How to Fix a Sticking Door

Don’t get trapped by a swollen or ill-fitting door: Here’s how to un-stick a stuck door.

Whether they're separating indoors from out, closing off a bedroom, or hiding stored items in a closet, doors are common fixtures in every home. When they work, no one really notices them—but when a door doesn't open or close properly, it's a big problem for everyone. Luckily, in most circumstances, you can fix a sticking door on your own with a few simple steps.

There are several reasons a door may stick in the doorframe, including loose hardware, a sagging frame, or seized hinges. Humidity is another common cause of sticking doors: The high level of moisture in the air can seep into wood, resulting in a swollen door that does not open or close properly. No matter the cause, learn how to fix a sticking door by following our detailed directions below.

bright blue door open to entryway with storage insert
Greg Scheidemann

Find the Cause by Inspecting the Door, Doorframe, and Hardware

You can save a lot of time by inspecting the door before you start trying to solve the issue through trial-and-error steps. Take a look at the inside of the frame and the outside of the door to look for signs, like scratched paint or worn edges, that could indicate where the door is sticking or rubbing. If you cannot visibly spot any problem areas, try running your hand over the wood to determine if there are any indents.

By locating where the door is sticking, you can narrow down potential causes for the problem. If the door is sticking at the top of the frame, the issue is likely caused by loose hinges or a sagging frame. A door that is stuck in the middle of the frame is typically the result of a loose strike plate, while a door sticking in any other part of the frame may be a swelling issue caused by high humidity levels.

You should also inspect the hinges, strike plate, screws, and doorframe for any clear problems, like a bent strike plate or warped frame.

Check Humidity Levels

Swollen wood is one of the most common causes of a sticking door, so as part of your initial inspection, check the humidity levels in your home with a hygrometer. If the reading is more than 70%, then humidity is likely the cause of the sticking door. This is true even if the door isn't made of wood: Even metal, fiberglass, and PVC doors can be affected by humidity if the wooden doorframe swells. The elevated humidity level may even be affecting other areas of the home, causing issues such as condensation on pipes or a damp basement.

You can reduce humidity in the home by removing excess houseplants, setting up a dehumidifier, or even cooling the air in the home with an air conditioner. This may solve the problem of the sticking door, but if the wood is permanently warped, then you will need to resort to planing the door to fit the doorframe.

How to Fix a Sticking Door

The initial inspection of the door, doorframe, and hardware should give you a good idea of where to start this repair, but if you haven't been able to determine the exact cause of the problem, follow these steps to address a range of potential issues that could be causing your door to stick.

What You'll Need

  • Cloth
  • Bucket
  • Warm soapy water
  • Lubricant
  • Drop cloth
  • Screwdriver
  • 3-inch screws
  • Drill
  • Pencil
  • Planer or belt sander
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint

Step 1: Clean the Door and Lubricate the Hinges

The most basic repair for a sticking door is to simply clean the outside edge of the door and the inside of the doorframe. Often, dirt and grime can build up on these surfaces until the 1/8-inch gap between the door and the frame no longer exists. Use a clean cloth with soapy water to clean the door and doorframe.

Next, you will want to apply a lubricating solution, like WD-40, to the hinges. Seized hinges will prevent the door from swinging freely and can be the cause of a sticking door. Just make sure that you place a drop cloth under the door before you spray the lubricant to avoid creating a mess or staining the floors.

Step 2: Tighten the Hinges and Strike Plate

Loose hinges can cause the door to sag and rub on the upper part of the frame. If you spot scratched paint or a worn indent on this part of the frame, then the issue is likely a sagging frame or loose hinges. Use a screwdriver to tighten the hinge screws on both the frame and the door. Similarly, a loose strike plate could be protruding too far, limiting the movement of the door. Take this opportunity to check the strike plate screws and tighten them up, if necessary. Do not use a drill for this work. The small screws are easy to strip, so it's better to have the accuracy and control of a manual screwdriver.

Step 3: Replace the Screws

In some circumstances, the screws in the hinges or strike plate have become stripped or the screw hole is stripped. To fix this issue you will need to replace the screws. If the problem is stripped screws, then simply replacing the screws should allow you to tighten the hinges and strike plate to fix the sticking door. However, if stripped screw holes or a sagging doorframe are causing the door to stick, then you will need to get 3-inch screws.

Remove the middle screw in the hinge and drive in the 3-inch screw with a drill until the head of the screw is snug against the hinge. Use your screwdriver to give the screw another quarter turn, then repeat this process with the next hinge.

To help pull the doorframe back into alignment, you can drive a 3-inch screw through the front of the frame. Check which direction the doorframe is slanted toward with a level, then position the screw on the opposite side of the frame, so that it will pull the frame back into alignment. Keep in mind that you will need to apply wood filler or touch up the repair with paint to cover the screw.

Step 4: Trim the Door

The doorframe alignment, screws, hinges, and strike plate may not have anything to do with why the door is sticking: Humidity can cause the actual door to expand and swell, regardless of the state of any of those things. When the door gets too large for the frame, it sticks when you open or close it. If the swelling is bad enough, the door can become completely stuck in the frame, so it's important to address humidity concerns as soon as possible to prevent permanent damage.

A swollen door can be fixed, it just takes a little more effort than tightening some screws. From your previous inspection, you should be able to identify the edge of the door that rubs against the doorframe, causing the door to stick. Use a pencil to mark the area of the door that rubs against the doorframe, then use a screwdriver to remove the door from the hinges.

Move the door to the garage, workshop, shed, or any other area where sawdust won't be an issue. Use a planer or a belt sander to trim the edge of the door. The space between the door and the frame should be about 1/8 inch wide. Keep in mind that the door will shrink during the colder months of the year when humidity isn't as much of a factor, so don't remove too much material. Mount the door and test that it closes properly but be prepared for a certain amount of trial and error before you get the right fit.

Step 5: Refinish the Door

When you have successfully trimmed the outside of the door, allowing it to open and close without rubbing against the frame, you will need to paint or stain the unfinished edge to prevent moisture from seeping into the wood and causing the door to swell once more. Use a paintbrush and your choice of paint, stain, or even a clear sealer to finish the door.

Shifting Foundation Problems

Sometimes the problem is larger than a swollen door or loose screws. Shifting foundations can also be the cause of sticking doors, though foundation repairs are not a DIY-friendly task. Signs of a foundation problem include cracks in concrete or mortar, gaps around windows or doors, and sagging floorboards. If you suspect the foundation is the issue, contact a professional foundation repair company to assess the situation. Foundation problems can lead to leaks, pest infestations, structural problems, and more, so they need to be addressed as soon as reasonably possible. Unfortunately, foundation repairs are often a costly expense, and it bears repeating: Foundation repairs should always be handled by a professional.

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