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How to Fix a Door that Won’t Latch

If your door keeps swinging open it’s easy to assume the latch mechanism is broken. After all, the whole point of a latch is to hold a door closed. If it isn’t managing this job, it must be faulty.

But the latch mechanism itself isn’t always at fault. It could be that the latch bolt isn’t emerging properly or isn’t engaging. If that’s the case, it’s more likely to be a problem with the strike plate hole than the mechanism itself.

Basically, a number of things can stop a door from latching correctly. In turn, a number of things can fix the problem. In this guide, we’ll explain how you can identify what’s stopping your door from latching. We’ll also give you tips on how to fix these issues so you can get your door back working the way it should.

What to do when door latch won’t spring out

One reason that a door won’t latch properly is that it is the latch itself is stuck inside the door. This means there is nothing to hold the door closed so while the door might appear to close, it won’t stay that way for long.

The most likely cause for a latch that won’t spring back out is either lack of lubrication in the latch or a build-up of dirt, dust, or rust stopping the movement of the latch bolt. You can find some easy fixes for this common latching problem in our guide to broken latches.

How to stop a door from swinging open

If the latch bolt appears to work and your door handle seems to work, then it’s likely that your interior door isn’t latching correctly because the latch bolt and the strike plate hole are no longer aligned.

A misaligned door won’t close correctly as it won’t have enough clearance for the latch bolt to enter the strike plate hole, even when the latch itself is working perfectly.

There are a couple of reasons this can happen and it’s important to establish why before you attempt a fix. Otherwise, you could waste time on fiddly fixes only to find the problem still persists.

You may be able to identify the issue just by looking at the door or the door latch. If the latch is sitting significantly above or below the location of the strike plate on the door jamb, you can probably spot it simply by pushing the door against it.

If you can’t tell visually an easy way to work it out is to use the lipstick test. To do this, cover the strike plate with painter’s tape or masking tape, then rub some lipstick (or something similar that will transfer easily but temporarily) onto the latch bolt. Push your door closed. When you do, the latch will leave a mark on the tape, to show you where it’s hitting the door frame.

When the door’s latch is hitting the jamb wood too high, then the position of the strike plate is probably the issue. If the latch hits too low, then it is more likely to be a problem with the door hinges.

If you still can’t tell or want to be safe, it is easier to try adjusting your door hinges than repositioning the strike plate hole, so you should attempt this fix first.

Realigning door hinges

Over time or excessive use, hinge screws can work themselves loose, which can cause the door to sag. If it looks like your door is misaligned in this way, try tightening the hinge screws. You can often tell visually if you have loose hinges, so check both the top hinge and the bottom one before tightening to avoid unnecessary over-tightening.

If you’ve tightened the hinges but the door is still sagging, you can always replace the screws with a set of longer hinge screws in the door jamb screw holes. These will give a better grip on the door jamb wood and hold the door in place.

Increasing the size of the strike plate hole

Once the screws on the hinge side have been tightened, your door should be better aligned, but this may not be enough to fix the latching issue. If the latch and strike plate position is still misaligned by 3mm or less, then you can try making the hole in the strike plate a little bigger.

To do this, grab a metal file and gently file away the bottom edge of the strike plate. It is important to do this carefully with a hand file, as removing too much can damage the strike plate and even stop your door latch from catching at all anymore.

Repositioning the strike plate

Another reason a door latch misses the strike plate hole is if the striker plate itself is in the wrong position. If the alignment of your latch plate is more than 3mm out, you should completely reposition the strike plate.

This may seem like a bigger adjustment for your door, but you will only be moving the plate a few millimetres so chances are you will need to make new screw holes very close to the existing ones. To stop this from affecting the stability of your striker plate or your latch hole, you should use a small amount of wood filler to fill the old screw holes on your door frame first. Leave this to dry before trying to make the new holes for your screws.

While waiting for your filler to dry, you can make the strike plate hole deeper and wider to make sure the door latches properly with the repositioned strike plate. 

When the filler is dry, fix the strike plate in its new position on the door jamb. It should now be able to accept the latch completely and hold your door closed once more.

Can’t Get Enough?

Take a look at our other helpful articles on door hardware:


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