8 Low-Key Lock Maintenance Tips to Keep Your Doors Secure

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated December 22, 2022
A front door in a brownstone house
Photo: benedek / E+ / Getty Images

Lock these maintenance tips in your memory the next time your key gives you trouble

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We all have that one lock in our home we have to jiggle, wiggle, and shake to get the key to turn. And as much as we've gotten used to their quirks, sticking locks and doorknobs are not the norm. A bit of lock maintenance can help prevent broken locks and keep your home safe. Twice a year, inspect your locks and door with the eye of a professional to ensure your door opens and closes with ease.

1. Clean the Locking Mechanism

Dirt, dust, and grime build up in small mechanisms of our locks—especially where the latch and deadbolt connect with the frame. Every time we press the key into the keyway, small particles build up on the pins inside the locking mechanism. Dirt also collects in and around the strike plate, the hinges, and the door's threshold.

Remove the dirt, but don't go overboard here. Harsh cleaning solutions or frequent passes with a rough cloth can wear down the parts of the lock if you're not careful.

You'll need a bottle of pressurized air, soft cloth or soft-bristled toothbrush, warm water, and a mile cleaner like dish soap. Here are the prime areas to target:

  • Keyway: Spray pressurized air into the keyhole—known as the keyway. Wipe the area around the keyway as well. (We'll cover lubricating locks below.)

  • Strike plate: Inspect the plate on the door threshold that connects with the latch or deadbolt. Clean the plate and the borehole and check for disrepair.

  • Latch: Move your handle or door knob back and forth to wipe down each part of the latch.

  • Deadbolt: Turn the deadbolt open and closed to clean each section of the lock as well.

  • Hinges: Wipe down the hinge plates and outside of the hinge pins for built-up dust.

  • Tracks and Threshold: Wipe around the frame and threshold of the door, or along the track if it's a sliding model.

2. Lubricate Once a Year

If you still have it on hand, consult your lock's manufacturer manual for advice on lubrication locks, timing, and the type of lubricant to use. There is a lot of debate about the best type of lubricant on the market, but professionals often recommend graphite and Teflon. Petroleum lubricants may attract dirt and dust buildup, leading to more problems over time.

Following the bottle's instructions, spray the lubricant into the keyway. Push and pull your key in and out of the lock to ensure it reaches the full length of the lock. You can also use a lubricant on the hinges, though some pros recommend silicone or oil-based options like WD-40 in this case.

Much like cleaning, there's no need to lubricate your locks every time you have a problem. Persistently stubborn locks could be a sign of other problems.

3. Inspect Your Door

A man checking door lock screws
Photo: fstop123 / E+ / Getty Images

Time and natural wear and tear can cause a door to sag on its hinges or become misaligned with the strike plate. In some cases, the door will not close properly. Test your door by simply opening, closing, and locking it to check for these common signs of poor door alignment:

  • Scuffs on the floor where your door catches

  • Sunlight coming through the perimeter of the door

  • Latch or deadbolt catching on the strike plate

  • Having to lift or shift your door to lock and unlock it

  • Squeaking and crunching sounds

5 common red flags for doors and locks, including difficulty opening and closing and scuffs on the floor
Photo: John Keeble/Moment / Getty Images

4. Align the Strike Plate

If you detected an issue with the latch or deadbolt when you inspected your door, you might have a problem with your strike plate placement. The strike plate is the rectangular piece of metal on the door jam with a hole the size of the latch or bolt. 

You may need to tighten the screws on your strike plate to ensure it is sitting in the perfect place for the bolt to latch. Sometimes, the wood inside the borehole wears down or sticks out in a way that keeps it from latching. In this case, use a metal file to remove any wood getting in the way.

5. Tighten Your Hinges

The hinge plates on the inside of your door have a habit of coming loose as well. Use a Phillips head screwdriver to tighten each screw on the plate. If it feels like a screw has stripped the hole, or if you notice that the screws come loose regularly, you may need to replace them.

Remove the old screws and replace them with screws at least three inches long to connect with the wall and stabilize your door.

6. Update Your Keys Properly

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

Always keep an original set of keys for making duplicates. If you're using a duplicate of a duplicate, the minute differences between each key can wear down your lock's inner mechanisms. In some cases, the key itself needs replacing. Keys can wear out over time and affect the lock if not replaced over time. If so, you can rekey your locks or replace them.

7. Consider Your Door Habits

Put off lock repairs by treating your door with care. Slamming the door, forcing the key, or ignoring growing signs of issues can cause more costly problems over time. Locks are relatively self-sustaining compared to other parts of our home, but a bit of care and a close eye on growing problems can be the key to a happy lock.

8. Call in the Professionals

A local professional locksmith can help update your locks when repairs require more than basic maintenance. Not only will they help you determine if you have a problem with the lock, the key, or the door, but they can recommend the most cost-effective way to update and maintain your lock to avoid issues in the future.

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