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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

6 Simple Steps For Better Lock Maintenance

by Ralph October 25, 2021

For your security to do the best job at protecting you and your property, you need lock maintenance. But what type of lock maintenance do you need? Is there more to know beyond how to clean door locks?

After this article, you will know how to make sure your locks stay in working order. And if you still have questions or something to add, be sure to leave a comment.

The main forms of lock maintenance we will address include:

  1. Realign Lock
  2. Adjust Door
  3. Unblock Lock
  4. Remove Rust
  5. Prevent Freezing
  6. Replace Key 


What is the easiest form of lock maintenance?

The simplest method of lock maintenance is to not unnecessarily lock and unlock the device. Each time the lock is used, metal is grinding on metal, causing wear. Commercial door locks are designed to withstand more opening and locking cycles than residential locks, but all locks wear out in this way eventually.

Why do locks break?

Besides the wear from daily use, locks will break due to repeated over-stressing. Often components will jamb due to misalignment or debris, so more force is required to actuate the lock. With lock maintenance, you can reduce the force needed for proper functioning.

Can you make an old lock work better?

In many cases, antique lock repair is a possible solution for an old lock not working properly. The most basic step is to disassemble the lock and remove any rust or built-up residue. Soak the hardware in a water and vinegar solution, then polish the metal afterward.

What type of lock maintenance works for outdoor locks?

Outdoor locks will experience more opportunities for weathering and should undergo lock maintenance specific to the most severe elements they are exposed to. A general maintenance measure is gently oiling the lock, preventing rust and ice accumulation.

Should I clean my locks regularly?

Scheduled or routine lock maintenance is rarely necessary. In most cases, you want to address particular issues as they worsen but before they cause lasting damage. The most planning you would want to do is periodically check that rarely used locks are fully functional.

1. Realign Lock

Whether your lock is not opening or locking smoothly, there is likely an issue with the alignment of your latch bolt and strike plate. The lock maintenance you need in this case is a realignment. Though this is technically lock maintenance, it will also improve front door security.

With a misaligned lock, more force is needed to make the device lock and/or unlock. That additional force lowers the life expectancy of the lock hardware. Lock alignment harms your security beyond damaging the lock, as it can keep a door from reliably locking.

The simplest solution in the case of door locks is to raise the strike plate and widen the strike hole in the door frame. Just be careful not to place your new set screw holes too close to the previous ones, as this will make the door vulnerable to kicking and prying.

To avoid re-drilling the set screw holes, you can expand the strike plate’s hole by cutting the metal. Just be aware that if your lock alignment has changed, it will almost certainly continue to change. This means this will become a part of your regular lock maintenance.

Lock Maintenance Overview:

  • Mark where the bolt or latch is hitting.
  • Move the strike plate up or down as needed.
  • Do not drill new screw holes close to the old.
  • Widen the strike hole on the door frame.

2. Adjust Door

Your door sticking is going to cause the same problems like a misaligned lock. But in this case, the door is catching on the frame, so standard lock maintenance is not going to do the trick. Instead of focusing your attention on the lock, you are going to address the door.

Wood will expand during instances of extreme weather changes, especially increases in humidity or precipitation. These effects are most pronounced in solid wood doors and solid core doors as opposed to hollow core doors. As a result, the misshapen wood will need to be cut.

The road to this kind of door lock maintenance begins with opening and closing the door to see the point where it is catching. Once you find the problematic side, mark with a pencil how much material is in the way. Then you can remove the door and shave it down to the right size.

This type of lock maintenance is going to be most difficult when you are looking to secure a sliding glass door. Glass doors are difficult to remove, and the risk of damaging the glass is always high when making adjustments. For these doors, start by lubricating the track before taking the door off.

Lock Maintenance Overview:

  • Mark where the door is catching on the frame.
  • Remove the door.
  • Trim away the excess wood on the door.
  • Re-install the trimmed door.

3. Unblock Lock

Are you dealing with a clean lock? In some cases, dust and debris can clog the internal components of a door lock and keep the device from working properly. This may be a build-up in the keyway, the crevices of the bolt/latch, or even deeper in the lock.

If you have a key stuck in the lock, this could be because the keyway is beginning to overfill. This will reduce the amount of space the key has to freely insert and retract. Similarly, this is true if the bolt or actuator is blocked. The space around these components needs to be clear.

How to clean door locks comes down to using the right kind of lubricant, unless you are dealing with larger detritus. If something is jammed in the keyway, use the same methods you would use to remove a broken key from a lock. The most effective of which will be to probe and pull the debris out.

When something is jammed into a crevice beyond the point where lubrication or other attempts are effective, disassemble the lock for better access. To clean door locks after they are disassembled, you can probe and pull or lubricate the trouble spots more effectively.

Lock Maintenance Overview:

  • Apply dry lubricant to the blocked area.
  • Actuate the lock to get the lube to penetrate.
  • If the debris does not come out, attempt to probe and pull.
  • When all else fails, take the device apart and clean the lock.

4. Remove Rust

When most people think of lock maintenance, they are probably thinking about removing rust. You can treat and prevent rust with lock maintenance, but the method that will work best will depend on how much rust you are dealing with.

A little bit of rust can be removed with an oil-based lubricant such as WD-40. Apply the spray to the affected areas and rub the rust away. Be aware that oil-based lube can attract dirt and dust, which could lead to the lock becoming blocked later on.

If you are using a lot of lubricant, consider taking the lock apart to clean and polish it to wipe away excess lube and prevent returning rust. When lubricant will not do the job, you can soak the hardware in a mixture of water and vinegar with 5% acidity or use electrolysis.

With anything other than mortise locks, how to clean locks with significant rust can be too difficult. In the case of extensive build-up, it may be more beneficial to change locks. You may also want to change locks on your new home to prevent past residents from having access.

Lock Maintenance Overview:

  • Spray oil-based lube and wipe away liquified rust residue.
  • Clean away the lube and polish the metal.
  • For heavy-duty rust removal, soak the lock in a vinegar solution.
  • Extremely rusty locks may need to be replaced.

5. Prevent Freezing

Frozen locks are certainly a regional concern, but if your community experiences freezing temperatures, locks can freeze. It is more common to be dealing with a frozen car door than a door lock that has iced over, but it does happen. With lock maintenance, you can clear and prevent ice.

First off, you do not want to pour hot water on the lock. This can melt the ice, but you are introducing more moisture that is going to lead to worse freezing. It is better instead to use isopropyl alcohol, which you likely have in the form of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer.

Preventing freezing through lock maintenance offers a trade-off, as oil-based lube can prevent ice from forming but can also attract dirt. You prevent a lock from freezing but may end up increasing the chance of the lock getting blocked up over time.

Also, be aware that the more a lock freezes and thaws, the higher the chance rust will form. This is especially bad if the lock is freezing inside, meaning the internal components are going to rust. Internal rust is extremely difficult to remove, especially if a padlock won’t open and cannot be taken apart.

Lock Maintenance Overview:

  • Apply isopropyl alcohol to the frozen components.
  • To prevent further ice, oil the lock.
  • Oil may attract dirt and eventually block the lock.
  • Repeated melting can cause rust.

6. Replace Key 

A troublesome key can harm your lock with repeated use. Worn keys do not work properly, which causes users to over-torque and jiggle the key. This adds unnecessary stress to the lock and can lead to both the key and lock breaking.

To find out if this is the lock maintenance concern you need to focus on, take out your key and feel the teeth. The sharper and more pointed they are, the less wear the metal has experienced. If you are dealing with smoothed or rounded edges, this is a sign of key wear.

If you have several keyed alike locks, you can check whether a worn key is your issue by using the key on other locks and seeing if the issue persists. To avoid this type of lock maintenance, you can install a keypad door lock, but you will need the more regularly scheduled lock maintenance of battery changes.

You may be asking, “Where can I get a key made when it wears down?” If you do not have a non-worn key, you may need a locksmith to come and decode the lock. If you are using patented locks, the manufacturer will often be able to send you a replacement.

Lock Maintenance Overview:

  • Replace worn keys when they do not reliably open the lock.
  • You cannot duplicate the worn key.
  • The lock can be decoded, or keys can be made from the manufacturer’s code.

Final Word

If you can reduce the stress on your lock, you can increase its lifespan and the security it offers. Do not let rust or ice accumulate. And do not continue to use a lock that has become harder to lock and unlock. Address these issues as they arise and before inconvenience turns to damage.

For any assistance with your lock maintenance, see if United Locksmith serves your area. Your locks are where physical security and crime prevention start, but they are also a device you use every day. Make that experience as stress-free as possible with better lock maintenance.

Category: Commercial, Residential, Safety & Security

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