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How To Fix A Stuck Door Latch

Removing Door Knob

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With a door latch stuck, your privacy is diminished and your daily routine is unnecessarily complicated. You need to fix your stuck door latch as quickly as possible, but also in a way that will make sure to prevent the problem from reoccurring. Whether the door latch stuck open or the door latch stuck closed, you need a way to get your door functioning properly. Though your security comes more from your deadbolt than from your latch bolt, you will get no security from a stuck door latch. Find out why your door latch is stuck, how to diagnose the issue, and how to fix some of the most popular issues.

Why is the door latch stuck?

With the door latch stuck, you want to know how to fix the issue, but in order to do that you must find out the reason it is stuck. There are several different ways a door latch can be stuck. There can be a door latch stuck open or a door latch stuck closed, but the reasons for each can vary quite a bit. The first step is to troubleshoot the issue and get a sense of what the symptoms are with the door latch stuck in its position.

Troubleshooting A Stuck Door Latch

  1. Try to open the door while it is shut.
  2. Take note of the type of resistance. For example:
    • The latch will not retract even when the knob is turned.
    • The knob will not turn to retract the stuck door latch.
    • The door latch is not extended before rotating the knob.
    • More force is needed to turn the knob and unstick the latch.
    • The handle or knob must be jiggled to unstick the latch.
  3. Once the door is open, try to actuate the door latch with the handle. (Simulating opening the door without the latch extending into, and retracting out of, the strike plate).
    • If the door does not open:
      1. With a door latch stuck closed you may need to shim the latch so that it retracts enough to open the door.
      2. With a door latch stuck closed and cannot be shimmed because of latch guards or because the components are frozen, you will need to simply take the lock off the door. (At this point you are servicing the lock, and may decide to call a professional locksmith to assist you).
  4. Note the differences or similarities in resistance. For example:
    • Fluid movement of the latch when the door is open.
    • Door latch still stuck in place.
    • There is no difference in how the handle must be manipulated to move the stuck door latch
  5. Press down on the door latch itself with your finger, without manipulating the door handle.
  6. Note how the latch moves when it is directly depressed and when pressure is released. For example:
    • Needs a bit of pressure to retract.
    • Must be wiggled to unstick the stuck door latch.
    • Moves freely in with pressure and springs up slowly or no not at all when released.
    • The door latch is not stuck when directly manipulated.
  7. Make a diagnosis.

Diagnosing A Stuck Door Latch

Fixing Strike Plate

With the information you have gathered from dealing with the door latch stuck or unstuck in the different scenarios, you should have better insight into what may be going wrong with the lock. You can now use your observations to make an informed possible diagnosis on the reason the door latch is stuck. Below are some of the issues you may be experiencing along with the possible fixes that you can seek to do yourself or with the help of a professional. These are not the only possible reasons a door latch is stuck, but they are the most likely to be the issues you are facing.

1. Misaligned Strike Plate

The Issue – With the door latch stuck only when you are attempting to open a closed door, but not when the door is open, you might have a misaligned strike plate. The reason the strike plate has become misaligned might have something to do with moisture expanding the wood of your door, or perhaps even an issue with the foundation of your home not being secure. In either case, this type of issue is bound to recur with annual or semi-annual frequency.

What is happening on a physical level is that when you are trying to retract or extend the latch into the bored hole of the strike plate, the metal latch is not falling into the hole perfectly. This can lead to scrapping that requires excess force to have the latch retract against the friction of metal sliding against metal. This is likely to come along with a door latch stuck in as it cannot extend into the hole it is meant for.

The Fix – A short term fix is to move the strike plate to align better with the stuck door latch. By shutting your door, you can mark the point on the door frame that latch is coming in contact with. From there you can either widen the hole both of the wood and metal, or you can unscrew the strike and re-secure it in the proper position. However, if you are only moving the strike up, down, or to the side slightly, then you may not be able to simply re-screw it into the frame. When holes are placed too closely together, they can compromise the screw strength as a thin splinter of wood separating two holes makes the strike plate very insecure.

If you are looking to make a permanent fix to this issue, you will still have to make the short term fix, then take additional steps to address the larger issue. If the problem is wood expansion, also known as seasonal affective disorder, you can look into redoing the finish of your door to keep moisture related effects from influencing your door shape. If the issue is your foundation, then you may want to look into if you need repair, some form of rescuing the foundation, or even just to remove the tree whose roots are pushing up from under the house.

2. Jammed Latch

The Issue – A door latch stuck due to a jamming latch will have no real variation between how the latch moves when it is pressed in, or when the handle is turned (both when the door is open and when it is shut). This is because the issue is not with the door, and not even with the control the knob has over the stuck latch. It has to do with a build-up of material within the components, which allow the latch to extend and retract as a result of hindered spring tensioning.

As a result of moisture, rust can accumulate inside the lock as well on the latch bolt. With the door latch stuck as a result of rust, the internal components jam as the excess material fills the gaps required for things to move past one another. This creates unnecessary friction as the metal bits of the lock attempt to slide past one another or get out of the way of other moving parts. This gunk and grime can impede the movement of springs as well.

The Fix – In instances with a door latch stuck because it is jammed by rust and other materials, it is always best to disassemble the lock and do a bit of cleaning. Letting the components sit fully submerged in a vinegar of about 5% acidity will do the job of separating the gunk from your metal. Rust removal is very common in older homes where you may see many mortise locks. It is something that affects all locks given enough time, but after about a day of sitting in the vinegar the locks can be wiped down and polished, which will make them look brand new. Besides just wiping down the finish, you may also need to scrub out certain nooks and crannies with a small brush.

How you polish the lock will determine how quickly the lock will rust again. Essentially rust creates the extreme potential for re-rusting on those same areas. This is why it is a good idea to use something like car wax to seal all of the small imperfections in the metal that are susceptible to future rust. Of course, before applying any polish, you should take the time to dry the lock components. Then once the polish has fully coated the lock, be sure to remove the excess polish so that it does not cause the door latch to stick.

3. Broken Internal Mechanism

The Issue – When there is a part of the lock that has broken, many things could be going wrong with the lock. The easiest sign that there is something broken in the lock is when the door latch is stuck only when you attempt to manipulate the handle (both when the door is open and closed), but you can press on the latch and it will slide in and out the way it is intended to. This demonstrates that the latch being stuck is not because of anything failing within the latch bolt.

The through spindle could be broken so that actuating the handle is not sending any information to the latch. This is because the chain of interacting parts has broken down. Other than the spindle, perhaps there is something wrong with the spindle hole. If you are seeing an issue with a keyed cylinder, then there might be an issue with the tailpiece of the lock cylinder. There could also be something that has broken in the lock. (Be aware that there could also be an issue with rust accumulation within a lock cylinder). There are also several little pieces in the lock that may have broken, which can mirror the effects of some of the other possible diagnoses.

The Fix – The easiest way to fix a broken lock that has a compromised component is by changing locks. This may also be the cheaper solution if your lock is just one of the locks that you can pick up cheap at Home Depot. You can check with your local locksmith shop to find replacement parts. The prices of certain replacement components can vary, and this type of replacement also requires you to know what you need to replace. The better you can diagnose the issue, the easier it is to replace the broken part of the lock.

When a lock is too broken to fix, or totaled (meaning the price to fix is greater than buying a new lock), this can be the perfect opportunity to upgrade your security. You can invest in higher-quality lock products that not only provide more security but will also need less maintenance, and not break down as often as the cheaper locks. This is because the same strong metal and well-made internal components that make a locks high-security, also make it stand up better against general wear and tear.

Who should fix the stuck door latch?

Man Fixing Door Latch

Now that you have a better idea of what is wrong with your stuck door latch, and what it will take to fix it, you can make the decision of who should make the necessary repairs. The choice comes down to can you do the work yourself or should you hire a professional locksmith.

1. Do-It-Yourself

If you understand the troubleshooting and servicing requirements that will fix your stuck door latch, then going the “do it yourself route” can be a great approach. If there are aspects of the processes you do not understand, this is a good indication that you should take the time to either educate yourself or move onto hiring a professional. DIY will always be cheaper than hiring someone to do the work for you. This is because service industries are mainly charging to cover their labor costs.

With a door latch stuck, the ways you can potentially fix the issue does take time and some familiarity with lock mechanics. As that is likely to be the largest cost in this process, it makes sense to do the work yourself. However, if your time is extremely valuable, or you do not have the background to understand the potentially complex and subtle problems and solutions, DIY may not be the right fit for you. When you do not understand what you are doing fully, there is a chance of damaging the lock further, so it is important to take your time with each step in the processes.

Pros

  • Paying material costs only
  • The chance to learn more about your lock

Cons

  • Requires more lock understanding
  • Requires more of your time
  • Potentially damage the lock further
  • Solving the issue will take longer
  • You may end up needing to call a professional anyway

2. Hiring a Professional

When you choose to hire a professional locksmith, you are taking out all of the guesswork and hassles from the process of fixing the stuck door latch. You can rest assured that the work will be done right and that they will understand the problem as wholly as possible. They will have the materials to make any necessary repairs or replacements. You can also ask them questions and use them as a resource to learn more about your locks.

Make sure that you are choosing a reputable company that sends out qualified technicians who understand these types of issues. With a door latch stuck, you need to be able to trust that the issue will be solved in a way that diminishes the risk of the problem recurring. The best way to mend and anticipate the next problem is to borrow the eyes of a qualified professional. They will let you know your options and the prices of servicing as well as the pitfalls of inaction.

Pros

  • The problem will be understood
  • You can know all of your options before making any purchases
  • The issue will be solved as quickly as possible
  • You will have access to all necessary replacement parts

Cons

  • Paying for materials and labor

Conclusion

If you have a door latch stuck open or a door latch stuck closed, you can now get them back into working order. Whether you choose to do the work yourself or hire a professional, you now know what it takes to do the work. You can rest assured that you have weighed your options and made the best decision for your needs and skill level. With the door latch stuck you are not getting the most out of your door, so take the time and solve the issue.

Category: How To's, Lock Types, Residential


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