When a Broken Lock Isn’t a Broken Lock

Laura Hennigan
Written by Laura Hennigan
Updated January 13, 2022
A woman entering her house with groceries
Photo: mapodile / E+ / Getty Images


  • What looks like a broken lock could actually be an issue with the keys, hinges, or bolts.

  • Many of the lock repair options are relatively inexpensive and can be DIY projects.

  • Some problems, such as rekeying, will need to be performed by a professional locksmith.

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While regular door lock maintenance may not be something you prioritize, the upkeep of your locks is an important component of every home. Addressing any door and lock issues right away can help save you from more expensive repairs down the line.Before you assume that your door has a broken lock, take the time to consider other potential culprits. Here are five reasons why your lock may appear broken when it’s not:

1. The Keys

The key and the pins within a lock match to create a smooth operation. Even the slightest variance can distinguish between a key that will work and one that will not. That means that when you make a copy of your key, even the highest quality duplicates will vary slightly from the original. In addition, when duplicates are made from duplicates, the increasing variance can make the key nonfunctional.


You should keep a set of the original keys available for any future duplicates. If your locks are older, or there have been multiple owners of the home, there have likely been many copies made, and it may be time to contact a professional locksmith to rekey the locks.

2. The Hinges

Door hinges that are loose or not fully attached can cause issues with the lock. If you notice the door hanging in an unusual way, or any uneven gaps between the door and the jam, the hinges may be the culprit. 


Start by using a screwdriver to tighten all the hinges, even if they don’t look loose. If that doesn’t work, consider adding longer screws (around three inches) to help secure the hinges and make them sturdier.

3. The Door Strike Plate 

A door that won’t close all of the way indicates that the strike isn't installed properly or has become misaligned. Latches need to be centered with their respective strikes, and the strike for the entry lock latch needs to be positioned so that the deadlatch plunger does not fall into the strike opening.


First, check to see whether the latch is making contact with the strike plate above or below the hole. If it’s not, and the latch is off by more than ⅛ inch, you can try widening the hole slightly by using a metal file. If this method doesn’t work, take the strike plate off and move it so that it aligns with the hole correctly.  

4. The Bolt

Most doors have one of two bolt systems: latch bolts (which are found in door knobs or handles) and deadbolts (which are used for security and extend into the door frame). Either type of bolt can jam, dislodge, or break, potentially causing lock issues. 


If the latch bolt or deadbolt isn’t working properly, start by cleaning out dust or debris from the strike plate and the cross bore around the doorknob. If that doesn’t help, replacing an interior doorknob is a straightforward and inexpensive project.

If there’s an issue with the deadbolt on an exterior door, there is a chance the lock has been tampered. In this instance, you can either replace the broken parts or opt to change out the doorknob and get a new deadbolt.  

5. The Lubrication  

Humidity, rust, or even sticky little hands can cause build up over time, leading to malfunctioning locks. If you suspect there might be a problem with gunk jamming up a lock, adding some lubrication may help solve the problem. 


Spray an all-purpose, oil-based lubricant, such as WD-40, on the moving parts of the lock and bolt. Powdered graphite is a dry lubricant that can also be used on a lock cylinder, but note that this option can stain, so use a drop cloth for any drips.

If the door is properly hung, the strikes are aligned, the keys are cut correctly, the bolts are functioning, and your lock still isn't working, you might actually have a lock problem. In this case, it’s likely time to call in a professional locksmith to help tackle the issue.

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