Lock Maintenance: 101

Lock Maintenance: 101

This article covers basic lock maintenance tasks that homeowners can perform regularly. It explores how to clean and lubricate door locks and discusses the best lubricants to use.

If you’ve ever had to jiggle your key to open your front door, you know the problems that sticky, gummy or broken locks can cause. You may even find yourself locked out in the cold. Fortunately, practicing routine lock care can help inconveniences and safety issues that may arise from poorly maintained locks. In this article, we’ll teach you how to clean a lock, tighten hardware and perform other simple door lock maintenance tasks that will keep in working order.

Author: Lee Soren

What Are Some Lock Care and Maintenance Tasks Every Homeowner Should Know?

With regular maintenance, a high-quality lock can last a long time. To keep your home secure and your keys turning freely, here are a few basic lock care tasks every homeowner should know how to perform:


Dirt, dust and hair can accumulate in keyholes, on lock pins and around other moving parts, making them stick and preventing them from working properly. Compressed air is a quick, easy way to clean locking mechanisms. Aim the nozzle

After you've tackled the hard-to-reach spaces, finish the job by cleaning the deadbolt, latch, strike plate and other exposed surfaces with a gentle cloth or soft-bristled toothbrush. Avoid using water on your locks to minimize the risk of rusting.


Door lock lubrication is a crucial part of keeping the locking mechanism moving, so it should be done at least once a year. Powdered graphite is an effective lubricant for most locks. It's inexpensive and can be purchased at your local home improvement store. To lubricate your lock, insert a small amount of the powder into the keyhole and then put your key in, turning it several times to spread the graphite.

If you need to unstick a lock quickly, a pencil (which is made with graphite) can also do the trick. Just rub the pencil point along your key’s teeth until they’re covered, and then insert the key and turn it several times to distribute the graphite. Make sure to clean your key afterward.

Teflon-based lubricants, which are sprayed on, are another great option for lubricating locks. Petroleum-based products such as WD-40 can also get the job done. However, they tend to leave an oily residue and don't last as long as graphite. You should never use motor oil in your door locks.

Tightening Hardware

With the wear and tear of daily use, locks can loosen, becoming difficult to lock securely. To stabilize the faceplates or strike plates of standard locks with exposed screws, simply tighten them using a screwdriver. If the

Higher-end locks may have decorative faceplates that hide the screws. If you have a lock like this, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to remove the decorative cover and then tighten the screws beneath it.

Copying Keys

From constant turning, keys can weaken or bend, making them susceptible to breakage. If they break off in your lock, you could find yourself locked out. Worn keys may also damage your locking mechanism. To avoid this, replace your keys when they start to show signs of damage, and make copies from the unused original keys whenever possible.

Inspecting Doors

Sometimes, a problem occurs because of the way a door is hung. If your door is sagging or doesn’t sit neatly within the door frame, it can put undue pressure on your lock, so check your doors to make sure they're hung correctly and make adjustments as necessary. Correcting a poorly aligned door may be as simple as tightening the screws on the hinges or replacing rusting or bent hardware.

Calling the Pros

Regularly maintaining your locks can keep them in good working order and ensure their longevity. However, if you’ve cleaned and lubricated your lock and it still isn’t working properly, it’s probably time to call in a pro. Professional locksmiths can perform additional maintenance tasks, such as removing broken-off keys, unsticking frozen mechanisms and rekeying locks. When choosing a locksmith, make sure to select a company that’s licensed, insured and reputable.

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