Repairing unreliable doors can help you regain the security and privacy you feel when you close the door to your bedroom, bathroom, or home.
Q: My bathroom door would sometimes not latch, but if I pushed gently the door would open. This has caused many times of annoyance to our guests. Can you tell us why the door doesn’t latch properly and how to fix it?
A: If a door will not latch, the latch is not inserted into the strike plate of the door frame. This misalignment is often caused by frequent use of the door and the hinges sagging over time.
There are several simple ways to identify the cause, many of which can be resolved fairly easily. Identifying the cause requires examining where the latch strikes the strike plate or frame. The location of the latch strike will tell you if the cause is a loose hinge, a misaligned hinge, a narrow hole in the strike plate, or a misaligned hole in the strike plate.
Test to see where the misalignment occurred.
It is important to know if the latch is missing above or below the holes in the strike plate before solving the problem. To find out where contact was made, apply lipstick or similar marking material to the latch. Apply masking tape or painter’s tape to the strike plate and close the door. Then open the door. The lipstick should leave a mark where the latch meets the perimeter of the holes in the strike plate.
If this mark is below the strike plate hole, it may be due to sagging hinges. However, if the contact is above the knockout hole, the knockout plate is more likely to have a positioning problem.
- Tighten the hinges with a screwdriver.
Older or heavily used doors may sag at the hinges due to gravity pull. This can alter the swing of the door, causing the latch to shift position and contact the underside of the strike plate hole. Tighten the door hinge screws with a screwdriver to ensure that the door is properly supported by the door frame.
If tightening the screws does not solve the problem, consider using a long 3-inch screw on the jamb side of the hinge to grab the wall frame and pull the entire door frame in slightly. If the latch is touching the underside of the strike plate hole, drive a 3-inch screw into the top hinge to help lift the door into place. If the latch is contacting the top of the holes in the strike plate, drive a screw into the bottom hole to help pull the door down.
- Adjust or file the bottom of the hinge.
If adjusting the hinge screws does not solve the problem, the door frame may need to be shimmed or sanded. To adjust the hinge, remove the hinge from the door frame and cut a small piece of cardboard (or similar material) to fit the tenon of the hinge. Once the cardboard is in place, replace the hinges and inspect the door. If the problem is related to sinking hinges, leveling can usually correct the door alignment. The extra material cushions and supports the hinges, balancing the door.
However, it can also be caused by hinges that are shallow in the mortise or undersized for their size. In this case, remove the hinge, sand the hinge mortise to the correct depth, and sand the edges of the mortise to fit the hinge. Replace the hinge, making sure it is flush with the door frame and that the door is properly balanced.
- Enlarge the strike plate holes with a metal file.
A properly balanced door will close correctly, but the holes in the latch and strike plate may not yet line up. If adjusting the door does not solve the problem, the holes in the strike plate may be the cause. Check to see if the latch is contacting the strike plate at the top and bottom of the holes and how much the latch is misaligned. If the misalignment is greater than ↪No_215″, the entire hole in the strike plate should be moved (see below for method). If the misalignment is within ⅛”, you may want to try enlarging the hole.
After removing the strike plate from the door frame, use a metal file to enlarge the strike plate hole. A half-round file is ideal for enlarging butterfly holes because it can match the curvature of the latch hole. In this case, the latch should slide into the strike plate hole without lifting the door, forcing it, or performing any operation other than the normal push-pull operation of the door.
- Move the strike plate up or down.
A lipstick test of the contact position between the door latch and the hole in the strike plate may show that the door latch is off by more than ⅛ inch. The door will not lock properly if the holes in the strike plate are larger. Once you have verified that the door is balanced and the hinges are tight, then move the strike plate to a new position that properly aligns with the latch.
First, remove the strike plate from the door frame. Next, use a sharp chisel and hammer to widen the strike plate mortise so that the strike plate can be moved up or down depending on the alignment of the latch. Check the door swing to ensure that the new position of the strike plate is aligned with the latch so that it closes smoothly and does not rub or jam against the door frame. If the new position of the latch and strike plate are aligned correctly, drill two small holes to secure the strike plate. Test the door to make sure it closes and locks properly.
Finally, fill any gaps with wood filler and finish with paint or stain.
If tightening the hinges or adjusting the alignment of the door with long screws solves the problem, then the problem is solved. However, if you have shimmed or sanded the hinges, enlarged the holes in the strike plate, or moved the strike plate, some cleaning and trimming may be required before completion.
Wood filler that matches the color of the door frame is ideal for quickly filling in gaps created by old screw holes in the frame, moving strike plates, or adjusting hinges. Using paintable wood filler, apply the same paint or stain as the rest of the door frame and the restoration is complete.