Any lock is as good as its capability of keeping people out. However, what happens when the lock won’t let you in?
Locks have a lot of intricate and precise components that are designed to accept specific keys in order to prevent others from entering your property or starting your car’s engine, for example.
But sometimes, the key may not go in the lock fully, which will cause a lot of problems for the owner.
Dirt and debris build-up, mechanical problems, and deterioration or damaged keys are the most common reasons why a key won’t go in the lock. Cleaning and lubricating the lock with a dry lubricant can help the key to go all the way into the lock. If that doesn’t help, replacing the lock may be required.
In my experience, I have stumbled upon a few different scenarios where a key won’t go in the lock.
After doing plenty of research and experimenting, I have found out that there are some caveats that should be considered to avoid damaging the lock in the process. Continue reading below, where I explain more.
5 Reasons Why a Key Won’t Go in Lock
Overall, mechanical issues with the lock are among the most common problems that can cause a key to not go in the lock.
Locks can slowly wear out over long periods of time and deteriorate or do it in chunks, often catching the owner off guard.
Dirt and Grime Build Up
If you are having difficulty getting the key in the lock or if it stops halfway in, one of the problems can be dirt and dust accumulation inside the lock.
Dirt and dust will slowly accumulate in the lock, which can eventually cause the pins and springs to seize up and not work as smoothly.
Sometimes you can even experience difficulties getting the key into the outside side of the lock but not from the inside.
During the winter, especially if you live somewhere where temperatures can drop below freezing, locks can freeze.
When the lock freezes, the pins, and springs inside may remain in place and not move at all when the key is inserted into the lock.
Frozen locks are normal and to be expected in freezing weather. This does not indicate a problem with the lock itself.
A Problem With the Key
For the sake of completion, a few other things should be mentioned too.
When their key doesn’t go in the lock, many people can get really worried as to what may have happened and quickly consider the worst-case scenarios.
However, take a moment and ensure that the key being used is the right key for the lock. Mix-ups can happen, so it is important to take that out of the equation.
Next, if you are using a new recently cut key for the first time and it stops halfway in the lock or requires a lot of force or wiggling to enter the lock, it may be due to poor workmanship.
Poorly cut keys will often not work properly, so ensure you are using the services of a reputable locksmith.
A bent or a blunt key can also be the reason why it stops halfway through, so ensure your key is in good working condition.
There are many other reasons why a key will stop halfway through, as we have seen. However, a lock that has been tampered with can also stop working properly.
If somebody has tried to pick your lock, they can end up damaging it to the point where the key may not fit properly into the keyhole.
What to Do if Your Key Won’t Turn in the Lock?
As we can see, there can be a number of different causes for a key to not go in the lock, but what can you do in such a case?
Sometimes just wiggling the key back and forth will usually do the job and allow the key to go all the way in, only to find out that the key is now stuck and harder to pull out, and you are risking getting locked outside or inside.
Often the problem will be dirt accumulation. The easiest and often cheapest route to take is to clean and lubricate the lock in order to remove any dust and grime build-ups, allowing the key to enter the lock.
Alternatively, you can try using compressed air to blow the dirt, sand, and other debris out of the cylinder.
Pins tend to wear out with time to the point where they can often get stuck. The best thing you can do in such a case is to replace the lock—especially if you own the lock and the place. However, people who are renting the place will have to bring that issue up with their landlord before doing anything.
A new key lock is not really that expensive, and replacing it will eliminate the risk of getting locked outside or having to worry about whether the lock will fail at some point.
If your lock appears to be frozen, there are a few different ways you can go about it to unfreeze it.
The most commonly used method by people who are in a pinch is by heating up their key with a lighter and inserting it inside the lock, giving it a little wiggle as they do. This process may need to be repeated a few times as the lock gradually loosens up.
Isopropyl alcohol, ethanol, alcohol, hand sanitizer, de-icer spray, or even a hairdryer to blow some hot air in the lock can be used to melt the ice inside the lock.
What Products Can You Use to Lubricate the Lock?
Only dry lubricants are recommended for lubricating and cleaning locks because they will not attract dirt and dust into the lock, gunking it up as wet lubricants do.
Usually, Teflon and, in certain cases, graphite lubricants are used in locks.
Tri-flow is widely considered among experts to be one of the best products for lubricating a lock and keeping it in a healthy condition. An excellent Teflon lubricant can be found on Amazon right here.
Graphite lubricants are also a popular pick. A good example of an excellent graphite lubricant is this one on Amazon. It can be applied directly to the lock or on the key and be slowly worked in the lock.
If you are in a pinch scratching a pencil’s graphite into the lock can also work.
However, sometimes graphite can gunk up your lock, so it may not always be the best way to go. In addition, car and motorcycle locks can have very tight tolerances, and graphite chunks can end up clumping together, causing owners a lot of trouble.
For locks that may have more serious debris build-up inside that may not allow the other lubricants to be applied properly, using LPS NO.1 is recommended, which can be found on Amazon here.
Can You Use WD-40 if Your Key Won’t Go in the Lock?
WD-40 is a product that is often used for lubrication, and people may be tempted to use it in their locks if the key won’t go in.
WD-40, while having lubricative properties, is not useful in all applications as it is mostly a water displacement (hence the WD in the name) formula and a cleaner.
Because of this, WD-40 is not used in places where long-term lubrication is required and where dirt and water are likely to accumulate quickly, like on gears, drive chains, hinges, electrical motors, and locks.
WD-40 is not safe for locks and thus should not be used in locks. Although WD-40 may provide some short-term lubrication, it is quick to evaporate and leave behind oily residues that can attract dirt and dust. This eventually can ruin a lock.
What to Do if Key Won’t Get In the Lock No Matter What?
If the key still gets stuck, you are essentially left with just a few options.
You can have a locksmith assess the condition of the lock or simply take the lockout and replace it.
Remember not to apply too much force regardless of what you do. Your key can easily end up bending or even breaking inside the cylinder, leading to even more problems.
If you consider yourself handy, rebuilding the lock may also be worth doing. You can take it apart and see what is going on on the inside. However, if this lock is in use or one that you depend on and you are unsure, it is recommended to have a trained locksmith inspect it to ensure it works correctly.