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How to Open a Locked Door Without the Key

With a key, you should be able to figure it out on your own.

how to unlock a door
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We’ve all experienced the desperation—and panic—of walking up to a locked door, reaching into our pocket for the key, and finding only loose change and your phone. Is the key just temporarily misplaced or lost forever? Either way, it’s a “What now?” moment that leaves you shaken and on the outside looking in.

However, you don’t always need a key to open a locked door. When you’re locked out, just remember that a lock is a pretty simple mechanical device designed primarily to keep honest people honest. If you need to, you can find a way in, even without a key. Here are seven ways to know how to open a locked door, in ascending order of destruction. (Of course, only try these with your own locked doors.)

Not Destructive at All

how to open a locked door   close up of paper clips on table
Achara Satayapaisal / EyeEmGetty Images

The Technique: Unlock it with a substitute key

The Tool: Eyeglass-repair screwdriver, Paperclip, Spam key

Most interior door locksets, like those on bathrooms and bedrooms, lock for privacy, but aren’t really made to be totally impassable. The non-locking side of the door should have a small hole on the face of the knob. Hidden inside the hole is a small button that must be pushed to unlock the door. You simply need a straight, stiff tool to unlock it. Try using a straightened paperclip or a tiny eyeglass-repair screwdriver.

Some people swear by the Spam Key, which is a key-shaped device used for twisting open metal food cans, including Spam, anchovies and sardines. Such keys haven’t been used in many years, but if you happen to have one on hand, try unlocking the door with it. (See the video below.)

In some cases, the lock will require you to insert the tool and twist. For that, you can use the tiny screwdriver or, in a pinch, make a tool by hammering flat the tip of the paperclip.

This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

The Technique: Remove the doorknob

The Tool: Screwdrivers

Another option for opening interior doors that are equipped with low-level-security doorknobs is to take off the doorknob and then disassemble the lock. If the mounting screws are exposed, simply back them out and then dismantle the knob and lock.

However, if the mounting screws aren’t visible, you’ll need to dismantle the doorknob piece by piece. Use a slotted screwdriver to pry off the round decorative plate (called, the rose), knob, and shank. Once you expose the mounting screws, remove them to gain access to the locking mechanism. Slide the latch back away from the doorjamb to unlock the door.

Possible Aesthetic Damage (Especially to the Jamb)

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The Technique: Pull the bolt

The Tool: Wire clothes hanger

If the door’s locking mechanism has a latch bolt, meaning the kind of bolt that’s spring-loaded and has an angled end, look closely at the end of the bolt. If its angled end is facing away from you, try opening it with a length of wire cut from a clothes hanger. Bend a small hook onto one end of the straightened wire, feed it into the gap between the edge of the door and the jamb, and hook the wire around the latch bolt.

Now, hold the wire with one hand and grab the doorknob with other. Turn to open the knob and at the same time pull the wire toward you. Pressure on the latch will force it to retract, and the knob should turn and open the door.

The Technique: Push the bolt

The Tool: Credit card

If the doorknob has a latch bolt and its angled end faces toward you, try popping it open with a credit card. This principle is the same as the clothes hanger technique explained above, but here you’re using the credit card to push on the bolt’s angled end. Apply constant pressure until the card slides between the bolt and jamb, then twist the knob and open the door. One advantage of this technique is that the flexibility of the card allows you to bend and wiggle it into the tiniest, tightest gaps.

The Lock Will Be Fine. Probably

how to unlock a door   bobby pins cut out on white
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The Technique: Pick the lock

The Tool: Bobby pins

Yes, as odd as it may sound, you can actually unlock a door with wire bobby pins. You’ll need two bobby pins, and each must be bent into a specific shape for a particular job. The first bobby pin is essentially going to be a replacement for the original key. It provides a way to turn the lock cylinder. Bend the last centimeter or so of the closed, rounded end of the pin until it’s perpendicular to the two free ends. Stick this end deep into the key slot and use the protruding part of the bobby pin as a handle.

Then unbend and flatten the second bobby pin to make one long, straight lock pick. Add a slight upward bend to one end. Slide the bent end into the top half of the keyhole, above the bobby-pin key inserted earlier.

When a door is locked, the lock’s cylinder is prevented from turning by a series of spring-loaded pins that protrude into holes in the cylinder. The uniquely shaped teeth on the original key push the pins up and out of the way, allowing the cylinder to turn. To pick the lock, use your bobby-pin pick to push up the pins, one at a time, until the cylinder is free to turn. Here’s a video that shows the technique pretty clearly:

You can purchase the clear-plastic training lock shown the video, if you’d like to practice at home.

This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

You’re Going to Need a New Door Lock

how to unlock a door   drilling through the wood
James NobleGetty Images

The Technique: Drill out the lock

The Tool: Drill

This is pretty much what it sounds like: If you have access to one, drill a hole through the lock to destroy the pins, which allows the lock to turn freely. Because you’re aiming for the pins, position the drill bit just slightly above the top of the key slot and in line with the threshold between the cylinder and the pins’ position when they are pushed up. (This is called the shear line.)

You’ll likely have to experiment with different drill bit sizes to find the right one. Start with a small bit and work your way up to larger bits. And a little lubricating oil goes a long way to help the bits cut through the metal. Still, expect the process to take some time. Once you’ve drilled all the way through the locking mechanism, force a slotted screwdriver into the key slot and twist open the lock.

You’re Going to Need a New Door

how to unlock a door
GearstdGetty Images

The Technique: Newton’s Third Law: for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction

The Tool: Your foot

When you’re desperate enough to bust open the door, a good old-fashioned SWAT-style kick may do the trick. However, first check the hinges to confirm that the door swings open away from you. Obviously if the door swings out toward you, don’t try kicking it open.

Okay, assuming the door swings away from you, prepare to kick with your dominant foot, meaning your right foot if you’re right handed. Aim for a spot just above the doorknob, which is the weakest point on the door. Try to contact the door with a flat foot, and hit it hard. If the door doesn’t swing open or at least start to splinter apart, then it’s probably not going to give way. Oh, don’t use your shoulder. It’s a good way to hurt yourself, and the first-aid kit might be on the other side of the locked door.

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