Why Won’t My Key Go All the Way Into the Lock? 5 Potential Reasons

We’ve all been there – you’re trying to unlock your door, and your key won’t go all the way in the lock. What gives? Is the lock busted? Or is there something wrong with your key?

When a key won’t go all the way into a lock, it might be because the lock inside is dirty, the tumblers are damaged, the pins are misaligned, the lock inside is blocked, or the lock might be frozen.

Here’s a look at some possible reasons why your key won’t go all the way in the lock and what you can do about it.

1. The Inside of the Lock Is Dirty

Over time, the inside of a lock can accumulate dust, dirt, and any other kind of debris, clogging up the keyhole. This is especially true for locks outdoors without a cover or shield to protect them from the elements.

The dirt and dust can have an abrasive effect on both the pins within the lock and the grooves on your key, causing them to become misshapen and impair their ability to fit into each other correctly.

Furthermore, this problem can be compounded if oil or lanolin has been sprayed onto the lock to lubricate it; while useful initially, these liquids attract even more dirt and dust over time.

As locks constantly operate by being turned and twisting back and forth with varying force applied behind them to open, this influx of improper materials will eventually cause them to jam up – meaning no amount of shoving your key in will help open your door.

In addition, rust will also form inside the lock due to oxidation if you live in an area with high humidity. Rust is especially dangerous as it builds up around moving parts, making it impossible for your key to fit in or turn the lock.

What You Can Do to Fix It

Repairing a lock that is dirty inside can be frustrating and seem like a daunting task. However, with a few household items, it is possible to fix the issue quickly and have your lock working in no time.

First, gathering some spring cleaner or lubricant, such as WD-40, and a soft brush, rag, or cloth is essential. Begin by spraying the cleaner into the keyhole area of the lock and letting it sit for several minutes. Then use the brush or rag to gently scrub away any dirt and dust particles that may have built up on the keyhole interior surface.

If necessary, you may need to repeat these steps several times until all dirt and debris have been removed. Lastly, if you still notice rust formation, spray more lubricant into the affected areas and then use a small brush (a toothbrush can often work well) to remove the rust until the surface appears clean again.

With this easy process, you should soon be able to put those keys in your lock again quickly! Watch this quick video on how to clean the inside of a lock.

2. The Tumblers Are Damaged

The tumblers inside a padlock are designed to line up in the correct order when the right key is inserted. Over time, however, mechanical parts like these can become worn, loose, or corroded and begin to impede the key from fitting into place.

As dust and dirt become trapped in the crevices of each tumbler, it prevents that particular piece from sliding into its specific allotted space.

Furthermore, moisture exposure can cause these individual pieces to stick together, making it impossible for them to align correctly, no matter the key used.

Eventually, after repeated attempts to put the wrong key into the lock again and again or even if attempted with too much force that exceeds a certain amount of torque, the applied pressure can easily break off any number of tumblers within the locking mechanism. At that point, there is no hope of getting a key in.

What You Can Do to Fix It

Repairing tumblers inside a damaged lock can seem intimidating, but it can be done with patience and the right tools.

First, you’ll need to disassemble the damaged lock. Once unscrewed, the cylinder will come off, and you’ll be able to access its inner workings. Carefully examine your tumblers and visually assess any damage.

If they look intact and all you need to do is adjust them, use a pick tool or thin flathead screwdriver to adjust each tumbler back into place carefully. Ensure that none of the pins rest falsely between two grooves on any stem.

Finally, reattach all lock components and test from different angles to see if you’re getting smooth movements when turning your key.

With a small amount of effort and a few supplies, it should take little time for you to get your lock working again like brand new!

3. The Pins Are Misaligned

When pins are misaligned in a lock, it means that the bumps on the surface of the key, also known as wards, aren’t meeting up with their designated pins inside the lock.

When these pins are adequately aligned with the proper ward height, they catch each other and line up flush, allowing the piston to move freely and unlock. However, if any pin is out of place or slightly too low or high, the key won’t fit inside or turn.

This is because even a slight misalignment will prevent all of those pins from catching onto each other when inserted into the lock.

What You Can Do to Fix It

Fixing misaligned pins in a lock is a deceptively simple process that can often be accomplished without any guesswork with a basic set of tools.

To start, you must find the pins and springs in the lock’s body. Once you have seen them, you must take a flathead screwdriver and gently pry the spring clips away from the pin.

Then, carefully line up the pins with their corresponding bores for them to make contact with each other. Using your flathead screwdriver again, nudge each pin slightly until it’s aligned properly and returning to its original position.

Lastly, check that all parts firmly fit before reassembling or using your lock again. With patience and practice, this is an easily achievable task to keep your valuables safe!

4. Something Is Blocking the Keyhole

One of the most common objects that can be stuck inside a keyhole is small pieces of debris, like dirt or dust. However, other items such as paper clips, lint, and tiny pebbles can also block a keyhole.

In more severe cases, broken pieces of dried glue or detritus from deconstruction projects can also be found in keyholes. Generally, these items will be too large to allow the key to enter, even if it physically fits in the shape of the lock.

Unfortunately, these particles are often so small and unobtrusive that they cannot easily be identified with regular inspection, resulting in extensive cleaning methods to remove them from the area around the keyhole.

What You Can Do to Fix It

Cleaning or removing things from a jammed keyhole can be quite an irritating problem. However, it is possible to restore the lock to its original condition.

To begin with, untangle a straightened paperclip and form a thin hook at the end. Then, if the clog is visible, stick the pin inside the lock and attempt to remove it. For smaller objects that are difficult to reach, blow compressed air into the keyhole so that the dirt or other unidentifiable objects can be pushed out of the way.

If all else fails, you should contact a professional locksmith who can use more sophisticated methods to unblock your keyhole. In any case, try not to insert anything like stiff wire or pins into the keyhole, as this may trap any dust or debris further inside and make matters worse.

Watch this YouTube video on how to fix and lubricate a lock:

5. The Lock Is Frozen

When temperatures outside start to dip, locks and keys can be particularly prone to get frozen. This is because cold air causes metal objects to reach lower temperatures, meaning the pins on your lock will decrease in size and might even tighten against each other.

On the other hand, your key will likely become thicker as metal contracts with decreasing temperature. This combination of events makes it so that your key won’t be able to fit in the pin tumblers of the lock, rendering it immovable.

To avoid lock freezes, one should store their keys at room temperature and ensure that they don’t come into contact with moisture – a common cause of freezing temperatures inside locks.

What You Can Do to Fix It

If you’re experiencing a frozen lock, the best approach is to try and thaw it out. This can be done naturally in warmer climates, while you’ll need to take a few extra steps in colder climates.

First, try pouring some lukewarm water over the keyhole – make sure to avoid boiling or scorching temperatures that could cause damage.

If that doesn’t work, use a hairdryer (make sure it isn’t too hot!) or pour some rubbing alcohol over the keyhole area and wait several minutes for it to work its way through the crevices of the lock.

Once you’ve done that, try to insert your key again and see if it works; if not, remove the lock using a small flathead screwdriver and clear away any debris trapped inside before trying your key again.


When a key doesn’t want to go all the way into a lock, it can be a minor issue that can be fixed easily. Sometimes it’s mechanical issues or something as simple as dirty being stuck.

When you understand what to look for and what you can do to fix the issue, in this article, we troubleshoot common causes and ways to fix them.

If you are still stuck with a key that cannot go into a lock, it’s best to contact a locksmith or buy a new lock set.

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