Door Latch Stuck In A Door Frame? (Here's What You Can Do)

Dennis Howard
by Dennis Howard

You come home, put the key in the deadbolt and unlock the door. Holding your groceries in one arm, you turn the doorknob and find that the door doesn’t open. The door latch doesn’t retract and seems stuck in the door frame. You are still locked out.

Your door latch may get stuck on your door frame due to misalignment, a latch that gets jammed, or a broken latch mechanism. These issues are usually due to a faulty latch. You can replace the latch by removing the spindle to take out the old latch, and set the new one in its place.

Discovering the cause of the problem with your door latch is easily performed by following a few simple steps. Usually, the necessary repairs are easy as well. Our list of instructions will help you repair your door latch and end the frustrations of being locked out of your home.

Do You Need Hardware, Latches and Tracks Repair or Replacement?

Get free, zero-commitment quotes from pro contractors near you.

Be a Door Doctor and Discover the Problem

The first thing you need to do is figure out exactly the cause of the problem with the door latch. The following steps will guide you through this discovery process.

Step 1 – Test the Door

Try opening the door. There are certain things to look for that gives you an idea of the problem and where to look next

  • The Knob Won’t Turn or if it Turns the Latch Doesn’t Retract– If the doorknob won’t turn, more than likely the something inside the door latch mechanism is broken or jammed. You must remove and disassemble the door latch to find out the exact cause of the problem. In some instances, this may require the services of a qualified locksmith.
  • The Knob Turns but Takes a Lot of Pressure to Retract the Latch – Look at the latch to see if you can see marks or scratches where the latch is rubbing against the strike plate or the door frame. A latch that is hard to retract is usually an alignment issue and may require adjusting the hinges on the door.

Step 2 – If the Doorknob Turns Freely

If the doorknob turns and nothing else happens, the internal mechanisms have failed. The only fix for this situation is to replace the entire door latch assembly. Visit your local home center or hardware store and pick out a new door latch. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to install the new door latch.

Step 3 – When the Doorknob Won’t Turn

If the door is closed and the doorknob won’t turn, a latch jammed into the opening in the door frame is probably the problem. The other possibility is that the internal mechanisms of the door latch have failed.

If the doorknob won’t turn with the door open, it is a sure bet that the door latch mechanism has broken, and you must replace the whole latch. If the doorknob turns freely and the latch normally retracts with the door open, ta door misaligned with the striker plate is the problem.

Step 4 – The Latch Retracts with Difficulty

This problem is much like a latch that won’t retract when you turn the knob. More than likely, the latch itself is rubbing against the striker plate or part of the door frame. A misaligned door is a usual culprit in this case.

Addressing the Problems

When you have discovered the problem, it is time to address that issue not to happen again. The average homeowner easily does most of these fixes.

A Broken Latch – Fix or Repair?

In our experience, unless your door latch is an expensive decorator piece, the cost of repairing a broken door latch is often less than the cost of replacing the latch. When you replace a door latch, it is a good idea to replace the deadbolt lock simultaneously. Doing this keeps you from having two keys to get into your home.

New styles of the door latch and deadbolt combination kits are available. The availability of code operated deadbolts can make unlocking your door a keyless job which is much more convenient for many people.

Correcting Door Issues

If you determine that the issue is a misalignment between the door and the door frame, look for any of several issues. Doors, especially exterior doors, are subject to weather extremes. Wooden doors may warp. Door frames may move or sag. Doors hinges may loosen or wear enough to affect alignment.

Fixing A Misaligned Door

If you suspect that a misaligned door is an issue, there are some steps to determine the problem.

Step 1 – Warped or Bowed

Use a long straight edge like a 48” carpenters level and lay it against the door in several directions. If you can see a gap between the straight edge and the door, the door is warped or bowed. If the warp or bow is enough to affect the operation of the latch or the seal around the door, you should replace the door.

Step 2 – If the Door isn’t Straight in the Frame

Look at the gap between the door and the door frame. That space should be tight and equal around the door. If the gap is uneven or there are wear spots on the edge of the door and the frame, you have issues with how the door is hanging.

The door installation was probably done correctly. However, time and weather work on doors and door frames to change the fit. These effects lead to changes in the way the door fits. Correcting these problems should be addressed by someone who has experience in hanging and repairing doors.

Step 3 – Doorframe Damage

Doorframes see a lot of traffic. Sometimes, inadvertent accidents can damage the doorframe enough to affect how the door fits into the frame. It doesn’t take much damage to cause the latch to misalign with the striker plate. Again, if the door frame damaged is this extensive, the repair will probably require the attention of a trained carpenter.

Opening A Door Latch That Is Stuck in the Door Frame

Finding yourself stuck outside your home or apartment due to a stuck door latch is frustrating. If you are an apartment dweller with no other means of entrance, it can be a bit of a nightmare. You may have some options to get past that stuck latch and into your home.

The Credit Card Method – Maybe, Maybe Not

We have all heard of the method of opening a door using a credit card. The instructions call for sliding the credit card between the door frame and the door. The credit card slips behind the latch and pushes it back into the door.

The problem here is that most new door latch mechanisms include a secondary latch that prevents the latch from being moved without disengaging the latch system in the door. Another problem is weathertight doors that include seals that keep air movement around the door to a minimum.

In general, most people don’t have much luck with the credit card technique.

The Obvious Option

The obvious solution if you are locked out of your apartment by a broken or unworking latch, is to call a professional locksmith. Calling a locksmith may be a bit expensive, but a professional locksmith can usually get you inside your apartment without damaging the door, the doorframe, or the door trim.

In the long run, the expense of the locksmith may be less than repairing the damage that can occur to the door, doorframe, and trim if you try to force the door open. While the locksmith is on the scene, a new lock or repairs to the old lock are e cheaper and faster.

Do You Need Hardware, Latches and Tracks Repair or Replacement?

Get free, zero-commitment quotes from pro contractors near you.

Unlocking the Unlockable

Finding yourself exiled from your own home by a latch that refuses to operate can be frustrating and angering. Don’t let those frustrations overwhelm you. Most issues with door latches and locks have easy and economical solutions. We hope that these tips and tricks for diagnosing and repairing a door latch stuck in a door frame help you with a solution to your problem.

Dennis Howard
Dennis Howard

Dennis is a retired firefighter with an extensive background in construction, home improvement, and remodeling. He worked in the trades part-time while serving as an active firefighter. On his retirement, he started a remodeling and home repair business, which he ran for several years.

More by Dennis Howard