened clips. The lube helps metal components slide more easily for removal. A silicone spray works best for preventing re-sticking.

Twist Out Partially Freed Clips

Needle nose pliers allow excellent levering access to clips you’ve worked partially free from paint. Use pliers to rock and twist clips, slowly working them out as paint releases its grip. Add lubricant if twisting becomes difficult.

Clean Holes Before Reinstalling

Before putting in new clips, thoroughly clean all old paint debris and gunk from holes. Use a small wire brush, toothpick, or cotton swabs dipped in solvent for a detailed cleaning. Prevent future sticking with wood wax on cleaned holes.

With some careful prying and twisting, those painted-over metal clips will release. Just remember to take your time and keep cabinet surfaces safe while freeing stuck hardware.

Removing Rusty or Corroded Clips

Nothing adheres as stubbornly as rust. Metal shelf clips exposed to moisture from sinks, bathtubs, or appliances often corrode and fuse into place. Rest assured – with vinegar, oil, and elbow grease, badly rusted clips can be removed without cabinet damage.

Loosen Rust Bonds with Vinegar

White vinegar’s acidic formula is ideal for dissolving the bonds of rust and corrosion. Use an eyedropper or syringe to direct vinegar straight into rusted clip holes and around fused clips. Let vinegar sit for 30 minutes before attempting clip removal.

Hit Clips with Naval Jelly

For extreme rust problems, break out the naval jelly or phosphoric acid gel. Dip toothpicks into the jelly and use them to coat and penetrate rust spots. Allow several hours for the acid to work before tapping and prying clips.

Coat with Penetrating Oil

WD-40, liquid wrench, or PB Blaster are essential for freeing corroded clips. Spray or drip oil over clips and let sit 15-30 minutes. The longer oil has to penetrate, the better. Reapply if clips are still sticking.

Use Gentle Twisting Motion

Avoid aggressive prying and hammering on rust-fused clips. The metal is brittle and may snap. Instead, grip clips with pliers and use gentle rocking and twisting motions while pulling outward. Take your time on each clip.

Lubricate Holes Before Reinstalling

Once removed, clean clip holes thoroughly with a wire brush and wipe with WD-40 to prevent rust from recurring. Consider coating restored holes with polyurethane or beeswax to maintain smooth surfaces.

Attacking rust buildup patiently with vinegar and elbow grease allows clip removal without damaging weakened cabinet parts. The key is using gentleness over brute force.

Drilling Out Broken or Stubborn Clips

In dire stuck clip emergencies, drilling may be your last resort for removal. This aggressive approach definitely carries risks of cabinet damage. Exercise extreme care and precision if attempting to drill out a broken or stubbornly stuck clip:

Mark Holes Carefully

Use a center punch tool and hammer to mark the exact center of stuck clip holes before drilling. This prevents the drill bit from wandering and chewing up cabinet surfaces.

Select the Right Bit Size

Match your drill bit width as closely as possible to the diameter of shelf clip hardware. You want the bit to punch through the clip without touching hole edges. Err on the smaller side.

Drill Low RPM Speed

High drill speeds generate excess heat that can burn and fuse clip fragments into holes. Keep the drill at 500 rpm or less with light pressure to avoid this. Let the bit do the work.

Stop and Extract Frequently

Pull out the bit frequently while drilling to remove clipped fragments. This helps prevent jamming and overheating. Spray clips with lubricant to make extraction easier.

Fix Damaged Holes

If drilling does cause some cabinet hole damage or elongation, repair holes with wood filler epoxy and re-drill properly sized new holes for replacement clips.

Drilling clips should only be attempted when all other removal methods fail. Take precautions to avoid an easily repairable clip removal turning into a cabinet refacing or replacement project.

Troubleshooting Very Stuck Clips

Despite your best efforts, some stubborn shelf clips absolutely refuse to budge. In these difficult cases, consider these last-resort troubleshooting tips:

  • Soak clips in lubricant for over 24 hours to penetrate fully.
  • Work larger-sized clips in and out of holes repeatedly to loosen friction.
  • Use a Dremel tool at low RPM to grind around stuck clips if solvents fail.
  • Heat stuck metal clips with a hair dryer for 2-3 minutes then tap with pliers while hot.
  • If holes are very distorted, fill old holes with epoxy, re-drill, and install new shelf clips nearby.
  • For quick access to stuck rear clips, cut out cabinet back panel, remove clips, replace the panel.
  • Replace stripped plastic clips by super-gluing a hex nut onto them for pliers to grip.
  • Consider professional refacing services if multiple clips damage cabinet surfaces during removal.

With extreme challenges, getting creative with tools and techniques can ultimately win the battle over stuck shelf clips. Just remember to take your time and avoid causing unnecessary cabinet damage in the process.

Preventing Future Clip Sticking Issues

Freeing stuck cabinet clips is frustrating. Avoid a repeat of the problem by taking simple prevention measures:

  • Install clips correctly by fully seating in holes without rocking or misalignment.
  • Clean and wax cabinet clip holes periodically to prevent friction and sticking.
  • Ensure shelves are not overloaded, causing excess strain on clips.
  • Frequently check for loose cabinets and doors that lead to clip shifting.
  • Clean up paint drips, spills, and other liquids that can enter clip holes.
  • Lubricate metal clips annually with silicone spray to maintain smooth surfaces.
  • Replace any warped, damaged, or incorrect-sized clips immediately to avoid sticking.

With proper clip installation and maintenance, you can dodge the sticky clip problem in the future. Implementing prevention best practices saves major headaches down the road.

When to Call a Professional

Removing stuck cabinet clips is within the DIY realm using the techniques covered. However, if attempted removal results in broken hardware fragments stuck inside holes, cracked wood, stripped screw holes, or large voids, it may be wise to call in a professional rather than cause greater aesthetic or structural damage. Signs it’s time to consult a kitchen remodeling contractor include:

  • Clip fragments fused inside holes even after lubricating.
  • Visible cracks or splits in the wood around clip holes.
  • Warped or misshapen holes making safe drilling impossible.
  • Partial separation of cabinets from walls due to chronic clip problems.
  • Friction or corrosion buildup so severe that most clips are fused in place.

Cabinetry damaged from stuck clips may need replacement or refacing. Attempting risky repairs could make problems worse and more expensive. Know when to call in the pros to rescue your cabinets.


With aging cabinetry, dealing with stuck shelf clips eventually becomes inevitable. Have patience and use the best removal methods for the clips and situation at hand. Soak them, lubricate them, pry them, and drill them until you finally win the battle. Just act carefully to avoid unnecessary cabinet damage in the process.

Approach stuck clips methodically, keeping tools and techniques in line with each clip type and complication. Throwing brute force at the problem usually backfires. Instead, outsmart those stubborn clips with finesse using the right supplies, solvents, and motions. With some perseverance, you can reclaim your cabinets and restore smooth-sliding shelf function.