Please help me break into my own bathroom
July 1, 2016 5:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a new place, and my daughter just pushed the privacy lock on the bathroom door before closing it (she is outside the bathroom, thankfully). With most of these knobs you can just push something through the hole to pop it, but that is not working. There are no keys over the doorframe. There are no exposed screws on this side of the knob. The door hinges are on the other side of the door. Please help!

There is a small allen key hole on the side of the doorknob, running parallel to the door itself. In anticipation of this happening I even bought a big allen key multi tool, but none of them fit. Maybe it is metric and the knob is imperial?

Pictures of the doorknob:

There is also another hole that faces into the bathroom itself. Pushing something into that hole isn't doing anything. I have noticed that some of the knobs are installed with this hold over the pin that locks them, and on some of them the two sides are flipped so they don't line up. Not sure which way this bathroom knob is on.

Any ideas? Is that allen key hole likely to be the right way to unlock it or is that something else?
posted by insoluble uncertainty to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes the hole requires more than just something pushed into it. I've had luck in a similar situation with a very narrow screwdriver that fits into a mechanism you can turn clockwise or counterclockwise to release the lock.
posted by abulafa at 5:22 PM on July 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also the privacy lock doesn't turn, it's a pin that you push in.
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 5:25 PM on July 1, 2016

I had luck with a modern one that also had a little latch in the hole. I unwound a key ring so it still had a curve in it and was able to pull the latch through the pinhole to get the lock open by spinning the curved key ring in there. Just poking didn't work. (I then added a door stopper onto the hinge because in our case the wind caught the door slamming it against the wall, locking it, and slamming the door shut.)
posted by Crystalinne at 5:28 PM on July 1, 2016

Can you slide a plastic card in-between the door frame and the tab that goes into the door frame? When I was in high school, our band teacher was always late, so that's how we got into the band room.
posted by aniola at 5:34 PM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

It looks like the Allen key hole on the side of the doorknob is a set screw that holds the handle onto the shaft that couples the two handles together. There looks to be a pin or something and a hole facing into the door. Those are more likely to be helpful.

If they aren't, a very small Allen key will loosen the set screw so you can remove the handle. Likely at that point, you can just push the shaft right through the door and it will fall out the other side. You can then manipulate the latch mechanism by hand or with a large screwdriver or similar.
posted by ssg at 5:37 PM on July 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can't see your photo properly but in my experience if there's a little hole for poking something in, it has to have a turn also (like abulafa said). The release keys that sometimes come with these locks look like a little screwdriver.

Here's a picture of one.
posted by Xhris at 5:43 PM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

With most of these knobs you can just push something through the hole to pop it, but that is not working.

From a childhood spent breaking into all the doors in family homes, I can tell you that the best privacy lock picking tool is a q-tip with the cotton pulled off one end. It's more pliable than a rigid piece of metal, so you have more tactile feedback for what's going on inside the knob, and it's got a wide, soft head to get good purchase on whatever mechanism you need to trigger. If you can get a q-tip or something similar (coffee stirrer straw?) that's going to be great.

I bet the latch thing is offset from the hole a bit. Try going back in and gingerly poking around at an angle until you meet resistance.
posted by phunniemee at 5:43 PM on July 1, 2016 [18 favorites]

If the door swings in to the bathroom you could try wedging a credit card, or similarly shaped thing between the latch and the catch for the latch. I have had to do this a few times.
posted by The Reverend at 6:33 PM on July 1, 2016

Response by poster: No luck so far with any of these. I can't wedge a credit card in because there is a lip on the doorframe that covers the latch (or am I just doing this wrong?). I tried a tiny flathead screwdriver for a while but can't get it to catch on anything or find anything to push.

This is what the locking pin looks like (from another knob of the same type). You can unscrew it and take it out, but there is no place to slot a screwdriver on the end that goes into the door.
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 6:37 PM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're on the first floor (it have a ladder), perhaps the window is open or unlocked and may be easier to get into for you.
posted by papayaninja at 6:39 PM on July 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

On the off chance that the hinge pins are on your side, you could pull those pins and remove the whole door, it's easy enough to rehang after unlocking the latch.

Beyond that, I'd try really hard with a disposable credit-card approximation.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:40 PM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nevermind, I just saw your comment about the hinge pins being non-accessible. Apologies.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:41 PM on July 1, 2016

The molding that prevents access of the credit card method may be easier to remove than you think. Do you have a chisel? Little taps all up and down.
posted by sammyo at 6:46 PM on July 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

The holes, when there are unlock-from-the-outside holes, are usually in the middle of the doorknob, aren't they? That crystal doorknob doesn't have a hole, but the mechanism behind it probably has a pressable door release. Removing that allen-bolt set screw might actually be your best bet --- remove the set screw, wiggle the doorknob off, poke into the hole where the doorknob was.
posted by jackbishop at 6:53 PM on July 1, 2016

It's probably the door jamb.

If you can get the knob off, there will be a shaft that you can push through. If that doesn't unlock it, you'll have access to whatever switch can be triggered from the inside. Bending and jabbing a coat hanger end all over the place inside should do it.

Additionally, once you get the knob off you can completely unscrew the plate as you've started to do. That will get you inside as well.
posted by rhizome at 6:55 PM on July 1, 2016

You can usually slide a bendy plastic thing between the jamb and the lock. Don't use your credit card or drivers license. I find that hotel loyalty cards work splendidly.
posted by fshgrl at 7:10 PM on July 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

The type of tweezers that opens like scissors and has the finger loops is the right width and length to unlock these. I used one for a bedroom key for a year. In a pinch, bend the very end of a straightened sturdy paper clip, or straightened bobby pin, at a right angle. You want about an eighth to a quarter of an inch on the bent part. These have more been than the tweezers, so are less ideal. You go in with the bent part vertical, push straight in deep, and turn right, trying to catch the mechanism. Grasp the handle with your other hand and keep turning pressure on.
posted by notquitemaryann at 7:10 PM on July 1, 2016

You can sometimes force it open with a crowbar, but you will probably damage the door or the jamb, especially if it's a new, tight door.

Is it a totally interior bathroom, or is there and outside window?
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:11 PM on July 1, 2016

The molding that prevents access of the credit card method may be easier to remove than you think. Do you have a chisel? Little taps all up and down.

Slice the edge of the molding with an exacto knife, then gently pry it apart with a kitchen knife. You might be able to twist the molding just enough to jimmy a kitchen knife into the little space where the bolt is and pop it out. You might have to completely remove the molding (then you should slice both sides with an exacto). You probably will damage the molding and wall paint in the process. You'll only do this if you are pretty sure there is no other decent way to pick the lock.
posted by ovvl at 7:32 PM on July 1, 2016

Best answer: The doorknobs with locking pins like that in our house have a hole in the face plate on the other side that you can push something through to push the pin back out. If the hole in the outer faceplate has been rotated, you may need to take the doorknob off to rotate it to the correct position using the hex wrench.
posted by jferg at 7:48 PM on July 1, 2016

Response by poster: I was able to get a credit card width spatula in there around the curve and push down on the latch but still no luck.

No window in the bathroom unfortunately.
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 8:11 PM on July 1, 2016

The sucky way is to pry the door handle off the door. A butter knife or a flathead screwdriver. Can you unscrew the knob? You may be able to get at it that way. Good luck!
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 8:24 PM on July 1, 2016

I would try the plastic card method on a different door with the same knob (but one that isn't locked). It can help you figure out the mechanics, and what the card might be catching on.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 8:33 PM on July 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maybe give this zip-tie method a try?
posted by Beti at 8:51 PM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

If none of these are working, I'd suggest calling a locksmith before resorting to crowbars or other extreme measures. I'm fairly sure they can get you in without much difficulty.
posted by Aleyn at 9:24 PM on July 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I went to the hardware store and got the right Allen key to unscrew the little screw on the side and ... Nothing! The guys at the hardware store said removing that screw should make the crystal knob come off but it's still on there solid.

Thanks for all the suggestions. I've been tiring them all but no luck!
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 9:25 PM on July 1, 2016

Try unscrewing the knob once you remove the set screw. It's probably on a square threaded rod (pic).
posted by ryanrs at 10:12 PM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the knob should unscrew once you've removed the set screw in its side. That won't help unlock it directly, but it should get you a better angle on the hole on the plate. If the knobs were installed properly, then both the locking pin and the hole on the outside plate should be on the latch side of the door. You really should just be able to pop something, maybe the allen wrench you used to get the set screw out, into the hole and shove the pin backwards until it unlocks. But it is possible to install the knob with the privacy pin on one side and the emergency hole on the other side, in which case you're hosed because you have no access to the back of the privacy pin. You almost certainly can't rotate the plate on the outside, because it's screwed to the plate on the inside and the screws are on the inside. (They really ought to key the plates somehow so that they can't be screwed together if misaligned, but I don't think most sets do that, relying instead on the installer not to mess it up.)

If you can get the knob off, you can clamp a pair of vice-grip pliers onto the shaft and maybe break the locking pin by using the greater leverage of the pliers to force the shaft to rotate. A few good whacks with a rubber mallet on the end of the pliers might do it.
posted by hades at 12:08 AM on July 2, 2016

Check the bottom of the medallion. The privacy doors in our old place had a slot that faced down right at the door on the medallion. Sticking a bobby pin up into the slot (just like with the hole in the knob) released the lock.
posted by Mitheral at 12:12 AM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you have any similar door knobs/locks in the house? If so you could try unlocking those using the little hole (with the door locked but open!), just to see if you can figure out how is supposed to work. I don't think taking off the crystal knob helps much.

I would also immediately go take apart and reinstall those backward installations you mentioned. May also give you an idea of what's inside the lock you're working on.

I can't wedge a credit card in because there is a lip on the doorframe that covers the latch (or am I just doing this wrong?).

You may be doing it wrong? I would think if you can get a spatula in, you can do this. Use a card you don't want (like a loyalty card) because you may ruin it. Start with the card flat against the door and force a corner in so that it bends on the inside of the door frame to latch depth. Then wiggle up and down toward the latch, so it forces the latch in from the slanted side (which should be facing you). This may not work on all installations but has a good chance.
posted by zennie at 5:20 AM on July 2, 2016

Do you have a small flathead screwdriver that fits the hole? All the privacy locks in my house can be opened by inserting one and twisting it a quarter turn.
posted by w0mbat at 6:59 AM on July 2, 2016

My handyman engineer says you will need to remove set screw (sounds like this is done) and then unscrew knob. Knob is tapered but threaded at end. You will need to unscrew to remove. When knob is removed the shaft will remain in the door with the other side of the knob attached. Push the shaft through and the knob will fall out to the bathroom side. Remove the faceplate. Then you should be able to access the innards of the latch. You need to manipulate latch to unlock.
posted by countrymod at 7:32 AM on July 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can't quit thinking about this... Anyway, that is not a vintage knob, there is almost certainly a way in without destroying your door. I think one of the last options is that somehow a contractor or someone kinda glued the knob on with paint accidentally.

Now you've unscrewed everything. Have you tried to turn the knob to the left to unthread it from its double?You may have to turn hard. Maybe even pour hot water on it. If you get the knob off but the other side is still on, knock it good with a mallet, don't be afraid to use some force.

The last thing I'd suggest is to see if you can find any identifying marks on another one from your home and look up the manufacturer, it may say on their website or installation pdf how to rectify this issue.

Good luck! I'm sorry you are stuck.
posted by stormygrey at 11:04 AM on July 2, 2016

Yeah, between this and that "Is my door hollow-core?" question a few days ago, there's definitely no need to take a crowbar to the thing.
posted by rhizome at 11:15 AM on July 2, 2016

I'm pretty sure that assembly is similar to the one in these installation instructions (pdf), with the outside backing plate containing the threaded holes and the inside backing plate containing the mounting holes for machine screws. The two plates are screwed to each other; the outside one can't turn independently. And it's definitely possible to install such that the locking pin is on one side of the shaft and the hole for accessing the locking pin from the outside is on the opposite side of the shaft, where it can do no good. It sounds like that's the case here.
posted by hades at 11:21 AM on July 2, 2016

Best answer: If the hole in the plate on your side of the door is on the wrong side of the shaft, I suppose you could drill a hole on the other side of the shaft where it ought to be. That'd be less destructive than any of the other methods I can think of (aside from jimmying it open with the credit card/zip-tie trick).
posted by hades at 5:09 PM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I have tried all of this very good advice (at least all that wouldn't cause damage to the door) and nothing has worked, so I filed a request with the property managers to fix it. I think unfortunately I was right about the plate being on backwards so that you can't actually pop it through the hole like you are supposed to. I have also failed at getting the knob off to get better access to the inside, despite reading about how to do it on the manufacturers website. If someone's going to have to pry it open and scrape up the molding I want it to be the management not me. I will update with info on how they get it open!
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 6:18 PM on July 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: The doorknob was on backwards. The maintenance guy opened it by drilling a hole in the correct side, which I only suggested because of hades comment. This was after he had tried other stuff for 45 min, so thanks hades!! My bathroom door would still be stuck without your help.
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 1:58 PM on July 4, 2016 [10 favorites]

« Older Personal Loan   |   Identity theft question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.