Security Hacks

9 Simple Ways to Unlock a Door With a Hole

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A close-up of a doorknob

Are you locked out of a room? Or just want to know how you can quickly unlock a door with a hole in an emergency?

In this article, I’ll show you all the best and easy-to-follow methods that you can use to open any door that has a handle with a small hole.

In most cases, when you see a lever handle or a door knob with a hole, it’s part of a privacy lock on an interior door (often a bedroom or a bathroom door).

A typical privacy door lock has a thumb turn or a push button on the inside and a knob or a lever on the outside with a small hole or slot. It does not have a keyed cylinder so the only thing that keeps the door closed when you turn the lock button on the inside is the latch bolt.

The sole purpose of the tiny pinhole on the handle is to allow you to open the door quickly and easily from the outside by providing access to the main locking mechanism. This is a particularly handy feature in an emergency.

That’s enough theory, now let’s see how you can use this small circle hole to unlock your door in practice. As a side note, an emergency locksmith usually uses the very same methods that you’ll find below.

1. Using a Privacy Key

One of the most obvious ways to unlock any door with a hole is to use the privacy key that came with the doorknob or lever handle.

The privacy key is a small key that usually looks like a small flathead screwdriver. Here’s what to do if you have this key at hand:

Steps:

  1. Take the privacy key and insert it right into the hole (with the flat head facing forward). Make sure you insert it straight and not at an angle.
  2. Turn the key clockwise (usually about 60 degrees) and try to open the door.
  3. If the door does not unlock or the key does not turn clockwise, try turning it in the other direction and ensure the key is fully inserted into the hole.

Privacy keys are also sold separately, so if you don’t have the original one, you can get a new one online or at your local hardware store.

Note: If the door has a push button, simply insert the emergency key as far as you can until the button on the other side pops out.

If you’re unsure, you can always check the manufacturer’s instructions for specific details that apply to the exact model you have.

2. Use a Paperclip to Unlock Your Door

You can quickly unlock most interior doors with a small hole using a simple paperclip. The only tool you’ll need to get the job done is a pair of pliers.

Steps:

  1. Open one end of the paperclip. It’s best to use a jumbo-size paperclip instead of a flimsy smaller one.
  2. Create a small loop by bending the end of the paperclip using the pliers. The loop should fit into the hole, so make sure you shape it until it’s the right size.
  3. Insert the loop into the hole and give it a twist. Now you should be able to open the door.
A modified paperclip on a black table with one end circled in redPin

3. Unlocking a Door With a Screwdriver

When it comes to unlocking bedroom and bathroom doors that have a hole, using a small flathead screwdriver is probably the simplest way to get inside if you don’t have the privacy key that came with the lock.

Steps:

  1. Insert the screwdriver straight into the pinhole. Make sure the head of the screwdriver falls into the groove inside the hole.
  2. Give the screwdriver a clockwise turn and try to open the door.
  3. If the door remains locked, try to insert the tool deeper or turn in the opposite direction.

A screwdriver can also be useful if you’re dealing with a twist knob lock. These types of locks usually have a hole in the middle. You can use the screwdriver (or a nail) to poke in the hole and then turn the knob to unlock the door.

Here’s a video on how you can open a locked door with a screwdriver:

YouTube video

4. Unscrew and Remove the Outside Knob

The idea behind this method is that you gain direct access to the locking mechanism of the locked door by removing the outside knob.

The beauty of this technique is that it does not require you to tamper with the hole, so in most cases, all you need is a Phillips screwdriver. The whole process takes no longer than 2-3 minutes.

Steps:

  1. Remove the screws using a Phillips screwdriver. If there are no visible screws, check out this video to see how you can remove the door knob.  
  2. Once the rose is removed, locate the spindle which is an elongated round or square rod.
  3. Inside the rod, you’ll find another rod. Now you have to turn the inner rod clockwise or counter-clockwise to unlock the door. Once you’ve done that, just turn the rod with the larger diameter to release the latch.

Here’s a photo that will help you better understand the process of removing a locked doorknob:

A bore hole with the outside knob removed revealing the locking mechanism Pin

I usually recommend unlocking a door with a hole using this technique when someone doesn’t have the proper tools at home that could be inserted into the hole, or if all other methods have failed.

5. Use a Piece of Wire

If you don’t have a flathead screwdriver at home, you can make one using a piece of wire and a hammer. Then you can use this tool as an emergency key to open a locked door.

Steps:

  1. Get a 10-14 gauge wire that’s at least 8 inches long.
  2. Flatten the tip of the wire with a hammer on a hard surface.
  3. Make a loop at the other end. This is to make it easier to turn the tool.
  4. Now push the flat end into the small hole in the door and find the groove inside. As a next step give it a 60-degree turn and you’re done.   

You can also use a coat hanger to make a DIY screwdriver. That will work just as well to unlock your door without a key.

6. Using a Bobby Pin

If you have a button-type privacy lock, using a bobby pin is one of the simplest ways to unlock your door.

Steps:

  1. Push the bobby pin deep into the hole on the doorknob.
  2. When you feel a little resistance, keep pushing the pin until you hear a click. This is when the door is unlocked.

Note: You’ll find holes of different sizes in different door handles, so you may need to open and straighten the bobby pin to fit into the hole.

7. Unlock Your Door With a Knife

Some bathroom or bedroom doors won’t have a hole but a slot. These kinds of privacy knob locks can be unlocked with several different tools, however, using a butter knife is probably the simplest method.

A butter knife placed on a black tablePin

All you need to do to unlock your door is to place the tip of the butter knife into the slot and spin it. If you don’t have a butter knife at hand, you can use a coin as an alternative.

8. Use a Plastic Card

Picking a door lock with a plastic card is a classic way of unlocking a door. The essence of this technique is that you slide a thin but sturdy object between the door and the jamb and cause the latch to retract by applying force.

This method will work on most knob locks with a slanted latch, so it will allow you to unlock doors with and without a hole as well.

Important: Do not use a credit card or any other active card that is in use, because it may break during the process. Use one that you don’t mind scratching and damaging.

Steps:

  1. Slide the card between the door and the door frame above the door knob. If the gap is too small and the card doesn’t go in, you need to bend one corner of the card and try again.
  2. Once the card is in the gap, slide it downwards, and when it reaches the top of the lock, push it down while wiggling both the card and the door until the door opens.

9. Remove the Hinges

If all the above methods have failed and nothing seems to be working, you can still remove the hinges. 

While this is a more time-consuming way of gaining access to a room, it completely bypasses the lock.

Note that you won’t be able to remove the hinges if the door opens inward. This method only works with outward-opening doors. You must have access to the hinges so that you can remove the hinge pins. Once you’ve done that, you can rip the door off the door frame.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of privacy locks?

The two most common types of privacy locks are privacy knobs or levers and push-button privacy locks. In addition, keyed and electronic privacy locks also exist, however, they’re much more difficult to unlock without the proper tools and knowledge.

What is the best tool to use to unlock a bedroom or bathroom door with a hole?

The best tool for the job is the privacy key as it’s designed for the actual lock. Your second best choice is probably a small screwdriver that you can use to unlock knobs with a thumb-turn and push-button locks as well.

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About the Author

James Mora is the founder of DailyHomeSafety. He is a home improvement expert, contractor, avid DIYer, and security manager. He is passionate about home repairs, remodeling, and teaching. Read More

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