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I was fixing my laptop, and as you may know, laptops have a lot of small screws to take out when you are fixing it. One of the screws fell into the floor (the floor has carpet on it), and I was unable to follow the screw with my sight. If I don't follow the screw with my sight when it falls, there is a high chance that I will not see that screw again.

My question is: what kind of method, tool or hack can I use to find small screws that falls into the floor?

I have tried using the tool with a magnet on the tip, that mechanics use to grab wrenches that falls in inaccessible areas, but had no luck finding the screw.

  • 3
    while this doesn't solve the problem at hand, i would recommend a magnetic bowl as a future lifehack – okayGraphics Jan 17 '15 at 2:30
  • Try metal detector:) – kenorb Jan 20 '15 at 18:22
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    Offer a chocolate to your friend, he will find it for you. And tell him, not to follow the same principle you applied ;) – MoonMind Mar 12 '15 at 12:11
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    In my experience walking around barefoot in the dark will find any sharp items hiding on the floor. Works especially well for lego. – RedSonja Mar 26 '15 at 15:19

13 Answers 13

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Ah. This is why you should always have spare screws on hand. Fortunately, there is a way...

Light Method

Most screws are silver. Shine a flashlight into the carpet and look for little silvery glints. This may take some time, but you'll probably find it. If your carpet is unnaturally thick...

Magnet Method

Take a powerful magnet (like a bar magnet, hardware stores - fridge magnets might work) and run it over the surface where you think the screw is. You should find it. If that still fails...

Vacuum Method

Take a good vacuum cleaner. Put a sock over the extending arm, and run it over where you think the screw is. The sock will prevent the screw from being vacuumed up, but it will be stuck to the sock. There will still be enough suction to pick up the screw, even with the sock. If not, get a new vacuum! If that fails...

Organize your screws

There are many useful tools to organize screws. Go to your local RadioShack and get one, or make one out of a magnet for that awesome lifehack feel.

Stop using carpet!

[Not a "find your screws" method - a tip about not frying your computer] Carpet can cause static discharge, which is very very very bad for a computer (personal experience). Work on a hard floor with an antistatic strap to reduce the chance of frying your PC.

  • I use egg cartons for organization and work on a blanket to keep things from bouncing and rolling away. – Schwern Jan 18 '15 at 6:37
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    +1 for the vacuum (use a panty hose btw.). This really works. For all kinds of small stuff. – RobAu Jan 19 '15 at 10:16
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    My favorite "screw organizer" is a simple piece of computer paper. It's roughly the size of my computer, and I simply punch the screws through the paper in approximately the spot I got them from the computer (right corner screw goes in the right corner of the paper). This keeps them organized and safe from the dastardly carpet---nothing but paper needed. – Dennis Feb 11 '15 at 19:13
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I have done this. Lie down on the floor and get your eye as close to the level of the carpet, then look around. You'll have an easier time spotting the lost screw this way because it'll rise up along the landscape of the floor. Bonus points - no extra equipment needed.

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    This is how we were taught to find lost hardware on the flightline, where it's imperative that you find it. Using a flashlight lying horizontally on the carpet (next to your head) can help as well. – TIO Begs Jan 17 '15 at 3:03
  • On a similar notion, if you have a laser pointer and relatively low carpet, you can put it on the floor and rotate it side to side. If it reflects off of something, investigate. (Warning, you may find out how dirty your carpet really is) – agweber Jan 18 '15 at 15:38
  • @Geobits beat me to posting the tried-and-trusted method – smci Jan 19 '15 at 4:41
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The best "hack" is the way you look for the screw. Do what pilots do. Move the eyes one section at a time, pausing for a moment, looking at that little bit of the sky. Instead of sweeping the eyes so much, concentrate on the floor in little squares, fully studying each square. This technique works even when the color of the item is close to that of the floor.

When this technique is used often, one may begin doing it without having to think, and it becomes much faster.

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    Also if the screw falls on carpet, watch where you put each foot when walking so you don't push the screw down into the carpet. If you haven't bumped it, it should be still be visible with careful inspection. – subjectivist Jan 17 '15 at 0:13
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    This is good advice, as we humans are actually incapable of looking when sweeping our eyes. When you think that you do that, you are actually moving your eyes in steps, and you are literally blind during the actual movement. See saccadic masking. The more you move your eyes around, the more time you spend blind. You can look right at the item that you are searching for and not see it at all, because you are moving your eyes at that moment. – Guffa Jan 19 '15 at 19:44
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1. Listen to where it went.

This might be weird but it is my first resort. When you drop a screw, focus on the sound of the screw hitting the floor while keeping your head still. Keep focusing on the sound up to 2 seconds after the sound has stopped.

Keeping your head still is important because it makes it easier for the brain to process the sound that has been heard.

Focusing on the sound for up to 2 seconds after the sound seems to stop is because the sound doesn't really stop, it bounces around the room and dies out. There is extra information we are not consciously aware of. Just listen without trying to do anything, and the brain will fill in the blanks.

Your mileage may vary. If you are very sensitive to sounds I would recommend this.

2. Shine a flashlight parallel to the floor.

Don't just shine a light, hold the light down at floor level, pointing the beam parallel to the floor. Searching around in this way, when the light hits the missing screw, it will cast a shadow 2–3 times bigger than the screw.

  • A screw on carpet won't make much sound, and when it is bouncing around, how does it help locating the screw? – Paŭlo Ebermann Jan 18 '15 at 22:08
  • You're right, the sound is weaker on carpet, but since the screw cannot roll much, carpet is not much more difficult. – Anthony Jan 18 '15 at 22:51
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I usually rub my hands around on the carpet. You will feel it when you go over it then you can look in a more specific area.

  • Wow, great response and thanks for joining Life Hacks Stack Exchange! However, could you tell a method for if the carpet was longer, your response sounds like it is assuming the carpet is really short. Thank you for your contribution and I hope to see you around Life Hacks Stack Exchange. – Pobrecita Jan 17 '15 at 2:24
  • I actually do that in any carpet. Unless the carpet is shag carpet, then you'll have to pray the screw is magnetic and use a big/strong magnet. – Doug Watkins Jan 17 '15 at 2:31
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Magnet on a tip is not efficient to scan the carpet. Instead, use a sheet magnet to scan the carpet.

However, it is much better to think how to not lose the screws rather than how to find them when you lose them.

I usually lay a towel on the desk, and disassemble the device and place the screws on the towel. The screws will then be much more stable.

Another way to avoid losing the screw is to fix some amount of masking take on the desk, sticky side up, or put a sheet magnet on the desk. Each time you take out a screw, place it on it.

  • While probably good tips, these do not answer OP's question of how to find a screw in the event that it does get lost. Despite any preventative measures, it's bound to happen to all of us at some point. – CodeMoose Jan 18 '15 at 14:01
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    @CodeMoose Read my first sentence. – sawa Jan 18 '15 at 21:13
  • I had read your first sentence, and I feel my point still stands - only because the bulk of this answer is dealing with a different question. Had the OP asked "how do I prevent a screw from falling in the first place?", this answer would be fine. Let me put it to you this way: If I was working on a laptop, inadvertently dropped a screw, asked a friend to help me find it, and my friend said "next time use a towel" instead, I'd throw something at them =) – CodeMoose Jan 19 '15 at 14:26
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I work a lot with non magnetic screws, and even in the case of all the nice preventing tips offered here, I am just a human and from time to time drop them. Having had bad experiences with the vacuum method (some screws just shoot straight through the sock) I took one of the toys of my kids (Its a rolling can with a stick attached), wrapped it in double sided sticky tape, and then rolled it over the floor (carefully making sure that I get through every sector).

This has worked fine so far, and despite the tip to stop using carpet, with short carpets this works best, because then the screws don't jump and roll around in the whole room.

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Shine a flashlight at as low an angle as possible--you want a reasonably dark room and back off a bit with the flashlight to make the angle lower.

(Yes, this is pretty much half of qweilun's answer--in a case like this I totally disagree with the listening answer thus I do not feel I can upvote his.)

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If you can't find it in the white light with help of magnet, try at black light. Switch off your lights (or wait till dark) and use UV lamp to find it. To your bad luck, most of the silver screws does not glow under black light (it is not a fluorescent mineral), but hopefully it'll differentiate with your carpet color.

Who knows you can find there else:)

Semen stain on carpet observed with and without ultraviolet light

Alternatively put a stocking over the end of a vacuum tube and hoover it down.

Put a stocking over the end of a vacuum to find tiny items like earrings.

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Here is a trick that I used to find tennis balls in bushes when I was younger. This may work with screws as well, but most likely only in cases where you know (at least approximately) the location where it fell from.

With the tennis balls this worked in cases where I saw the flight path but was not able to locate the ball in the nearby bushes afterwards.

What I did was to throw a second ball into the same direction, as close on the same flight path as the lost ball, but in such a way that I was able to pay attention to where the ball eventually landed (sometimes with the help of a friend). The thrown ball frequently landed near the first ball, allowing me to locate both.

With a screw you should use a second screw that is as similar to the first one, as possible. Drop the screw down from approximately the height that the first one fell from, and follow it as it hits the floor. Chances are that it will bounce around similarly to the first one and you can find the first one near where this second one falls.

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    Screw bounces are chaotic, one will not follow the other. – dotancohen Jan 18 '15 at 13:22
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Not an answer but I don't have the points for a comment. When you drop a screw or the like, don't try to catch it. Watch it to the ground and then pick it up at leisure. Of course it doesn't always work, but in my experience it works much better than trying to catch the falling item.

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I'm wondering under what action/posture/position allows for dropped screws? If the fall very near the edge of the table, then a catch-tray around the perimeter will do nicely. If otherwise... why are you holding a screw far away from the workspace? Don't gratuitously do that. It shound be at the workpiece, in the bowl, or under a lamp/magnifier, and nowhere else.

If the task does not work that way for some reason, try putting a drop cloth on the floor first. Pick it up from the edges and all awol parts as well as debris collects in the center.

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There are MANY magnetic sweepers on the market, from cheap to industrial, just search google. They are tools not hacks but if you have a regular need to pick up small metal objects you probably want a tool rather than a hack. this one looks nice though not cheap): http://www.walkermagnet.com/other-products-sweepers-lfs-series.htm

If you want a hack then maybe have at your carpet with a lint roller!

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