A good lock is supposed to keep out thieves and intruders — not residents. Unfortunately, locks can and do seize up on occasion, leaving you stuck outside in the cold or simply in your apartment hallway with a hamper full of fresh laundry in tow.
From freezing temperatures to broken keys, there are many possible causes of a broken lock. Thankfully, you’ll likely be able to fix it yourself if you’re working with a common lock type and the right equipment. Here are a few reasons why your lock may have stopped working properly, and some steps you can take to repair it.
The most common complaint we hear when someone calls with a broken lock is that the lock has seized up. In most cases, the caller can insert the key, but isn’t able to rotate it. This is usually because dirt, grime, or rust has collected inside the lock, making it difficult to turn.
To clean the lock, simply dampen a cotton swab and insert it into the keyhole, moving it around to gather any residue. You can then lubricate the lock with a dry lubricant like a purpose-made graphite, which dissolves into fine grains that reduce friction. You could also use a silicone spray with a nozzle that directs the spray into the keyhole. Regardless of your choice, simply insert the key and gently jiggle it inside the lock to ensure that the lubricant is evenly distributed.
It’s not uncommon for a lock to freeze up during the winter months, preventing it from turning properly, if not altogether. The easiest method of thawing a frozen lock is using a heated key. Place a key in a bowl of hot water or on top of a car radiator to warm it up. While wearing gloves, dry the key off and slowly insert it into the lock.
Door locks are complex devices with a number of moving parts. As you might expect, those parts sometimes malfunction. If you can turn the key or the doorknob but still can’t open the door, you most likely have a mechanical failure on your hands.
Mechanical failures can have a number of causes, from deliberate tampering with the lock to simple wear and tear after years of use. Whatever the issue may be, it’s best to leave the assessment to a professional locksmith who can evaluate the problem and identify the best solution. If it’s an expensive lock, it might be worth having it repaired. If the lock is cheaper, it’s probably easier and less expensive to just replace it.
If none of the solutions we’ve run through so far seems to do the trick, it could be that what you perceived as a broken lock is actually something else entirely. Your issue could stem from a misaligned door or a key that simply doesn’t work. Similarly, if the bolt doesn’t line up with the strike plate, this could also prevent the latch from completely catching once the door is closed.
If you suspect that you’re experiencing a structural issue of this kind, check to ensure that the gap between the door and the jamb is an even width along. If the gap is uneven, this indicates that the door isn’t properly installed or is sagging from the hinges. The issue could also be with the strike plate itself. If that’s the case, you may need to unscrew the strike plate and reposition it so that it’s centered with the latches and bolts.