Easy fixes for trouble with keys

June 30, 2015

A faulty key can leave you stranded and desperate. But don't lose hope! Below are a few quick fixes to get you back in your home.

Easy fixes for trouble with keys

My key is bent

Bend it flat and replace it

If you don't have a spare key, you can squash the damaged key flat in a vise. Alternatively, hold it at either end with a pair of pliers and bend it straight. Replace the key as soon as possible — once bent, it is far more likely to shear off in use, leaving you out in the cold.

The key is stiff in the lock

Overcome friction with some pencil power

Locksmiths use powdered graphite to lubricate the workings of locks, and if your key refuses to slide fully into the lock, you can do the same. Simply rub the key with a pencil until its surface is covered with the graphite "lead"; try again and the key should glide home.

I can’t turn the key

Clean and lubricate to free the movement

  • Spray WD-40 into the keyhole, catching the lubricant that runs off in a cloth. At first, the runoff may be black because it contains oil and grime that has built up in the lock. After a while, the liquid will be clear — the lock is now clean. Never put heavier oils, such as 3-in-One, into a lock; they will trap grime in the lock and may make your problems worse.
  • Wipe the key with some WD-40 or lemon juice until it's bright.
  • The bolt of the lock may be catching on the striker plate — the metal plate on the door frame that "receives" the bolt. This makes the key difficult to turn, but it can be fixed by adjusting the position of the door or the strike plate.

Is the key new? If so, it might not be a perfect fit in the lock. Take it back to the key cutter to get it ground down slightly. Don't try to force the key to turn. Locks exposed to the elements may have corroded or the grease within may have dried up — apply too much pressure and you could have a broken or bent key.

My key has snapped off in the lock

Get the key out and yourself in

A snapped key presents a double challenge — how to get back into the house and how to remove the broken key from the lock. Before you start, spray a little WD-40 into the lock.

If the key snapped when fully inserted into the lock and part of it is protruding

  • Use a pair of long-nose pliers to pull out the broken key (if you have a spare key handy) or to turn the broken key in the lock to open the door (if you don't).

If the key snapped within the mechanism and is not protruding

  • Push a straight-bladed screwdriver into the lock and try turning it to open the door.
  • Straighten a couple of paper clips. Push one paper clip along the serrated edge of the key within the lock. Move it in and out to get it as far in as possible. Push the second paper clip over the top (non-serrated) side of the key. Using the two paper clips as "chopsticks," try pulling the broken key out far enough so you can grab it with a pair of pliers.
  • Snap a small hacksaw blade in two — these blades are usually sold very cheaply in hardware stores; select the half in which the teeth point backwards at the broken end. Insert this end into the lock against the serrated edge of the key and use the teeth of the saw to hook onto the body of the key and pull it out.
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