What to Do If a Key Breaks Off in the Lock — 5 Things to Try

by Team eLocal
Broken key in front of a lock

It's a situation out of your nightmares: You turn the key in your door lock, only for it to snap off in your hand. You're either locked out of your house or unable to lock the door from the inside — and now you’ve got a dilemma on your hands.

Many people's first instinct is to push the rest of the key against the broken section and try to turn it, but this can make the problem significantly worse. Instead, try one of the following methods to free a key that's broken in a lock.

How to Get a Broken Key Out of a Lock

1. Needle-Nose Pliers

If you can see part of the key protruding from the lock, you may be able to pull it out with a pair of needle-nose pliers or tweezers. However, it's important not to push the key further inside the lock because it can make it harder to remove or even damage the locking mechanism.

2. Flat Head Screwdriver or Mini Hacksaw Blade

If there's no key protruding, you could try inserting a flat head screwdriver into the lock and maneuvering it to work the key free. Lever the screwdriver against the key until you see it begin to emerge from the lock. At this point, use pliers or tweezers to pull the key out.

Alternatively, you could try inserting a mini hacksaw blade into the lock to work the key loose. The serrated edge can catch against the key ridges and make it easier to remove. Again, it's essential to avoid pushing the key in further or damaging the lock.

3. Paperclip

A straightened paperclip can make a handy tool to remove a key broken in a lock. Start by inserting the paperclip into the top of the lock. Pulling the paperclip downward and out can help you get a purchase on the key's teeth and pull it out.

4. Tapping the Cylinder

If you can't pull the key out with a tool, you could consider removing the lock and trying to knock the key out of the cylinder. This method will only be an option if you can open the door to unscrew the hardware.

Remove the lock cylinder and then strike the side or back with a hammer or another heavy object. Hold the lock still with the keyhole pointing downwards while you try to tap the key free. This technique can damage the locking mechanism, so it's a good idea to call a locksmith to check it as soon as possible. Otherwise, you risk having more problems in the future.

5. Super Glue

Using super glue to get a stuck piece of key out of a lock may seem counterintuitive, but it's a common technique for unjamming a lock. This method will only succeed if there's part of the key protruding from the lock. Apply a small amount of super glue to the end of a matchstick or piece of wire and press it against the broken key edge until it hardens. You may be able to pull the tool to remove the key.

Getting glue in the lock itself could damage it irreparably, so it's best to avoid it unless it's an emergency. Using as little glue as possible can reduce the risk of excess adhesive jamming the locking mechanism.

Do You Need to Call a Locksmith?

If you can't see any of the key protruding from the lock, your chances of success are limited. You could do more harm than good by trying to pull it out yourself, so it's best to call a professional locksmith to remove the key unless you need to open the door urgently.

Any of the above methods have the potential to damage the lock. Therefore, you should call a locksmith if you want to avoid replacing the lock, or if you don't feel confident that you can tackle the task yourself.

Why Would a Key Break in a Lock?

Many door lock keys are made of soft metal, making them prone to wear and tear. Over time, the key ridges can wear down, making the key harder to use and more vulnerable to snapping. Inserting or turning the key too forcefully can make it more likely to break in the lock. Another common cause of a broken key in the lock is wear and tear to the lock itself or inadequate lubrication.