Have you ever struggled to loosen a bolt or nut, only to realize you were turning it the wrong way? This article will teach you how to determine the correct tightening and loosening direction for threaded fasteners, and when you should reverse direction.

The easiest mnemonic is “righty tighty, lefty loosey.” Turning most standard right-handed threaded fasteners clockwise tightens them (righty tighty). Meanwhile, turning them counterclockwise loosens them (lefty loosey).

However, lug nuts and steering wheels have left-handed threads. These tighten counterclockwise yet loosen clockwise. If unexpected resistance occurs loosening a fastener, try reversing direction before forcing it. Switching directions can break even stubborn bolts free.

Tips for tightening vs. loosening direction:

  • Picture screw heads bending down as they tighten. Their movement direction is the tightening direction.
  • Imagine bolt heads bending up as they loosen.
  • Visualize pipe threads as ramps, and they’re turn the way the ramp slopes downward.
  • Don’t use excessive force to prevent damage from turning the incorrect direction.

Mastering righty-tighty and lefty-loosey helps quickly determine how to turn any common threaded fastener.

When to Switch Directions

Reasons to reverse direction include:

  • Left-handed threads tighten counterclockwise yet loosen clockwise.
  • Rust or damage causes excessive friction. Switching can jar it free.
  • Unexpected resistance signals you’re likely turning the wrong way.
  • You over-tightened and now need to loosen it.

If uncertain, try both directions before forcing it. Avoid stripping heads or shafts by pushing the incorrect way. Righty-tighty and lefty-loosey will become instinctual with regular practice.

FAQs About Tightening and Loosening

What are some examples of items with left-handed threads?

Some examples are lug nuts, steering wheel bolts, propane tanks, hoses, and some kinds of vacuum extractors.

Why do some items have left-handed threads?

They are used on parts that turn clockwise in operation, to prevent them coming loose from vibrations. The left-handed threads resist loosening from the clockwise motion.

What if I'm still not sure which way to turn?

When in doubt, try turning both directions gently before using excessive force. This can help avoid damage from turning it the wrong way.

Further Reading

Editorial Contributors
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Elisabeth Beauchamp

Senior Staff Writer

Elisabeth Beauchamp is a content producer for Today’s Homeowner’s Lawn and Windows categories. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Journalism and Linguistics. When Elisabeth isn’t writing about flowers, foliage, and fertilizer, she’s researching landscaping trends and current events in the agricultural space. Elisabeth aims to educate and equip readers with the tools they need to create a home they love.

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Sabrina Lopez


Sabrina Lopez is a senior editor for Today’s Homeowner with over 7 years of writing and editing experience in digital media. She has reviewed content across categories that matter to homeowners, including HVAC services, home renovations, lawn and garden care, products for the home, and insurance services. When she’s not reviewing articles to make sure they are helpful, accessible, and engaging for homeowners like herself, Sabrina enjoys spending time with her family and their two parrots.

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