A sticking door is sometimes enough to drive you batty. And the trouble is there are a lot of reasons you may have a door that sticks.
In this post, I’ll cover the four main reasons that may result in a door that sticks and how to resolve each them so you have a smooth swinging door that’s a pleasure to operate.
What kind of expensive and complex tools will you need for this project? You won’t have to invest heavily for this one. If you have a screwdriver you’re almost there. If you want to use a drill or impact driver that will always make things easier, but it’s not necessary. Check out the short tool list below:
- Circular Saw or Orbital Sander
- Straight Edge
- Wood Glue
- Petroleum Jelly
Issue #1 Sagging Hinges
When the hinge screws come loose any door will begin to sag. and it’s usually the top most hinge that comes loose because it carries the greatest load. Take a look at your hinges and see if they have come loose from the door or from the jamb.
The hinges should be securely fastened to both the door and the jamb and if they can move even a little then they are too loose and need to be tightened.
Step #1 Remove the Loose Screws
Place a block of wood, a book, a wadded up towel, or anything else you have handy like your spouse or complaining teenager under the latch side of the door to keep it sturdy while you remove any screws that have come loose. If the screws are stripped or stubborn then check out my post 4 Guaranteed Trick to Remove Stubborn Screws.
Step #2 Fill the Screw Holes
Fill those screw holes with a little wood glue (you don’t need a ton) and some toothpicks. Really you can use any small piece of wood that fits in the screw hole but a few toothpicks usually do the trick. Push the toothpicks all the way back and break off any pieces that stick out so they are flush with the surface of the wood.
Step #3 Reinstall the Screws
With the screw hole smaller than it was and the glue in there to help everything stay put, the screw will find a better grip to support your door. Tighten the screws down but don’t over-tighten them. Then close the door to give it a chance for the glue to dry and lock things into place. Make sure to wipe off any excess glue that squeezed out.
There are a few things that may go wrong with this plan that you will want to consider. First, you may find a stripped screw in your hinges which would need to be replaced. There is no amount of glue and toothpicks that can resolve a stripped screw.
Another potential issue is that the wrong size or length screws were used before. If the screws aren’t long enough to really dig into the wood then it will continue to sag. Most hinges are installed with #8 wood screws with a tapered head which should leave the head of the screw flush with the surface of the hinge when fully installed. If your screws recess greatly into the hinge or stand proud of the hinge surface then you may have the wrong size or type of screw.
Also, length is important. You need a screw that is long enough to support the weight of you door. 1 1/4″ is a good choice, but for a particularly heavy door a longer screw will provide more holding power.
Issue #2 Rubbing
If you live in an old house then there is often some shifting that has occurred over the years, or as in my house a kitchen remodel with a new floor installed.
This results in a door that sticks as is rubs its way over the floor, threshold, or on the jamb. If it’s a threshold issue then sanding an old wood threshold is an easy solution. Otherwise, you’ll need to take the door off the hinges and trim the bottom or sides every so slightly.
If you only have a little rubbing then grab the orbital sander and take a little meat off the portion of the door that rubs. If it’s more extensive than that you can use a circular saw like I do in the video below.
Step #1 Remove the Door
Pop the hinge pins out or unscrew the hinges and take the door out of the opening. I love using a spring set for taking hinge pins out. It’s so much easier than any other tool I’ve used. It’s best to have a couple saw horses setup with a towel on them to avoid marring the door and set it on them gently.
Step #2 Trim or Sand the Bottom
Using an orbital sander, sand the bottom of the door down or if you need to take off a more significant amount of wood use a circular saw with a straight edge like the Kreg AccuCut Jig which is what I used.
Step #3 Reinstall the Door
Hang the door back in the opening and test the fit. If you’ve got a smooth operation with no more sticking or rubbing then you are done. If it needs a little more tuning put it back on the saw horses and make the necessary adjustments.
If you have a sweep on the bottom of the door you may simply need to adjust that for a better fit. If it’s not the sweep that is rubbing then taking the sweep off, trimming the door, and reinstalling the sweep is the way to go.
Some of these sweeps are very adjustable and others only fit one way so take a look at the type you have and see if there is a way to adjust it to achieve a better fit.
Issue # 3 Paint Blocking
Another reason you’ll get a door that sticks is called paint blocking. Paint blocking is a wonderfully frustrating phenomenon that occurs when two painted surfaces are pressed together and they stick. It didn’t used to be a big issue back when oil-based paints were the norm, but with today’s water-based paints world it happens frequently.
Using harder enamel paints will help resolve this and you can read my post about the paint blocking test I did a while back to see the results I came up with.
The best way to resolve this is to repaint your door AND jamb with a high quality enamel paint that won’t stick in the future, but if repainting is not in the cards right now then there is a super simple fix I’ll show you right now.
Step # 1 Lubricate the Edges
The main area you’re concerned with here are the edges of the door that press up again the jamb when closed. That’s where you get paint blocking that cause a door that sticks.
Using a clean cloth and some soapy water, wipe these sections clean of any dirt or grime. After it has dried, dip your finger in some petroleum jelly and rub it onto the perimeter of the jamb in the small section that the door presses up against when closed.
You can also use some beeswax if you’d prefer. You just need something to avoid having the two painted surfaces touch and therefore stick.
Test the results and apply more or less as needed. You don’t want to have globs of the stuff, so be judicious with it since you’ll be leaving it on permanently. If it gets dirty over time it can be wiped off and reapplied as needed.
Issue # 4 Sticking Hardware
That last major reason you’ll get a sticking door is the hardware. Sometimes it’s faulty or broken hardware which there isn’t much you can do other than replace the hardware, but often it’s simple tweaks to get it running smoothly.
Fix #1 – Proud Screws
More often than not I find the issue is that hardware isn’t lined up properly and that causes friction and a door that sticks. Open your door and inspect the screws to make sure none of them are standing proud of the strike plate or lock mortise. The screws should be completely flush with the surface.
Fix #2 – Misaligned Parts
Next check the alignment of the strike plate with the latch. If you see scrapes where the latch connects to the strike plate indicating that they don’t line up perfectly then the easiest fix is to adjust the strike plate so that the latch or deadbolt travels directly in the center of the hole when engaged rather than rubbing on the strike plate and causing that sticking feeling.
Fix # 3 – Rusted Parts
Sometimes, especially in coastal areas, the inner workings of the door lock rust or get dirt built up inside. The best way to resolve this is to take the lockset out and open it up to examine the parts.
Don’t start taking everything apart. Slowly examine the parts and spray some rust resolver like Rust Release WD-40 or other lubricants like DryLube to try to get things working again. Test the function and reapply as necessary and then once you get the function you want put it all back together and reinstall the lockset.
The bottom line is that a sticking door is not something that the average DIYer can’t fix. Use these tips to troubleshoot your doors, and hopefully you’ll be free of yet another door that sticks. Good luck!
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
2 thoughts on “How To: Fix a Door That Sticks”
My back door swells and sticks when it’s hot and humid. When the temperature is lower and or it is less humid the door opens and closes just fine. I’m concerned about sanding or cutting as the fit is fine when the weather is mild. Any suggestions please?
Awesome post! No excuse to replace the lovely old doors with cheap versions now!