Door lock installation, repair, or replacement service. Door hardware installer locksmith working with open white door indoor. Hands of the master close-upMost of the problems that occur with internal doors are irritating.Internal doors can start creaking, door handles can start to droop or doors can refuse to stay latched and none of these will cause immediate issues but they will drive you to distraction eventually. (If you are able to ignore them for long enough, they will create more pressing problems though so it is best to fix them as soon as you can.)
The exception to this is when a door is stuck closed. At best, it will restrict movement around your home and may even leave a room completely inaccessible – at worst it can leave you trapped.
Of course, when it comes to an exterior door, with a high-security mortise lock there can be other complications that might be more difficult For an internal door with a simple latch fitted, it is more of a nuisance than a security threat and one you can usually fix yourself.
In this guide, we will explain how you can remove a broken latch from a closed door, as well as troubleshoot what might have caused the problem in the first place.
How to open a jammed door
Before you start working out what has caused your door latch to stick, you need to get the door open.
Generally, it is a lot easier to override a broken door latch than it is a door lock, but it might still take a bit of work depending on the age of the latch and what is wrong with it.
The most reliable way to open a door if the latch is jammed is to remove the door handle. Do this by unscrewing the back plate (or rose) of the handle and then lifting it off. This will give you access to the inner working of the latch mechanism.
(Doing this will release the door handles on both sides of the door, so be careful not to damage the handle on the opposite side.).
Pop the end of your screwdriver through the hole that the spindle sits in, then turn it away from the door frame. This should retract the latch so you can open the door.
Another technique to try is the credit card trick often seen in movies. This is slightly easier when a simple latch is stuck than it is with a lock, but is still fiddly and unreliable. It will also damage the card you use, so only use old, out-of-date or rarely used cards.
The credit card method may seem like an easier option but be warned that if there is a problem with the latch you will need to remove the handle eventually to make a permanent fix. It is generally easier to just skip straight to this method.
Troubleshooting a stuck door latch
The first thing to do once your door is open is to make sure it is the latch that is failing to open properly. There are other reasons your door might be sticking, including if it has swollen or warped or dropped on its hinges. If either of these is the case then your door needs adjusting rather than the latch mechanism – see our guide on how to fix internal doors for more information.
The easiest way to tell whether it is a latch issue is to watch the mechanism in action. Open the door and press (or turn) the handle. If the latch moves quickly and smoothly, chances are the problem is with the door so you should investigate those possibilities first.
If the handle doesn’t work the latch, then try to identify where the resistance is coming from.
Is the latch staying out, even when you turn the door knob or press on the door handle?
Is the door latch stuck inside the door?
Does the door knob not turn or door handle not depress?
Is it possible to move the latch using the handle but you need to wiggle it or use extra force?
Does the latch move when you press it directly?
Once you can answer all these questions you can identify whether it is the door latch or the door handle that is causing an issue. If the latch mechanism is at fault, this can also suggest the exact problem and necessary repairs.
Reasons your door may be stuck
Once you have narrowed down the issue to your latch assembly rather than your door, there are still a number of different issues you may be facing. Answering the questions above may give you a clear idea of what the problem is, but it is likely one of three things is at fault: a jammed latch, a broken internal mechanism or a misaligned door and strike plate.
Broken internal mechanism
If the latch doesn’t retract when you operate your door handle, but there is no resistance when you push it in with your finger, then it is likely that something inside the internal mechanism is faulty. This could be because the spindle in the doorknob or door handle is no longer connecting with the mechanism.
If the latch bolt doesn’t want to move at all – when you use the handle OR push it manually – then the most likely culprit is that the latch mechanism itself isn’t functioning correctly.
For an old latch, this is usually due to a build-up of rust, dust or dirt inside the latch case which is stopping it from moving properly. Depending on the age and condition of the latch you will need to either buy a new latch or clean the old one. Either way, you need to remove the stuck door latch and assess from there.
The final reason you may be struggling with your latch is actually down to your door’s alignment. Doors can become misaligned for a variety of reasons and this can cause the latch to rub against the strike plate attached to the door frame and not retract properly.
You can fix this issue by changing the position of the strike plate, following the steps in our guide to fixing a door that won’t latch. However, you should also look at addressing what has caused this misalignment in the first place and check the door is still correct on its hinges.
Should I fix it myself or hire a professional?
Depending on individual DIY skill level, fixing a standard tubular door latch should be simple enough for most people to try themselves.
It is a fiddly job, particularly if your door handle has hidden screws. Cleaning the latch can also be complicated, and if you don’t do it correctly you may end up having to repair or replace it again.
You may choose to get a locksmith out to look at your door latches for you. However, it is likely to be a quick job for them while a call-out charge for a locksmith is usually costly. Ultimately it is down to personal choice, but it is worth reading exactly what is involved before you decide.
This can be a different case for exterior doors fitted with multi-point mortise locks. If you need a new lock or latch for an exterior door it is usually advisable to get the help of a professional. Otherwise, the security of your home, and even the validity of your home insurance, can be compromised.
How do you fix a stuck door latch that won’t retract?
A door latch that is stuck in the door is annoying, but one that won’t retract is a more serious problem. It needs to be fixed as quickly as possible.
Depending on the type and position of the strike plate used, a door latch stuck outside the door can cause damage to the door and the door frame as it closes. And, if it gets stuck inside the bolt hole it can obviously leave the door jammed shut.
As with other latch repairs, start by pressing on the latch itself. If it retracts under direct but gentle pressure, then the latch itself isn’t the problem. Next, try the door handle or knob – if this makes the latch retract too, but the latch stays out when you try to push the door closed then your latch may need lubricating. You should also check the position of your strike plate on the door frame to make sure it is still connecting with the latch in the right position.
If the latch won’t retract by use of the knob or handle either, then you should check the spindle and the latch mechanism to make sure they are still connected correctly.
If neither of these will close the latch, then it is either broken or damaged. Examine the condition of the latch for any obvious defects. If you don’t spot any then try cleaning it to remove any build-up and then lubricating it. Then try operating the latch with your fingers. If it is responsive, you can refit it. If not, you may wish to invest in a new latch or a professional to troubleshoot this one.
How do you loosen a stiff door latch?
The best way to loosen a stiff stuck or broken door latch is to lubricate it. Before doing this you should completely remove the latch from the door first and check it for rust and other damage.
Even if you can’t spot any obvious visual damage, you should still take this opportunity to clean any dust or dirt out of the latch with a brush and then wipe it down. This means that when you add the lubricant, it won’t just release any grime that might cause the latch to freeze at a later time.
When you’ve cleaned the latch, you can add a little lubricant to the inside of the latch body to help it open smoothly. Make sure to wipe off any excess lubricant before you replace the latch too.
Can I use WD40 on a stuck latch?
It is generally advised not to use WD40 on a stuck latch. While using WD40 on a door lock or latch may temporarily ease some issues in the long term will make it more likely that they will seize. This is because WD40 won’t completely evaporate away and the residue it leaves will jam the latch.
It is a good idea to lubricate your door latch, but use graphite powder or GT85 lubricating spray instead. GT85 has silicone in it which means it will repel water, helping prevent rust from reappearing.
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