Dealing With Frozen Door Locks In Winter

Last updated on January 20th, 2016 at 02:21 pm

Most weather forecasters are expecting this winter to be colder than average. The forecasts aren’t quite as bleak as the incredibly cold winters that we saw a couple of years ago, but we are still in for some heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures. If the weather forecasters are right then that means there will be a lot of burst pipes and frozen doors happening over the next few months.

Frozen doors can be incredibly frustrating and annoying. There are two main reasons that doors stick in the winter. One is because the lock is frozen, and the other is that the door itself shrinks and expands because of the changes in temperature, and that, combined with ice, makes the door warp and stick in the frame.

Tackling a Frozen Door Lock

Frozen door locks are easier to fix than you might expect, as long as you have the right tool handy. Believe it or not, a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer is all you need to open a frozen lock.

Hand sanitizers work because the alcohol in them melts the ice that has made the lock seize up. Simply pour it on the key and wiggle the key in and out of the lock for a moment to loosen it up. If you don’t carry hand sanitizer, then this is a good reason to start. Once you get into the habit of carrying it you’ll (hopefully) enjoy fewer colds and winter bugs too, which is a nice side-effect.

If you don’t have hand sanitizer on you, there are other things that you can try. Heating your key, carefully, with the cigarette lighter from your car (or a normal lighter, if you carry one), is a good option. Another thing that you can try is spraying some WD-40 onto the lock to loosen things up. If you do this, be patient and let it work. Don’t try any flame-based methods of opening the lock after you’re sprayed it with WD-40, because this lubricant is incredibly flammable.

 A picture of a dark brown door with a golden door knob

Image source:


Don’t Panic

If you’re stuck outside late at night, and you don’t have any lighters, lubricants or alcohol handy, don’t panic. You can always try warming the key in your hands, or just working the key in and out, slowly and gently for a minute or two. If you live in a house with a front and a back door, try one of the other doors to see if it is easier to open. If all else fails, ask a neighbour if they can help you by giving you some hot water or something else to heat up the lock for a moment. Frozen doors are inconvenient, but there should be no reason to call a locksmith. With patience and creativity, you can get the door open.

This autumn, add a bottle of hand sanitizer (or a spare lighter) to your winter survival kit. Neither item takes up a lot of space in your bag or your car, and it could save you a lot of time and hassle one cold winter evening.

1 Comment

  1. jerry vriend says: Reply

    I broke the key for my front door. It was 20 below zero in winnipeg last night. I went to the back door. The lock was frozen. I went to the neighbor. Geoff said ‘no problem – we’ll just warm it up with a hair dryer. Bob, the lock guy, at Home Depot managed to get the broken key out of the lock (which I had taken out and brought in a bag). Three hours after I first got home I had the lock back in. I had a bottle of wine left from Christmas – that went to Geoff and his wife. I filled the lock in the back with hand sanitizer – i hope that will help de-ice the back door lock. Its good to be back in my house.

Leave a Reply