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Fixing Internal Doors That Won't Open or Close

A home without internal doors isn’t much of a home. Much as we all appreciate those kitschy hanging-bead-curtains, they don’t do much of a job when it comes to privacy and insulation.

But if your internal doors are going to do their job, they’ll need to be able to open and close. After all, a door that won’t open or close isn’t really a door at all! If you’ve got an interior door stuck (or you’d like to learn a few preventative measures to stop this from happening), then read on. We’re about to unstick this problem once and for all!

Internal Door Won’t Open

So why won’t your door open? Internal doors become stuck for all sorts of reasons. If you’re going to solve the problem, you’ll need to first identify its cause. Sometimes, the fault lies with the door itself. Sometimes, it’s the bolt mechanism that’s to blame. We’ll start with the former category and then deal with the latter.

Warping

As wooden doors age, they will inevitably warp. This happens when the fibres change shape in response to changes in temperature, pressure and humidity. You can guard against this problem by choosing a door that’s been properly treated (or treating it yourself), but at some point you’re going to have to deal with certain parts of the door catching against the frame.

There’s a simple solution, here. You need to identify the part that’s catching, and sand it down. When you restore it to the frame, it’ll be able to swing freely. Of course, there’s a limit to how much you can sand a door without compromising its looks and functionality – but you’ll usually be able to get away with a few millimetres.

Fallen doors

We also need to be concerned with the force of gravity. Over time, your door will push down against the hinges, causing them to come slightly loose. This will cause the door to catch against the frame in the same way as if the frame was oversized.

Thankfully, this is another problem with a simple solution: you just need to tighten the guilty hinge. It’s almost always the top one that’s to blame, as it has to take on the greater weight. Give it a jiggle to see if it moves, and if it does, tighten it up.

New Carpet

You’ve replaced the ailing carpet in the room beyond, and it looks marvellous. But the underlay is just a few millimetres chunkier than the stuff it replaced, and as such the fibres are pushing against the bottom of the door, restricting its movement.

This is a problem that you’ll notice within moments of installing the carpet (that’s if the fitters manage to leave the room!). To fix it, you’ll need to take a few millimetres off the bottom of the door, and then treat it so that it looks as good as new. Of course, getting the door open so that you can access the hinges is going to prove difficult. You’ll need to take the pin out, using either a flat-head screwdriver or an Allen key. Just tap the end with a hammer and the pin should slide free.

Bolt doesn’t move

When you twist the knob, a rotating spindle inside the door moves the bolt back-and-forth via a spring-loaded mechanism. If you’re turning the handle and the bolt isn’t moving, then this mechanism has broken somewhere. On the other hand, if you can’t move the handle at all, then it might be jammed.

Usually, this can be fixed without resorting to replacement parts – but you’ll need to disassemble the handle. How you do this varies from handle to handle. With some, you’ll unscrew a decorative plate in order to access the screws beneath; with others, you’ll simply need to slide it apart. Having done so, you’ll be able to unscrew and remove the handle on both sides of the door, and then the bolt. You can then reassemble the mechanism outside of the door and diagnose the problem.

In many cases, we can get the bolt moving by tightening the set screw which holds the thing together. This may correct a minor misalignment. Lubricate the mechanism using WD40 or something similar, and work the lubricant into the handle by rotating a few times. When you get it moving, you can reassemble the door.

In some instances, it may be necessary to buy a replacement handle. Happily, these come in many shapes, sizes and styles, the majority of which are very affordable.

Interior Door Won’t Stay Open

Doors that close of their accord are an annoyance. They may convince you that you’re living in a haunted house – or, worse, cause household accidents.

Crooked Doors

When a door is not straight (or ‘plumb’), it’ll fall forward under its own weight. This can happen because the door wasn’t installed straight in the first place, but more commonly it occurs in older properties where door frames have fallen marginally out of alignment over time.

There’s an easy way to fix this, and that’s with the help of a small wedge-shaped piece of wood or rubber. If you’re in a spot, you can use whatever item you happen to have to hand – provided that it’s suitably heavy.

Of course, doorstops aren’t an ideal solution. They need to be constantly moved, and they can get in the way. An alternative is to shim the hinges – that is, to insert a narrow strip of material underneath them to compensate for any misalignment. We’ll touch more on that later.

The best solution is to reset the hinges, or even to reinstall an entirely new door frame. The former option involves significantly less effort than the latter – though it’s still a significant undertaking. If you’re renting, you might find that you’re not actually allowed to install a new frame even if you wanted to.

How to Fix a Door that Won’t Close

Almost as annoying as a door that won’t open is a door that won’t close. This issue has many of the same causes as the ones we’ve already discussed – a faulty latch might prevent the bolt from retracting, or a misalignment might cause the door to drag along the floor before it reaches the frame. You might find that your latch doesn’t properly meet the strike-plate, preventing it from sliding home.

You can diagnose this latter problem using the end of a stick of lipstick (or a dab of tip-ex). Mark the edges of the bolt, and then close the door as far as it will go. When you move the door back, you’ll be able to see where the bolt hits the door, and then correct any misalignment by tightening the hinges. If you need the latch higher, then you’ll be tightening the top hinge. If you need it lower, you’ll be tightening the bottom one.

If you can’t tighten the hinges any further, then you might try using a longer screw. This will travel further into the frame, and pull the jamb along with it.

In some cases, the better option might be to move the strike-plate to accommodate the latch. To do this, you’ll need to remove it. You can fill the holes with wood-filler, and level off the result with a bank card. If you use coloured wood-filler, then you won’t need to sand and re-paint – just find something that matches the door frame. You’ll find both white and wood-coloured fillers available. Allow the filler to entirely dry before you move onto the next step.

Once it’s set, you’ll be able to re-drill and screw in the plate a few millimetres down (or up). Use the lipstick trick to see where the latch is going to fall, and place the strike-plate accordingly.

Fixing Doors that Won’t Stay Closed

We’ve already looked at doors that don’t stay open. But what if you have an interior door that won’t stay closed? The solutions are pretty similar to the ones we’ve already talked about. If there’s an alignment problem, gravity will naturally push your door one way or the other. But if your inside door won’t stay closed, then this probably means that the latch isn’t catching properly (if at all).

To fix this, you’ll need to install a shim underneath the hinges, as we mentioned before. This does the opposite job to tightening the hinges: it’ll push the door toward the other side of the frame, and slide the latch more securely in the process. Find a piece of cardboard that’s the right size to go beneath both of your hinges (but not so thick that it’ll cause your door to stick).

Conclusion

A misaligned or otherwise wonky internal door can be extremely annoying. But in most cases, the fix is an easy one. Even if you’re not particularly handy, it’s worth breaking out the tools and getting the job fixed yourself. The fix may take just a few minutes, and it’ll save you years of annoyance!