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When to Change vs. Rekey Your Locks

when to change vs. rekey your locks
Last Updated on March 1, 2023
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While changing a lock refers to replacing an old lock with a new one, rekeying refers to replacing a lock’s working key without replacing the lock. Whether you’re concerned about a lock’s security or lost its keys, you might be wondering whether it’s better to change or rekey your locks – this is what you need to know!

You should rekey your locks when you have a copy of the matching key, you want to make multiple locks use the same key, or you want to ensure old key copies no longer work. A lock should be changed when rekeying isn’t possible, when the lock is damaged, and when upgrading to better locks.

I will explain everything homeowners must know about when to change or rekey their locks! Once I’ve discussed the benefits of changing and rekeying your locks, I’ll outline when to use each method to increase a lock’s security. I’ll also guide you through the general steps of changing or rekeying your locks!

Changing vs. Rekeying Your Locks: When To Use Each Method

Changing and rekeying a lock are similar because both methods will improve your security and give you peace of mind. While you can change any type of lock if it needs to be replaced, only some lock types can be rekeyed. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean changing your locks should be your go-to option.

In many instances, rekeying a lock is easier than completely changing the lock. Rekeying is a relatively quick process that can be done without removing the lock from the door, which makes rekeying more convenient than changing a lock. Rekeying is also more affordable than changing locks, especially if you previously invested in high-quality ones.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits to changing a lock! Changing your locks can improve the functionality and aesthetics of your locks. While rekeying allows you to keep the same lock, changing the lock will enable you to choose a replacement lock with features that suit your specific home security needs.

Since there are benefits to changing and rekeying your locks, it’s essential to understand when to use each method. If you have any security concerns regarding your locks and keys, I’ll help you decide whether you should rekey or change your locks to improve your overall security. Let’s take a look at when you should use each method!

When Should You Rekey Your Locks?

It’s often easier, faster, and more affordable to rekey a lock than to completely change it, which is why I’m first going to discuss when you should rekey your locks!

1. Rekey Locks When You Have The Existing Key

In most cases, you need to have a matching key to rekey a lock – especially if you want to rekey a lock on your own with a rekey kit. However, professional locksmiths may be able to rekey a lock without a copy of the matching key for an additional fee.

2. Rekey Locks To Match Different Locks To One Key

If you own multiple locks from the same brand that use different keys, you can rekey your locks so that they all operate with the same key. Rekeying multiple locks to match them to one key will prevent you from needing to find the right key to gain access to your home.

3. Rekey Locks To Secure A Property After Keys Are Lost

If you’ve lost a lock’s key and you’re worried someone will find it and gain entry to your home, you should rekey your lock so that the lost key doesn’t work anymore. It’s much easier to rekey a lock than change it after losing your keys!

4. Rekey Locks To Ensure Old Key Copies Don’t Work

Rekeying locks is the best way to ensure that old key copies no longer work. For example, if you’ve moved into a new home, rekeying your locks ensures that anyone who previously obtained keys to your home from the previous owner will not be able to unlock your doors.

When Should You Change Your Locks?

While it isn’t always necessary to change your locks, there are certain instances when it’s better to change your locks than to rekey them!

1. Change Locks When The Keys Are Lost

If you no longer have access to any of the keys to your lock, it will be hard to rekey your locks – especially if you want to rekey the lock yourself. In these instances, the better option is changing the locks and getting a new set of keys. You can even upgrade to higher-quality locks!

2. Change Locks When They Are Worn Or Damaged

If your lock is worn or damaged, it’s better to replace it entirely than rekey it. Changing your lock will ensure that all lock components work correctly. Other parts may break by rekeying a faulty lock, forcing you to spend more money on changing the locks after rekeying it.

3. Change Locks When They’re Broken And Can’t Be Repaired

The same applies to locks that are broken and cannot be repaired. You won’t be able to rekey these locks and will need to replace them entirely.

4. Change Locks When Rekeying Isn’t Possible

Since it’s not always possible to rekey a lock, you will need to change locks that cannot be rekeyed. A locksmith will be able to advise you on whether locks can be rekeyed or whether they’ll need to be changed.

5. Change Locks When Upgrading To Better Locks

You should change your locks when you’re upgrading to higher-quality locks. Many homeowners are beginning to embrace smart locks, which offer many unique benefits, such as:

  • Multiple Access Modes: Smart locks connect to your home network and allow you to unlock your door in various ways, including biometric fingerprint scanners, keypads, mobile phone apps, location-based unlocking, and voice control.
  • Managed Access: Create temporary or permanent access codes for anyone that needs to access your home. Using these user codes, you can schedule access for specific days or times (great for Airbnb) or even toggle on and off codes as you need them.
  • Increased Security: Smart deadbolts add a digital layer of security to your door locks by notifying you when your door is unlocked and providing access logs of who unlocked it and when. You'll always know when someone comes and goes. Smart locks are a small risk and a big reward.

If you like the idea of using a smart lock, be sure to check out my round-up of the best smart locks of 2023.

6. Change Locks To Match Them To Your Home’s Design

If you’re renovating your home, you may decide to change your locks to upgrade their style, design, or color to suit the rest of your home. Rekeying a lock only replaces internal lock hardware, keeping the outside intact, while changing your locks allows you to choose locks that match your home décor.

How To Change Your Locks In 5 Steps

While the process of changing a lock will vary based on the type of lock, there are five general steps to follow. You can find my 2023 guide covering the best deadbolt door locks here.

Step One: Remove The Existing Lock

When changing your lock, your existing lock will need to be removed from the door. You must loosen the screws attaching your current lock to the door to uninstall it.

Step Two: Purchase A Suitable Replacement

Once the existing lock has been uninstalled, measure the lock size to ensure you purchase a suitable replacement lock that’s the right size. There are many lock designs, styles, colors, and finishes for you to consider when purchasing a replacement lock.

Step Three: Prepare The Door

Unless you purchase the same type of lock, chances are your new lock will have a different screw pattern than your current lock. To ensure your new lock can be properly installed, you will need to fill the old holes and drill the correct holes to install your new lock.

Step Four: Install The Replacement Lock

You can now follow the instructions provided by your new lock’s manufacturer to install the lock. The lock’s instructions will specify the tools and hardware needed to secure the new lock to your door.

Step Five: Test Your New Lock

Finally, test your changed lock to ensure it is securely installed and works properly.

How To Rekey Your Locks In 5 Steps

While the process of rekeying a lock will depend on the type of lock, there are five general steps to follow when rekeying locks. You can also find our more comprehensive lock rekeying guide here.

Step One: Remove The Lock Cylinder

While you won’t need to remove the entire lock to rekey it, you will need to remove the lock cylinder. The specific way to remove the cylinder will depend on the manufacturer of your lock.

Step Two: Disassemble The Lock Cylinder

Once the lock cylinder has been removed, it must be disassembled to remove the old tumblers.

Step Three: Install The New Tumblers

Your rekeying kit will include new tumblers and new keys. Follow the kit’s instructions to install the new tumblers that correspond with your new keys.

Step Four: Reassemble The Lock Cylinder

With the new tumblers installed in the lock cylinder, you can reassemble the lock cylinder and reinstall it in the lock body.

Step Five: Test The Rekeyed Lock

Finally, make sure to test your rekeyed lock to verify that the new keys work correctly and that old copies are rendered useless!


A lock should be rekeyed when you have access to a copy of the key, you want to make different locks from the same brand work with one key, or you want to ensure old key copies no longer work. You should change a lock when you don’t have access to any working keys, the lock is damaged, you’re upgrading to better locks, or you want to match the locks to your home décor.


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