If you can’t open a door because the lock is jammed, please don’t try to break or kick the door down. There are far easier and less destructive ways of dealing with the situation. And anyway, kicking down a door is a lot harder and more painful than it seems in the movies.
Here are some ways of dealing with a jammed lock, plus advice for preventing it from happening again.
How to Open the Door When the Lock is Jammed: 6 Things To Try
We’ll get to the possible causes of the lock jamming and how to prevent it later. For now, let’s first get the door open. But first, confirm that the lock is actually jammed, otherwise you might damage the lock while trying to force it open.
So before you try the following tips, check that you are using the right key and that the lock has not been changed. It’s also a good idea to try another key and see if it opens the door.
Once you are sure that the lock is jammed, here are a few things to try. By the way, many of these tips can also work if your issue is that you cannot lock the door.
Once you get the door open, consider replacing the lock to avoid a repeat problem.
1. Jiggle the Key and Lock
Most of the time, a jammed door lock is caused by a blocked mechanism and a bit of a jiggle should get it open. It could be the pins, the latch or the deadbolt.
So if you go to open the lock and it doesn’t work, try jiggling both the key and the handle at the same time. Turn the key in both directions while also turning the handle. Do this several times and see if it will get the lock open.
2. Put Pressure on The Door
If the problem is a stuck deadbolt or latch, moving the door itself might help get it unstuck. While you turn the key, hold the door handle and push it forwards and backwards. Make sure you are also turning the handle at the same time.
If you are able to, you can also try pushing the handle upwards or downwards. Moisture or changes in temperature may have caused the deadbolt or latch to get stuck in the door frame.
3. Lubricate the Lock
If the lock is still stuck, the next thing to try is lubricating it. This usually works when corrosion has jammed a lock. There are plenty of good door lock lubricants including WD-40, white lithium grease, graphite powder and PTFE lubricants.
If you have access to one of these or can run to the store to get it, that’s great. Apply the lubricant directly inside the lock then insert the key and turn it several times to distribute it. After a few turns, the lock might open.
In an emergency however where you are shut out of your home, you may not have a can of WD-40 handy to spray into the lock. If you need to lubricate a lock in a pinch, vaseline works great (apply it on the key then insert into the lock). You can also rub the tip of a pencil on the key to coat it with graphite.
4. Use a Debit/Credit Card
You know how in movies they open doors in seconds using a credit card? Well, you can use the same trick if your door lock is jammed closed. In fact, you can use any card-like object that can slide in the narrow space between the lock and the door frame.
But before you take out your debit card, note that this trick doesn’t work on locks that have a deadbolt. They only work on doors with latches. That’s because a latch is spring loaded, so you can push it back into the lock with something thin like a card.
But deadbolts don’t have springs. Instead, they are pushed into the door strike plate when you turn a key in the lock cylinder. Only a key (or a lock pick) turning the lock in the other direction can move the deadbolt back.
Most external doors have deadbolts, so a card will not open them. It works best on internal doors since most use only a latch mechanism.
To use a debit card, or whatever thin object you have, wedge it in between the door and the door frame. Insert it just above the door knob. You may need to bend it a bit to get it to go in. Once it’s in, slide it down to where the door knob is. This will get it over the latch.
Now try bending the card in the opposite direction to the lock while turning the handle at the same time. If that doesn’t push the latch out of the way, try wiggling the card back and forth while also working the handle and putting pressure on the door.
5. Pick The Lock
If the door has a deadbolt, the best way to deal with the jammed lock is picking it. You don’t need a professional lockpicking set. A couple of bobby pins should do it. Here’s a short video showing how to do it.
Note that it may not be as easy as the video shows. Lock picking requires some practice, so it may take some time to pick the lock open if you’ve never done it before. It’s probably easier to just call a locksmith.
6. Call A Locksmith
If you’ve tried everything and you still can’t get the lock open (or if you’d rather save yourself the trouble), a locksmith can quickly and easily deal with a jammed door lock.
If it is the weekend or nighttime, you can probably find an emergency locksmith in your area though they may charge a bit more. If you want, the locksmith can also change the lock to ensure they don’t have to come back again to deal with another jam.
What Causes a Jammed Door Lock?
So what the heck causes locks to jam? Now that you’ve hopefully gotten the door open, let’s look at some common causes of jammed and stuck door locks.
- Corrosion – This is one of the most common culprits particularly for locks on external doors. Exposure to moisture can corrode the internal mechanisms over time, causing them to rust and corrode. This can eventually cause the lock to jam, sometimes permanently.
- Cold weather – When temperatures drop, any moisture inside the lock can freeze, causing the internal mechanism to jam. Sometimes, it can be bad enough that you can’t even get your key inside the lock. If your door lock has been jammed by ice, heating it with a blowdryer, blow torch or space heater will get it unstuck.
- Dirt or some other obstruction – This is another common issue with external door locks. Exposure to dust and elements can cause dirt and other objects to get inside the lock and jam it. Your kid may also have pushed objects like play-doh or a stick inside the lock.
- Damaged lock – Age, weather, frequent use, rust and plenty of other things can damage the lock to the point that it stops working. You’ll usually notice that the lock gets harder and harder to open each time. You have to jiggle it a little more every time until it finally jams completely.
- Damaged key – The issue could also be the key you are using. If it’s chipped, bent, corroded or has some other kind of damage, it may have trouble opening the lock.
How to Prevent a Door Lock from Jamming
Proper maintenance can prevent a door lock from jamming. This typically involves nothing more than regular lubrication.
Lubricating a lock does two things. One, it allows the key and lock to work smoothly and reduces wear. Two, it prevents or slows down corrosion.
The two best kinds of lock lubricants are PTFE lubricants and graphite powder. These lubricants are dry and non-sticky, which keeps dust and dirt from building up inside the lock and possibly jamming it.
WD-40 is great for cleaning an old corroded lock, but it is not a good lubricant for door locks. In fact, it will remove any lubricant present since it is a solvent.
Regular oil-based lubricants can keep a lock working smoothly, but they can also cause the lock to jam. That’s because they are usually too thick and interfere with the fine mechanisms inside a lock. They also attract dust and dirt, which can eventually cause the lock to jam.
Something to keep in mind when you shop for a new lock for an exterior door is that it needs to be weather-proof. It should be designed to resist corrosion as well as entry of moisture and dust.
The same goes when buying a padlock for your shed, garden storage box, gate or any other outdoor application.