5 Door Lock Maintenance Tasks You Probably Aren't Doing

Updated August 25, 2021
A front door in a brownstone house
benedek/E+ via Getty Images

Knowing how to maintain your door locks properly can help keep your home and family safe

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You feed them. You clothe them. You play tea party with teddy bears for hours on end. Your family is your heart and soul, and you would do anything to keep them safe. That includes ensuring that your family home is safe and secure. 

But aside from making sure your doors stay properly locked, few of us give much thought to our all-important home door locks. To keep your door locks functioning effectively, though, you need to engage in regular door lock maintenance. We’ll show you the five best tips and tricks for maintaining your door locks.

1. Check the Door

Maintaining your door locks doesn’t start with the locks—it begins with your door. For your locks to work effectively for the long haul, you need to make sure the door is hung correctly. A door that sags or binds may place pressure on the lock’s latch or bolt, leading to a failure that can leave you locked in or out of your house.

A properly hung door will swing freely with no scraping or catching. The gaps at the top, bottom, and sides will also be uniform throughout. Look for an opening of approximately an eighth of an inch at the top and bottom and less than a quarter inch at the sides.

2. Inspect Hinges, Door Screws, and Strike Plates

A man checking door lock screws
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To prevent your door from becoming misaligned and potentially causing the lock to fail, you need to check the hinges, door screws, and strike plates

Failures often occur because the screws affixing the door hinges to the doorframe are either too short or there aren’t enough of themthem. At least one screw securing the top hinge to the doorframe should be long enough to connect the door to the wall framing around the door.

To prevent sagging and increase break-in resistance, add a longer screw to each hinge. Ideally, this longer screw should be around three inches long to provide the necessary support. 

After you’ve checked the hinges and the door screws, now it’s time for the strike plates. The plate for the deadbolt should be secured to the wall framing with long screws, just like the hinges.

3. Test the Deadlatch and Deadbolt

Look at how the deadlatch, the small plunger that rides on the latch’s flat side, and the strike plate connect. 

When the lock is engaged, the deadlatch shouldn’t fall into the strike plate. If it does, that’s a good sign that a lock failure is coming. For this reason, most modern entry door locks now have a safety feature that does not allow the locks to engage at all if they are not correctly aligned with the strike plate. Binding or broken deadlatches commonly cause lock failures.

Also, with the door closed, the deadbolt should operate freely. You shouldn’t have to push, pull, or lift the door to operate the lock. Ensure the deadbolt’s hole in the door jamb is deep enough for the bolt to extend completely. Your deadbolt isn’t actually locked unless it’s fully extended, because only at full extension will there be enough support in the locking mechanism to secure the door.

4. Clean and Lubricate Your Locks (But Sparingly)

Maintaining your door locks doesn’t require a lot of grunt work. Clean periodically per your door manufacturer’s instructions, typically either a damp rag or mild detergent. Unless you notice a significant buildup of dirt, dust, or debris, though, even this is something you probably won’t have to do very often, perhaps only a few times a year.

You actually do more harm than good if you clean your locks too frequently or use an abrasive or chemical cleaner. Petroleum-based products can also damage a lock's finish. The protective coating on most locks will withstand everyday usage for many years, but not heavy cleaning.

In addition to cleaning your locks as needed, you’ll also want to keep them lubricated. This is actually one of the most important, and most overlooked, steps in maintaining your door locks.

Locksmiths typically don’t recommend petroleum-based products. Graphite lubricants work well, but Teflon and other dry oils are generally the best and easiest to apply. However, be sure to follow your door manufacturer’s specific instructions.

Simply spray a small amount of lubricant into the keyway. Then, run the key in and out of the lock repeatedly, wiping any debris from the key each time. Lubricate your locks like this at least once a year.

And if you want next-level lock lubrication, consider removing the lock from the door, at least enough to apply lubricant to the latch or bolt.

5. Copy Your Keys

Close-up of a blacksmith’s hand duplicating a door key
Cavan Images/Cavan via Getty Images

The final step in maintaining your door lock is maintaining the key itself. Keys will likely wear before the lock does. When installing a new lock, it’s a good idea to set aside one of the original keys to use when creating duplicates.

Once a key begins to wear out, you should replace it. Continuing to use a worn key may cause the key to break or damage the locking mechanism. Remember that duplicates are never exact, and variances increase when a duplicate is made from a duplicate. A variance of only a few thousandths of an inch can make the difference between a good, working key and one you must jiggle to get it to work, if it works at all.

If your worn originals or your duplicate keys are giving you trouble, though, you may prefer to rekey or replace your locks entirely. This can spare you the headache of possibly getting locked out of your home and making an emergency locksmith call.

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