Getting a broken key out of a lock sounds like a simple task, but in most cases the blade is stuck with no chance of pulling it out on your own. You’re then left with two options: Breaking a window, or calling a locksmith. Both options can set you back hundreds of dollars. In this guide, we’ll look at your options.
Before you panic, it’s worth knowing that you have options – and some of them are either cheap or free to try out. Besides a step-by-step guide on how to get a broken key out of the lock, we’ve looked at some of the main reasons why your key might break inside your lock, how to keep it from happening, and how to fix a broken key once you get it out of the lock.
The best way to get a broken key out of the lock
Is your key broken with one-half of it stuck in the lock? Here’s a step-by-step guide on what to do to get your broken key out of the lock:
#1 Do not panic
It’s hard not to panic when you’ve broken the key to your door, and now you can’t enter your home or your room. Unfortunately, panicking makes it harder to remove the key, especially if you try to rush things. You could actually make it worse when you try to pick up the broken key too quickly and end up pushing it further away which will make it more difficult to get out.
#2 Spray a penetrating oil to loosen up the works
Spraying penetrating oil will loosen up the works (or the lock mechanism) and make it easier to extract your key as well as help prevent a similar situation from recurring in the future. Also, if you’ve noticed that your lock has been rather difficult to operate recently, you might want to spray some penetrating oil into the keyhole to avoid a situation like this.
#3 Use a broken key extractor set
Fortunately, Amazon sells a number of tools that can help you if you ever find yourself with a broken key stuck in a lock. One such example is the Bulletshaker Smartgood Broken Key Extractor Set which is small enough to carry around so you have tools on hand if you accidentally break a key in any lock.
When you place a tool inside your lock, alongside the biting of the key, you are trying to hook the teeth of the key with the hooks of the extractor so you can pull it free from the lock. These tools are small enough to enter your keyhole but strong enough to be able to pull your key out.
According to United Locksmith, such tools sets are the “professional solution to this problem” (source), and we recommend a broken key extractor if you’re dealing with a lot of locks on a daily basis.
#4 Use tweezers, pliers or a saw blade
If extracting a broken key stuck in the lock is a rare occurrence and you don’t have the broken key extractor set with you, you can try creating a mini hacksaw blade, especially if you have access to a toolbox.
You will need to get a thin piece of metal that will fit in your keyway alongside the broken key. If necessary, break the blade with needle nose pliers so you can insert the serrated edge into the lock at an angle so the serrations are pointing back to you. This allows the blade to go in easier and to hook the key factor (similar to how a broken key extractor does it). Often, it will take several attempts of turning and pulling before your broken key comes out.
You can also try using tweezers to grip the key blade.
#5 Try super glue
If you’ve tried the broken key extractor set or even the tools in your toolbox and it still doesn’t seem to work, you can try using superglue. Most homes have super glue so this can save you a trip to the hardware store. At the same time, this method requires a lot of care and can fail if you don’t do it properly or if the key is pushed too far back into the keyway and no metal is visible. The superglue method works best when there is a little bit of the broken key that can still be seen.
First, you need to get a small wire or match and place enough glue on it (make sure there isn’t too much or too little). Too much glue might harm your lock while too little glue will keep it from sticking to your broken key.
Second, hold the match or wire against the edge of your broken key, applying enough pressure that will cause it to stick to the broken key. Make sure you don’t apply too much pressure that you end up pushing the key further into the lock. Wait for the glue to bind and then pull your wire/match and the broken key away from the lock.
Important note: Even after the match/wire has stuck to the key, do not attempt to turn the key in the lock to open the door. You will only end up breaking the binding between the match/wire and the key or even pushing the key further into the lock.
#6 Know when to give up – and call a locksmith
When everything else fails and tools/household items aren’t enough to remove the broken key from your lock, you may need to call a professional locksmith.
If you find that there is also no visible part of the key when you break it by trying to unlock your door, it’s also best to call a locksmith right away. They have years of experience and the correct tools to handle these kinds of incidents. If you keep on trying to get the broken key out by yourself, you might eventually break the lock of your door.
Equipment that might come in handy
If ever you find yourself in a situation where your key has broken inside your lock, you might want to make sure that you have the following items on standby, as suggested by SFGate’s Home Guides and United Locksmith:
- Penetrating oil (to lubricate the lock and make it easier for the key to slide out).
- Broken key extractor set (professional tools to help you extract your key).
- Tweezers (to grip the key fragment especially if a large part of it remains visible).
- Needle-nosed pliers (to break a small blade and create a serrated edge).
- Scroll saw or jig saw blade (a think piece of metal that will fit alongside your broken key).
- Metal hair clip – (to help extract the key; can be used in place of wire or matches when using superglue).
- Bobby pin (to help pry the key from the lock).
- Paper clip (if you don’t have a bobby pin, this might work).
- Safety pin (to help pull the key from the lock; you can use this if you don’t have bobby pins or paper clips).
- Button pin (this works in place of a safety pin).
- Swiss army knife (it has lots of blades and little tools and might help in pulling the broken key from the lock).
- First aid kit (just in case something goes wrong).
Why do keys break inside locks?
There are various reasons why key breaks in locks. If your keys are the standard type, it means they are made of relatively soft metal, like brass and nickel. Through the years, they can wear and tear especially if you use them very often. Another reason could be that the lock is not adequately lubricated or has jammed.
Use of excessive force to open the lock is the main reason though, and you should always be careful when you’re dealing with a bad lock. Forcing the key to turn is the worst possible thing to do, and we recommend avoiding it at all costs.
How to prevent broken keys in locks
Here are some things you can do to prevent breaking keys and getting them stuck in locks:
- Lubricate your lock regularly. Spray a silicone-based lubricant on your keyhole every six months. Often, the reason why keys break is because the lock isn’t being maintained properly.
- Replace your keys often. When you start to notice that your keys are getting worn out and old, it’s time to have a new copy made so you can toss out the old key before it breaks in your lock.
- Never use force when locking/unlocking. This goes for car engines as well as doors. If you find that you have to use force to unlock something, that’s a sign that something is wrong and you might want to call a locksmith or lubricate your locks before it is too late.
- Opt for an electronic lock. Getting an electronic lock makes it easier to open and lock the door without using any force at all. Check our buying guide on the best electronic locks for your front door.
How do you fix a broken key?
When a broken key has been removed from the lock, most people assume that it is all right to stick them back together. Nevertheless, that is neither the correct nor best way to fix a broken key, whether it is a car key or a house key. What you want to do instead is take it to the locksmith or your hardware store where professionals can fix the issue by making a new key.
If the key that was broken is a car key, it is even more dangerous if you try to piece it back together yourself, as it could break off while driving and could lock your steering wheel in place or even shut the engine off. Your best option will be to have a professional fix it for you.