Unlocking the Solution: How to Fix a Door Latch That Will Not Retract

Key Takeaway

  • A door latch that won’t retract can be caused by various issues, such as a dirty or damaged latch bolt, misaligned strike plate, or improper installation of the lock..
  • Firstly, clean and lubricate the latch well to improve its operation. If that doesn’t work, check the alignment of the latch and strike plate and make any necessary adjustments. 
  • If the latch is damaged or worn, you may need to replace it. 

Just a few weeks ago, I was rushing out of my house to catch an important appointment when I realized that the front door latch was not retracting. No matter how hard I pushed or pulled on the handle, the latch wouldn’t budge, and I was stuck inside. After some trial and error, I was able to fix the problem, and that’s what inspired me to write this blog.

In this blog, I will provide step-by-step instructions on how to fix a door latch that will not retract. I will cover the most common causes and walk you through the necessary repairs. 

Anatomy Of A Door Latch

Before we dive into fixing a door latch that won’t retract, it’s important to understand the basic anatomy of a latch. Knowing the different parts of a latch can help you diagnose and fix the problem more easily.

There are two main types of door latches: spring latch and deadbolt. The parts of a spring latch and a deadbolt are similar, but the deadbolt includes an additional component called a throw bolt.

The main parts of a spring latch or deadbolt include:

1. Latch bolt – This is the part of the latch that extends into the strike plate and holds the door in place when it’s closed.

Latch bolt

2. Strike plate – This is the metal plate that’s attached to the door frame and has a hole.The latch bolt fits into the strike plate when the door is closed.

Strike plate

3. Throw bolt (deadbolt only) – This is an additional bolt that extends into the strike plate and provides extra security.

Throw bolt

Reasons Why Your Door Latch Won’t Retract

There can be several reasons why a door latch may not retract.The most common causes include:

1. Your Door Latch Mechanism Is Broken

Answer – If your door latch is not extending fully, or not springing back when released, or not retracting fully into the door frame, it’s likely that your latch mechanism has broken. This can happen when a latch is installed incorrectly or is of poor quality. It can also occur if the latch is exposed to excessive wear and tear over time. 

2. Latch Mechanism Is Jammed

Answer – Rust or corrosion can form on the latch bolt or other parts of the lock, making it difficult for the latch to retract smoothly.

3. Latch Strike Plate Is Misaligned 

Answer – If the strike plate is misaligned, it can prevent the latch from retracting.

4. Door Latch Has Dirt Accumulated

Answer – Dirt, dust, and debris can build up inside the latch mechanism, making it difficult for the latch to retract. This is common in older locks.

5. Improperly installed Door Latch

If the lock was not installed properly in the first place, it may not work correctly. This can include issues such as the latch not aligning with the strike plate, or the lock not being properly secured to the door.

How to fix a door latch that will not retract?

1. Adjust The Misaligned Strike Plate

Here are some simple steps to align a misaligned strike plate to fix a door latch that won’t retract:

  • Step 1: Close the door and check where the latch bolt hits the metal plate on the door frame. If it’s not hitting in the middle of the hole, then the metal plate needs to be adjusted.
  • Step 2: Loosen the screws that hold the metal plate to the door frame using a screwdriver. You don’t have to take them all the way out.
    metal plate
  • Step 3: Tap the metal plate up or down with a hammer and screwdriver until it’s in line with the latch bolt.
    Tap the metal plate
  • Step 4: Tighten the screws back up once the metal plate is in the right position.
  • Step 5: Test the latch by closing the door and see if it retracts properly. If not, try adjusting the metal plate again or try one of the other fixes.

2. Lubricate the Jammed Or Rusted Door Latch

Lubricating a jammed or rusted door latch will enable the lock mechanism to function smoothly. When metal parts rub against each other, they can create friction and wear each other down, causing them to become jammed or stiff. 

Adding a lubricant like WD-40 to the latch mechanism reduces the friction and helps the parts move more easily, allowing the latch to retract properly. Additionally, the lubricant can help to protect the metal from further corrosion and rust, which can extend the life of the latch and prevent future problems.

  • Step 1: You’ll need some WD-40 (or a similar lubricant), a small brush (even a toothbrush will do), and a clean cloth.
  • Step 2: Open the door and give the latch a good spray with the WD-40. You don’t need to drench it, just enough to coat it well.
    good spray
  • Step 3: Use your brush or toothbrush to work the WD-40 into the latch mechanism. Scrub it up well and make sure you get into all the crevices.
  • Step 4: Use a clean cloth to wipe off any excess WD-40.
  • Step 5: Test the latch by opening and closing the door. If it’s still sticking, try the process again.

3. Clean The Door Latch Of Dirt Or Rust

Cleaning the door latch helps to remove any dirt, debris, or rust that may hinder its ability to retract fully. This can help prevent other issues such as the latch getting stuck in the locked position or difficulty in opening or closing the door.

  • Step 1: Remove the doorknob or handle. Depending on the lock, you may need to use a screwdriver to remove screws or a small tool to release a clip holding the knob or handle in place.
  • Step 2: After removing the knob or handle, you should be able to access the lock cylinder. Look for a small screw or clip holding the cylinder in place and remove it. You should then be able to slide the cylinder out of the lock body.
    slide the cylinder
  • Step 3: With the cylinder removed, you should be able to see the latch mechanism inside the lock body. Look for screws or clips holding the latch in place and remove them. You should then be able to slide the latch out of the lock body.
    cylinder removed
  • Step 4: Next, use a wire brush or steel wool to remove any rust or debris from the latch. Be sure to scrub all surfaces of the latch, including the internal components.
    wire brush
  • Step 5: Once you’ve removed as much rust and debris as possible, apply a WD 40 rust remover to the latch. You can find rust remover at most hardware stores. Follow the instructions on the product carefully, as different rust removers may have different application methods.
  • Step 6: After applying the rust remover, wipe down the latch with a clean cloth to remove any residue.
  • Step 7: Once the latch has been cleaned and lubricated, reassemble the lock in reverse order of disassembly. Make sure all screws and clips are tight and that the latch moves freely.
    reassemble the lock

4. Reinstall Or Replace The Latch

If your door latch is not working properly, it could be because it wasn’t installed correctly. This can cause the latch to get stuck, making it difficult to open or close the door. Here’s how you can fix it:

  • Step 1: First, take the latch off the door by dissembling the lock as mentioned in earlier fixes.
    dissembling the lock
  • Step 2: Next, try adjusting the latch to make it fit better. Loosen the screws holding it in place and move it a little bit. If the latch is broken or worn out, you might need to buy a new one. Just make sure you get the right kind for your door and lock.
    adjusting the latch
  • Step 3: Test the latch to see if it works better now.
  • Step 4: Once you’re happy with the latch position, put the latch back on the door and assemble the lock again. Check that it opens and closes easily now.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. How do I know that my latch is damaged?

Answer – Check the latch for signs of wear and tear, such as cracks or chips in the metal. If the latch is visibly damaged, it may be time to replace it. Also, if the latch feels loose or wobbly, it may be damaged and unable to hold the door securely closed.

Q2. How much does a locksmith charge to lubricate the lock?

Answer – The cost of having a locksmith lubricate your lock will depend on several factors, including your location, the type of lock, and the locksmith’s rates. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150 for a locksmith to lubricate a lock.


A door latch that won’t retract can be frustrating and potentially compromise the security of your home. However, there are several steps you can take to fix the problem. First, try cleaning and lubricating the latch to see if that improves its operation. 

If that doesn’t work, check the alignment of the latch and strike plate and make any necessary adjustments. If the latch is damaged or worn, you may need to replace it. By following these steps, you can ensure that your door latch functions properly and keeps your home secure. Remember, if you’re unsure about how to fix a door latch, it’s always best to consult a professional locksmith who can assist you in making the necessary repairs.

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Hey! I am Mark. Though I am not a locksmith by profession, but locks have always fascinated me since my teens. And it all started when I got locked out of my house and I had to pick the lock. Since then it has become my hobby to learn more about different kinds of locks, understand their working and methods to pick them up. In due course of time, I have also become better aware of how installing the right lock goes a long way in ensuring iron clad security. I aim to share my passion (about locks) through this blog. If you are also passionate about picking locks or are just looking to beef up the security, hop on the ride.