This post has affiliate/referral links. Learn more.
Almost all of us have struggled with a key getting stuck in a lock and refusing to budge. Sometimes it could be the key to the front door lock, the shed, or a cupboard, or simply an old pair of locks and keys that you discovered while cleaning your room.
Whatever the case may be, it’s a real pain to try to figure out how to get a stuck key out of a lock. Most of us have no idea what’s going on inside those little chambers of pins and cylinders.
Nevertheless, worry no more. In this article, you will learn the top three easy and effective techniques on how to get a stuck key out of a lock.
Before learning about the techniques, you should first understand what causes a key to get stuck in a lock in the first place. Even if you are not familiar with the structure of a lock, it’s good to know the most common causes.
Why Keys Get Stuck – Common Causes
- An incompatible key was used on the lock. In most cases when the Maximum Adjacent Cut Specification (MACS) is not accurate, the key won’t work. This means that if the distance between the cuts in the keys is more than the number specified by the manufacturer of the lock, the key is incompatible. The only solution here is to approach a locksmith unless you are able to take the cap off the top of the lock or shim it yourself to fix it.
- The lock is rusting. If the lock has rusted, the metal pins and tumblers are not going to be able to move freely as they should, often causing a key to get stuck in the lock.
- Accumulation of dirt in the lock chambers: When unwanted dirt and grime get into the lock, it can clog the lock mechanism causing it to fail. As a result, a key inserted into the lock could get stuck.
- A loose plug. If the lock is old, especially in the case of a pin-tumbler lock, the plug face, which is the circle around the keyhole, becomes loose over time. As a result, when you try to work the lock, it juts out, shakily, and turns along with the key causing a misalignment of the key with the pin tumblers. So the key just wouldn’t click.
- Poor maintenance. Overall, poor maintenance of locks leads to a situation where you find yourself struggling with a stuck key. These valuable pieces of metal that ensure our security need some love and care from us once in a while. Make sure it’s dirt-free and lubricated.
Now that you know what causes problems for a lock, let’s look at quick and effective techniques on how to get a stuck key out of a lock.
How to Get a Stuck Key Out of a Lock – 3 Methods
1. The Push Plug Method
When you find yourself locked out, and you want to get into the house badly but the key is stuck in the door lock, you can try this method before calling in the professionals or resorting to breaking the lock.
In most pin-tumbler locks, the problem is that over time, the plug (the small circular coin-shaped piece) around the keyhole becomes loose. It often comes off protruding outside the lock a bit.
When you insert the key, this piece turns along with the key, preventing the key from aligning with the pin tumblers which will release the lock. So you want to make sure that the key aligns with the pin tumblers.
For this, insert the key all the way into the keyhole. Keep rotating the key so that the keyhole goes back to the original spot where the key was inserted. Now push and hold and plug gently as you turn the key.
You should hear a click, which means the method has worked. Jiggle the key gently on its way out.
2. Spray lubricant
If the lock and key you are struggling with do not belong to your front door, then we have a good chance at trying other methods for which you will need access to a few materials. For one, you can try spray lubricants to help the lock mechanism work smoothly. Try to select a lubricant that dries fast and doesn’t attract dirt.
Spray the lubricant where the keyhole meets the key. Shake the key inside and lock and turn it around as much as you can. This helps distribute the lubricant inside the lock. Eventually, it should give way so you should be able to release the key.
In order to prevent a lock from getting stuck, you need to keep it lubricated. You can use spray lubricants or other petroleum-based lubricants. However, the only flip side to that is the fact that oil attracts dirt. Too much moisture inside the lock also causes it to rust. So you want to make sure you do not oil it too often than necessary. When you find that the lock is getting rough, you may use these lubricants.
3. Graphite powder
Graphite powder is a great lubricant for locks. In fact, it is often better than oil or other petroleum-based lubricants. This is because it leaves no residue inside the locks.
Oil attracts dirt and so over time, dirt build-up can cause the lock mechanism to malfunction.
On the other hand, when you use graphite powder, you need just enough lubrication for the locks to function. You also won’t have the problem of residue.
So if you can, squeeze a bit of graphite powder into the keyhole. Try to get as much as you can with the stuck key still inside. Also, try to get the sides of the key itself if you can manage it.
If you happen to have a graphite pencil, you can try rubbing the tip of the pencil along the sides of the key. Then try moving the key in and out of the keyhole. This should lubricate the lock and possibly release the key. As a long-term maintenance routine, you can lubricate your locks with graphite powder.
These are some quick techniques on how to get a stuck key out of a lock.
How do you get a key unstuck from a lock?
Push the plug face back (the round coin-like piece around the keyhole) and hold it steady. Turn the key around in the lock and it should give way. Other methods to lubricate the lock include using spray lubricants and graphite powder.
What causes a key to get stuck in a lock?
Some of the most common causes for a key to get stuck in a lock is the dirt build-up inside the lock mechanism, rusting pieces of metal, poor maintenance, loose plug face, and perhaps an incompatible key.
If you find yourself struggling with a lock and key and are wondering how to get a stuck key out of a lock, here are some nice and quick tips. Push the plug face back and hold it down as you turn the key. Other methods include using a spray lubricant or graphite powder to lubricate the lock chambers so that it functions smoothly, thereby releasing the key.