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How to Fix a Door That Won’t Latch? | 5 Practical Methods!

Are you tired of slamming that erratic door in your house that doesn’t latch? Because the beautiful decorated house is a dream and that sound becomes nightmare! You try to keep it closed, but it behaves like a stubborn child and constantly retracts.
That can be pretty frustrating, right?
In fact, it can get beyond frustrating; a constantly open door can lead to serious privacy issues (in the case of interior doors—such as those of a bathroom or a bedroom) and safety issues (in the case of exterior doors).
The latch and strike plate of the doors can get misaligned with time due to sagging hinges, frequent use, and other variable reasons. It doesn’t matter if your house is just out of the market or has been there for a long time; doors that won’t latch are a common household problem.
Therefore, today in this article, we will see how to fix a door that won’t latch.
So, without killing more time, let’s begin!

How to fix a door that won’t latch?
How to fix a door that won’t latch?

Tools & Materials You’ll Need!

Before moving further in the article, make sure you have the following tools and materials:

  • Lipstick or some kind of caulk (for marking)
  • Masking tape or painter’s tape
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • 1¼- and 3-inch Phillips screws
  • Metal file (preferably half-round)
  • Cordless drill
  • Chisel
  • Hammer
  • Side cutter
  • Pencil or a marker
  • Cardboard or metal washers
  • Wooden shims
  • And perhaps, wood filler and paint

Once you’ve acquired all the supplies mentioned above, you are ready to learn how to fix a door that won’t latch.

Steps to Determine What’s Causing the Problem!

As I mentioned earlier, variable reasons can prevent a door from locking into place.
The latch and the strike plate can sometimes get out of place; the latch might hit above or below the strike plate hole, or it might get too far in or out of the hole, or there might not be enough clearance for the door to fit in place.
It is essential to find out the cause before jumping onto the solutions.
Concerning that, I’ve mentioned some steps that will help you determine what’s causing the problem:

  • Open the door and move it side to side to see if there are some loose hinges. (Hinges can get loose due to regular use of the door or if the door gets old.)
  • After that, it’s time to diagnose why the latch won’t fit into the strike plate.
  • To do that, here’s a little test: You can use materials such as caulk, toothpaste, or lipstick (bright red works best), to mark the latch head.
  • Once the latch head is marked, cover the strike plate with masking tape or painter’s tape.
  • Now, by closing and opening the door, you’ll mark the area where the latch hits the strike plate.
  • That way, you’ll see exactly where the latch hits the door jamb and why it won’t latch properly.

Once you have followed all the steps and determined what’s causing the problem, you are ready to move to the next section of this article.Let’s learn how to fix a door that won’t latch!

How to Fix a Door That Won’t Latch? | The Methods!

Following are the different methods you can apply to fix your door that won’t stay closed.

1. Tightening the Hinges

Remember when you moved the door to see if the hinges were loose? You’ll know what to do then.
Yes! You’ll need to tighten the loose hinge screws.
Tighten all the loose screws (if any) in the door hinges. In some cases, just doing this can solve the problem.
If any of the screws won’t catch on or are stripped or broken, just replace them with longer 3-inch screws. Additionally, based on the position of the latch with respect to the strike plate, you can replace one of the smaller hinge screws with the longer 3-inch screws.
If the latch hits below the strike plate, tighten the top hinge with a 3-inch screw, and if the latch hits above the strike place, tighten the bottom hinge with a 3-inch screw.
That will pull the whole door towards the hinge side of the door jamb.
Doing this will mostly solve minor misalignments.

A man twists a self-tapping screw with a screwdriver
A man twists a self-tapping screw with a screwdriver

If this doesn’t work for you, please seek help from the other methods provided in the article.

2. File Down the Strike Plate Hole

The second most effortless way to fix a door that won’t latch is to file down the strike plate and the hole.
That is another excellent way to fix a slightly misaligned latch and strike plate. You can easily file down the strike plate and the hole using a half-round metal file.
Pro Tip: Only use this method if the misalignment is nearly 1/8th of an inch or less. If the strike plate is mispositioned for more than 1/8th of an inch, it’s better to remove and reposition it to the correct place.
Anyhow, to scrape down the strike plate and the hole, take your metal file and start shaving in one direction and make passes of movements until you work your way up or down, depending on where the latch hits the plate, to get more clearance.
Don’t go more than 1/8th of an inch, as that can affect the security of your door lockset.

how to fix a door that won't latch
A person is filing down a damaged strike plate hole

After you are done, close the door and check if it has solved the problem.

3. Readjust the Door Within the Door jamb

If you don’t want to shave down the strike plate and have enough clearance around the door, you can try readjusting the door’s position within the doorpost.
It means that depending upon the position of the latch with respect to the strike plate, you can move the latch side of the door up or down to align it with the strike plate.
However, this will only work if you have enough room between the door and the door jamb because after you move your door up or down to fix the latching, you don’t want it to hit the jamb and cause further interference.
So, just keep that in mind.
And here’s how you can get your door to line up:

  • First of all, you’ll need to remove the door pins from the top or bottom hinges. (Most of the time, the latch hits slightly lower than the strike plate hole, so I’ll use that scenario here as an example to explain the process.)
  • Take your side cutters, grip the door hinge pin from the top, and hammer it out. In our case, the latch hits below the strike plate hole. Therefore, we will remove the bottom hinge pin so that we can move the latch side of the door slightly upwards.
  • After you’ve removed the bottom hinge pin, take some wooden shims and insert them under the latch side of the door so the door won’t sag down when we pull the middle hinge pin.
  • Now, remove the middle hinge pin as well.
  • Once you have both of the hinge pins removed, tap the wooden shims that you placed below the door to move the latch slightly upward and into the strike plate hole.
  • Once it goes in, insert the door pins back into the hinges, and you’re done.

Sometimes, after you’ve readjusted the door by shimming it up or down, the hinges could get bent if the space needed was a bit more than expected. In that case, you’ll have to remove the hinges and shim them slightly out of the door jamb.
You can decide on the space needed depending on the situation. Generally, you can go for 1/8th of an inch for both hinges. You can either use a piece of cardboard or pairs of metal washers to shim the hinges slightly out of their mortises.
Here’s a visual guide for you:

Let’s look at another related method.

4. Shim or Scrape Down the Hinge Mortises

Sometimes, the latch bolt can’t reach the strike plate hole to lock the door in place.
In such cases, the door hinges are sunken into the mortises. Therefore, we need to shim them slightly out of the jamb.
To do that:

  • Remove the hinge screws from the bottom or top hinge. (If you want to move the latch up, remove the screws from the bottom hinge; if you’re going to move the latch down, unscrew the top hinge.)
  • Now, place a piece of cardboard or pairs of metal washers behind the hinge and space it slightly out of the mortise.
  • Afterward, secure the hinge into place using longer one and a quarter of inch screws.
  • If needed, repeat the process for the middle hinge as well.

Finally, close the door to see if it properly latches or not.
In some cases, the hinge mortises are not deep or large enough for the hinges to fit in and can also cause certain latch and strike plate misalignments.
To fix such issues, you’ll need to sand down the hinge mortises using sandpaper or a chisel.

  • Unscrew and remove the hinges from the door jamb.
  • Take a chisel or 60- to 100-grit sandpaper to sand down the hinge mortises.
  • Once you’re done, put the hinges back in place, and see if they sit perfectly into the mortises.
  • Screw them into place, and you’re done.

Lastly, close the door to see if you’ve fixed the problem.

how to fix a door that won't latch
You can scrape the excess wood from the hinge mortise using a chisel

Now, let’s see how to fix a door that won’t latch by our last method.

5. Reposition the Strike Plate

If it seems like none of the other methods will work in your case, and the misalignment is a lot more than 1/8th of an inch, you can reposition the strike plate up or down, depending on where you want it to be.
This method is mostly the final resort, as none of the other quick methods seem to work out, but it would be best to try the other more accessible approaches to see if they would turn out to be successful.
That said, let’s now see how we can reposition the strike plate to a new location in the most effortless way.
Here are the steps:

  • Remove the screws from the strike plate to detach it from the jamb.
  • Now, reposition it to where you need it to be so that the latch easily fits into the strike plate hole in the future.
  • Mark the position with a pencil or a marker.
  • If you see extra wood, scrape it using a chisel and make enough room for the latch bolt.
  • Most of the time, you’ll need to drill new holes very close to the previous ones. Therefore, it would be much better to fill the old holes using wood filler.
  • Once the area is set up, drill new holes, put the strike plate in place, and secure it using one and a quarter of inch screws.
  • For the final touch, fill the gaps using wood filler, and paint the area where needed.

That’s all!
Now you know how to fix a door that won’t latch.
Here’s a visual guide for this method:

Frequently Ask Questions (FAQs)

1. Why won’t my door latch?

There could be several reasons why your door won’t latch. One common reason is that the latch bolt may not be aligned with the strike plate. Another reason could be that the latch mechanism is damaged or worn out. Additionally, the door may be misaligned, which prevents the latch from engaging with the strike plate.

2. Can I fix a door latch myself, or do I need to hire a professional?

In most cases, you can fix a door latch yourself using the right tools and methods. However, if you’re unsure of what’s causing the latch problem or don’t feel confident in your DIY skills, it’s best to hire a professional. A professional can diagnose the issue and provide a more permanent solution if necessary. Keep in mind that attempting to fix a door latch yourself can be dangerous, especially if you’re dealing with power tools or heavy doors. Safety should always be a top priority when attempting DIY repairs.

3. How do I know which of the five methods to use to fix my door latch problem?

The method you choose to fix your door latch problem will depend on the cause of the problem. For example, if the latch bolt isn’t aligned with the strike plate, you may need to adjust the strike plate or the door frame. On the other hand, if the latch mechanism is damaged or worn out, you may need to replace it. By diagnosing the problem first, you can determine which of the five methods will be most effective in fixing the latch.

4. How long does it take to fix a door latch?

The time it takes to fix a door latch will depend on the severity of the problem and the method you use to fix it. In some cases, fixing a door latch can be a quick and easy process that only takes a few minutes. In other cases, it may take several hours or even a full day to fix the problem. For example, if you need to replace the latch mechanism, it may take longer than if you just need to adjust the strike plate.

5. Can I prevent future door latch problems?

Yes, there are several things you can do to prevent future door latch problems. Regular maintenance, such as cleaning and lubricating the latch mechanism and strike plate, can help prevent wear and tear. Additionally, making sure the door and frame are properly aligned can prevent latch problems from occurring. Finally, avoid slamming the door or using excessive force when opening or closing it, as this can damage the latch mechanism and cause problems down the line.

Let’s sum up the talk.

To Sum Up!

It is crucial to learn how to fix a door that won’t latch so that you create a sense of security and reliability in your home.
Be careful and maintain proper safety measures when working with tools like chisels or hammers.
To conclude the talk, I must say that the methods mentioned in this article will help you to effortlessly deal with the door that won’t latch properly.
With that said, let’s finish today’s talk.
Do let us know if you liked the article, and don’t forget to share it with your friends.


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