How to Lubricate a Lock (Doors and Padlocks)
Whether you have a squeaky doorknob or your key jumps and staggers while inserting it into the keyway, knowing how to lubricate a lock will give them that fresh feeling and keep them in tip-top shape.
A rough operating lock can cause many issues, such as a higher probability of breaking your key off in the keyway.
In this guide, we'll look at how to lubricate a keyway, door lock, and padlock. We'll also briefly cover the types of lubricants you should use in your locks and what to avoid.
Let's get to it!
Table of Contents
Best Lubricants for Locks
When it comes to locks, not all lubricants are equal. Some will give your lock a silky-smooth experience, while others will quickly deteriorate into a sticky mess that will eventually cause your lock to operate roughly or bind up.
The only type of lubricants you should use for your locks are dry lubricants, which consist of small solid particles that are slippery enough to reduce friction between two surfaces. Commonly used materials are graphite, Teflon (PTFE), and silicon.
Dry lubricants reduce that grimy buildup in your locks because they don't leave behind any oily residue, which can collect particles like dust, dirt, or even hair. They also repel water, which aids in rust protection.
My top recommendation for lock lubrication is Houdini Lock Lube which does an incredible job at penetrating and cleaning corrosion and provides long-lasting buttery-smooth lubrication.
However, there are other excellent lubricants out there that offer similar results. For a more extensive list, be sure to check out my complete guide on The Best Lubricants for Locks.
NOTE: Whatever you do, stay away from penetration-type lubricants such as WD-40 and other oil-based products for outdoor locks. These types of lubes will provide you with temporary lubrication, however, the oil left behind will collect garbage like dust and cause a grimy buildup over time.
How to Lubricate a Keyway
For most locks, the keyway is the most exposed part of the lock, and often free-roaming particles like dirt, dust, hair, or even bugs can find their way in and gum up the components.
Common signs that you need to lubricate your keyway include:
- The key jumps and stutters while inserting and removing it from the lock.
- Turning the key feels gummy or sticky.
- The lock isn't working, meaning components might be stuck.
Lubricating your keyhole is one of the best preventative efforts you can take to keep your lock in good shape and prevent unfortunate situations like breaking your key off in your lock.
Step 1: Clean out the keyway.
If you are using any oil-based lubrication, you'll want to start by removing as much dust, dirt, and other garbage that might have made its way into the keyway. This is easily done using compressed can air.
However, if you are using dry lubrication, such as Houdini Lock Lube, you can skip this step as it will clean the keyway without these particles sticking to it.
Step 2: Spray lubricant into the keyway.
Using a rag, wrap the doorknob so that the keyhole is still exposed—this will catch any excess liquid. Next, spray a moderate amount of your preferred lubricant into the keyhole.
If the lock is really sticking or corroded, you may need to apply more.
Step 3: Insert and remove the key until smooth.
Insert and remove your key from the lock 10-20 times to help spread the lubricant throughout the keyway.
If the key still jumps or staggers, add additional lubricant and repeat.
Step 4: Turn the key until smooth.
Insert your key and turn it to the lock position and back 10-20 times to help spread the lubrication and break down any corrosion on the lock's plug or cylinder.
Apply additional lubricant and repeat until the lock works smoothly.
If your key is still sticking after lubricating, check if your key is bent. It's one of those things none of us ever think of, but could significantly impact the functionality of your key.
If none of the above work, you may need to pull your lock cylinder apart and give it a manual cleaning. There could be something stuck within the lock that exterior cleaning and lubrication can not address.
How to Lubricate a Door Lock
If your door lock is suffering from issues such as a squeaky or sticking handle, you'll need to disassemble and lubricate the entire assembly.
Fret not, this is actually pretty easy, and you typically don't need to do this often—unless you live in a very dusty place or a coastal region where the salty humid air corrodes things much faster.
If you would like to avoid taking the lock apart, you can also try squirting lubricant down the latch hole while it is still on the door.
See Also: Parts of a Doorknob and How They Work
Step 1: Remove the doorknob assembly.
Start by removing the doorknob and lock assembly from the door.
For most locks, this can be done by removing the two screws on the door's inside faceplate (rose). Once the screws are removed, pull both handles off the door.
Next, remove the two screws on the edge of the door holding in the latch assembly and remove that as well.
Step 2: Clean and lubricate the latch assembly.
To lubricate the latch assembly, spray the entire component, including the latch hole.
After lubricating, insert a screwdriver or key into the spindle hole and rotate it to engage the latching mechanism and spread the lubrication.
Lay the latch assembly down on a newspaper or paper towel until they dry. Once dry, test the component to see if it is functioning better. If not, apply more lubricant and repeat this step.
Step 3: Clean and lubricate the spindle.
To lubricate the spindle, spray lubricant on the spring mechanism on the backside of the handle.
After lubricating, twist the knob back and forth 10-20 times to work the lube into the mechanism.
Lay the component down on a newspaper or paper towel until they dry. Once dry, test the component to see if it is functioning better. If not, apply more lubricant and repeat this step.
Step 4: Reinstall the doorknob assembly.
Once the doorknob components are cleaned, lubricated, and have dried, it is time to put everything back together. Reinstall the doorknob assembly in the opposite order which you took it apart.
Also, consider giving your hinges a little lube while you're at it.
That's it! Your doorknob is clean, lubricated, and ready for action!
How to Lubricate a Padlock
Padlocks typically take a beating, primarily when used outdoors in dusty or corrosive environments.
Lubrication can help fix a padlock that is suffering from the following:
- The key jumps and stutters while inserting and removing it from the lock or feels sticky while turning.
- The shackle moves roughly or sticks.
- The lock isn't working, meaning components could be stuck.
Step 1: Clean the keyway and shackle.
If you are using any oil-based lubrication, you'll want to start by removing as much dust, dirt, and other garbage that might have made its way into the keyway or shackle holes. This is easily accomplished using compressed can air.
However, if you are using dry lubrication, such as Houdini Lock Lube, you can skip this step as it will clean the padlock without sticking to these particles.
Step 2: Lubricate the keyway.
To lubricate the keyway, spray a moderate amount of lube into the keyhole. Insert and remove the key 10-20 times, followed by turning the key in both directions ten times.
If the key still jumps or is rough to turn, add additional lubricant and repeat.
Step 3: Lubricate the shackle.
To lubricate the shackle, spray a moderate amount of lube into both shackle holes.
Lock and unlock the shackle while applying additional lubricant until the shackle operates smoothly.
If you've ever been so unlucky to break a key off into your lock, you'll fully understand the importance of regularly lubricating your locks.
Ideally, you want to lubricate your locks every six months to 2 years—more so if you live in coastal regions where the salty and humid air corrodes components much quicker.
I hope this short guide gave you the help you were seeking and if you would like to learn more about lock picking, home security, or locksmithing, be sure to check out my Academy for more free guides.