You’re probably reading this article because your key has broken off in your lock, in which case you’ve come to the right place.
I know how frustrating snapped keys are, so I’ve kept this guide as concise as possible. This will allow you to remove the broken key from your lock as quickly as possible.
Whether your key snapped off in your front door, bike lock, or gym padlock, this article will teach you the easiest methods to remove it and get back to business.
Before fiddling around, read through the steps below and don’t do anything that will push the key deeper into the lock, as you’ll only make extraction harder for yourself.
Many of the key extraction methods below can be carried out with regular household items, so keep an eye out for the DIY key extraction steps below.
Let’s get to it.
Why Do Keys Snap In Locks?
Lock or Key Damaged
A damaged lock or key will begin to cause issues, and If left unnoticed, this can easily lead to your key breaking whilst in the lock.
I explain what to do if your notice your lock or key is damaged towards the bottom of this page.
Lock Incorrectly Operated
Not all locks are the same. This can pose an issue for people unfamiliar with the lock they’re operating.
Make sure to take care when using a lock you’re unfamiliar with, and never be too rough.
Lock Not Lubricated
If a lock isn’t maintained correctly, it can easily become sticky or stiff.
Users can then be tempted to force the lock into the opening, or twist the key too hard, which can easily snap a key.
Towards the end of this article, I’ll teach you how to clean and lubricate any lock so that you won’t have to force it open in the future.
With locks, it’s always best to be proactive rather than reactive.
What to Do if Your Key Broke in the Lock
First of all, remember to breathe!
I know how infuriating this can be if you’re in a rush to go somewhere, but removing the broken key from your lock will be a lot easier if you are relaxed and able to think straight.
Next, follow the five steps below, and you’ll have a great chance of removing the broken key.
1. Assess Your Situation
You’ll be in one of two situations when you’ve broken a key off in your lock. The key will either be:
- Protruding from the lock (easiest to remove) – Figure A
- Flush with the lock’s entrance (second easiest to remove) – Figure B
- Hidden inside the cylinder (hardest to remove) – Figure C
At this stage, however tempting it may be, do not jam the broken end of your key in the cylinder (keyhole) to try and open the lock as you usually would.
Doing this is likely to make extracting the broken piece of the key much more challenging and could also cause irreversible damage to the locking mechanism.
If the snapped key in your lock resembles that in figure A above, you have a much better chance of being able to remove the key yourself.
If the snapped key is hidden deep in the locking cylinder, DIY extraction will be more difficult but not impossible.
Finally, if your lock is a euro cylinder lock with a lock on either side of the door, you might be able to push the broken key out by inserting a key or a long thin object into the other side of the lock.
Again, if it’s not coming out, don’t force the key, but this will often pop the key out slightly, sometimes enough for you to grab the end with your fingers of pliers.
How Important Is It to Unlock/Lock Your Lock?
If you accidentally snapped your key in the door to your house or another important building such as an office etc., you’ll most likely want to remove it immediately.
If you lock your bike in public and use it to cycle home, you’ll probably want to remove a snapped key as soon as possible to avoid theft.
If you snapped a key in a padlock that wasn’t attached to anything, it might not be such a big deal, and you may have more time to tinker with the lock and retrieve the snapped portion of your key.
Every model of lock is slightly different, so the time it takes to remove a broken key from inside a lock will vary depending on the lock you’re using. However, with an understanding of how to do so, you can usually extract a snapped key in under half an hour.
If you need to open your lock now, then your best option will probably be to call a locksmith since the DIY key extraction steps below can take a bit of time and won’t always work.
I’ve successfully used the broken key removal methods shown below on several occasions, so they are worth attempting!
2. Attempt to Remove the Key Yourself
Locksmiths typically charge a reasonable amount for a call-out, so if you’re confident in your DIY ability, I recommend trying the steps below.
However, it’s essential you take care when removing a broken key yourself, as being heavy-handed and forcing the key/lock can cause permanent damage, which could easily cost more than a locksmith call-out!
Slow and steady wins the race with this one.
The Lock's Cylinder Needs to be in Locked position
Due to the way a lock works, unless its cylinder (the central part of the keyhole that spins as you rotate the key) is in the locked position, you’ll struggle to remove the key.
If the end of your key is protruding from the lock, but it’s not in the locked position, you can attempt to rotate it using a thin pair of pliers, or if enough of the key is sticking out, this may even be possible with your fingers.
Just be careful not to push the key deeper inside at this point. Additionally, if the lock won’t rotate back to its original position, don’t force it.
If you’re unable to rotate the lock back to its locked position, you’ll most likely have to call a locksmith at this stage.
However, if your lock was already, or is now in the locked position, you’re in luck! Proceed to the steps below.
Before Anything Else - Apply Lubricant to the Lock
Applying a lubricant to the inside of the lock will encourage the key to slide out. Also, if the lock is sticky or dirty inside, lubrication can help to loosen any grip on the key.
Whilst not many people have it, a lock-specific lubricant such as ABUS PS88 is your best option.
Otherwise, a silicone-based lubricant will do the trick. I’d advise against using WD-40 because if it remains in the mechanism, it can cause problems down the line.
However, if WD-40 is all you have and you’re happy to use it knowing the above, give it a go.
Tap-Out Key Extraction
The tap-out key extraction method is most effective on portable locking devices such as padlocks and bike locks but can be effective on other locks.
After lubrication, hold your lock with the keyhole facing downwards and repeatedly tap the back of the lock using a rubber mallet or a hammer.
If you don’t have a rubber mallet, tapping your lock against a firm object whilst positioned upside down is sometimes enough to encourage the broken key out of the mechanism.
If your key is broken off in a door and you can remove the lock, this can help since you’ll be able to turn the keyhole towards the ground so that gravity encourages the broken key out.
DIY Key Removal Tools
Most of the tools and objects in the list below can be found around the house and can be used to remove a broken key from your lock.
This list does not exhaustive, rather, it contains the most common and helpful instruments you can utilise to remove a broken key.
If you find an item that you think can do the job, give it a go, but remember not to apply too much force on the lock. Otherwise look for one or more of the tools below which you should be able to use to help:
- Tweezers (needle or flat-nosed)
- Thin nails/screws
- Household Knife
- Needle nose pliers
- Strip of aluminum can
- Skewers (metal is preferable)
- Compass (drawing tool)
- Strong magnet
- Fingers (unlikely)
The video below gives a good example of how to use some of these DIY key removal tools, and I agree with most of the advice here, apart from the use of WD-40 at the beginning.
Get yourself a lock-specific lubricant instead.
If you’ve found some pliers, tweezers or a similar tool, you’ll want to use these to attempt to grab onto the snapped part of the key.
Try to grip the furthest protruding part of the key and gently wiggle it from side to side to remove the key from the lock.
If you’ve opted for a one of the pointed objects in the list above, or something similar, you’ll want to attempt to press the sharp end of the removal tool into the side of the key and lever it out of the mechanism.
It’s easiest to use a clamp to hold the lock when removing a snaped key, as this will allow you to use both hands easily, whilst increasing your safety.
Pro Tip: Pressing two pointed objects into either side of the key will provide greater leverage and allow you to remove the broken key more easily.
Ensure extra care is taken when using sharp objects to extract a key. Don’t apply too much pressure, and keep sharp tools pointed away from you when in use.
Strong magnets can be used for key extraction, but it’s unlikely you’ll have a strong enough magnet. Worth a try though.
And finally, If you’re careful not to cut yourself, slide a strip of aluminium can with the end bent down the key’s warding can hook around the back of the key and allow you to pull it out.
Broken Key Extraction Sets
It’s unlikely that you’ll have a broken key extraction set lying around, but if you do, then removing your snapped key should be much easier.
Extraction toolkits offer several tools specifically designed to remove broken keys from locks.
The hook and the harpoon are the most common and effective key extraction tools and are included in any decent key extraction set.
Hooks are very thin and are slid down the side of the broken key before being rotated to attempt to hook onto the side of the key and pulled out of the lock.
Harpoons are long, skewer-like tools that are very thin and have several metal barbs.
Like hook extractors, harpoons slide into the locking mechanism, and when removed, their barbs are designed to catch on the broken key, pulling it from the lock.
If you’re reading this, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a key extractor set to hand.
However, if you’re not rushing to open your lock and can wait a few days, you can find these for sale online for a very reasonable price.
Even when care is taken, it’s easy to snap a key in a lock, so having a key extraction kit in your toolbox is a good idea.
3. Ask Someone with More DIY Experience for Help
There’s no shame in asking for help if technical DIY tasks aren’t your thing.
If you know someone who’s good with their hands and is likely to have better tools for the task, give them a call and see if they’ll help you out.
Asking a friend will be cheaper than calling out a locksmith. Just make sure to buy them a nice bottle of something for their efforts!
4. Consider Removing the Lock with Force
If you’ve tried the above steps but nothing’s working, you might consider removing the lock with force.
I’d only suggest you remove the lock yourself if you know what you’re doing. Additionally, if your lock was particularly expensive, or if you don’t want to damage the lock, skip this step and proceed to the final step below.
Otherwise, here are several tools you can use to open/remove a lock that’s jammed or has a broken key inside it:
- Angle grinder
- Bolt cutters
If you’re unfamiliar with the tools above, ask for the help of someone with more experience. Usually, any builder/tradesperson will be able to assist.
If you cannot remove a broken key from a door, drilling the lock is usually one of your best bets. However, drilling a lock requires some understanding of how the lock works, you may be able to figure this out from a few youtube videos.
5. If All Else Fails, Call A Locksmith/Expert
If you’ve tried the above steps and nothing’s worked, you’ll want to call a locksmith.
Additionally, If you don’t understand how a lock works or have time to attempt to remove the key yourself, this will be your best bet.
It’s annoying to end up in this position, but a locksmith/expert will know exactly what to do and will have your lock back in business within half an hour.
If you snapped the key to your bike lock, most decent bike shops will have the tools needed to remove a lock. In addition, they’ll typically be cheaper to call out than a locksmith.
If you want the cheapest price possible, call a few local locksmiths and ask for a quote for your situation.
Key Broke in Bike Lock
If you broke a key inside your bike lock, follow the steps above, and you should be able to remove it.
If you’ve been using a cheap and cheerful lock that frequently jams, it may be worth skipping the steps above and removing the lock with force.
Low-quality bike locks degrade over time. Even with sufficient maintenance, cheap locks will wear out, leading to failure.
Sometimes your best move will be to rid yourself of the poor-quality lock and replace it with a reliable bike lock designed to last.
A good bike lock doesn’t have to be expensive, in fact, I’ve put together a list of the best cheap bike locks, that will provide good protection for your two-wheeled companion!
Key Broke Outside of Lock
Keys can also be accidentally broken whilst outside of the lock. If this happens to you, make sure to keep all parts of the broken key together, as they can be used to get new copies cut.
In this case, if you have replacement keys avalible, you’ll be able to go about using your lock as normal.
If you don’t have a replacement key or if you’re unable to access your replacement key, you have two options.
- Call a locksmith
- Take the snapped key parts to a locksmith/key cutting store
Most key-cutting stores will be able to cut a new key from a broken key, however, they may not guarantee that it will work.
This will normally cost under $10 and can be done while you wait, so I’d advise you to try this before contacting a locksmith if possible.
If you’re in a rush and don’t have time to try getting a spare key cut, you’ll want to call a locksmith, who should be able to pick the lock for you without hassle. This will be more expensive, than getting a replacement key cut.
How to Stop Keys From Snapping
Regular Lock Maintenance
No lock should be sticky or require excessive force to open. If you notice that your lock is unresponsive, it’s probably not appropriately lubricated or it could have a build-up of debris inside the mechanism.
Since locks feature many small moving parts, they will require lubrication to time to prevent unnecessary wear.
For lubricating my locks, I use ABUS PS88, a lock-specific silicone lubricant manufactured by ABUS, the European security giant. PS88 is designed to be used with all locks and provides lasting protection against the elements.
When using a lock, I apply a good amount of lubricant into the cylinder and then insert and rotate the key several times to encourage the lubricant into all parts of the mechanism.
Cheaper locks made from lower-quality materials are more likely to corrode, so if your lock is cheap and cheerful, it’ll probably demand more maintenance to remain in working order.
Never Force a Lock That Won't Budge
As you may have learnt the hard way, if your lock is stuck in place, do not attempt to force it open with the key.
The most likely issue with a jammed lock is that the internal parts have seized up due to a lack of lubrication or a build-up of grime.
To help the lock unjam, take a lock-specific lubricant and spray a good amount into the keyhole.
Once the lubricant is applied, insert the key, gently wiggle it from side to side and slowly insert it into the lock several times.
Wiggling the key will help the lubricant to penetrate all areas of the lock. If you’re lucky, this will help the lock to loosen up.
If this doe not work, I advise re-applying your lubricant several times, and if possible, have the lock’s keyhole pointed towards the ground whilst spraying the lubricant. This will flush dirt and grime out of the lock.
If the lock hasn’t been used for a long time, it’s possible that corrosion could be preventing it from opening. In this case, a gentle blow with a hammer or a hit on the ground is often enough to separate any corroded parts.
I also wrote a short guide which covers how to unlock a jammed bike lock, have a read for some more detailed bike lock maintenance.
Replace Keys That Are Damaged or Worn
If your key is bent or has noticeable damage, such as a small tear near the shoulder (bottom) of the key, replace it and dispose of this damaged copy.
Continuing to use a damaged key puts it at risk of breaking in the locking mechanism, and as you may now be able to tell, removing a broken key from a lock can be a real pain!
Most reputable locksmiths or key-cutting shops can make duplicates for you, even using damaged keys.
Conclusion - Key Broke In Lock
Whether your key broke in your bike lock or the door to your house, you should now have a better understanding of what to do when keys snap in a lock and how to prevent this from happening.
Ultimately, the best advice I can give you is that it’s better to be proactive rather than creative with lock maintenance.
Regularly cleaning and lubricating any lock will drastically increase its lifespan and reduce the likelihood of you experiencing any issues.
Grab yourself a good can of lock lubricant. Don’t be tempted to use WD-40, this is a water displacer rather than a lubricant and will be difficult to remove from inside the mechanism.
If you discovered a step I didn’t mention in this guide, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll add it to the article so that other readers can benefit from your contribution!
If you’ve got a jammed bike lock that won’t open, check out my guide, which explains how to unjam a bike lock.
Thanks for reading.