Introduction: How to Pick Simple Locks/Latches With a Paper Clip

Picture of How to Pick Simple Locks/Latches With a Paper Clip

You would be surprised at how many of the locks and latches around us can be bypassed with a simple paperclip. Some are cheaply constructed. Others are simply poorly installed. I am going to show you several examples. This illustrates how most locks are primarily just a deterrent and aren't 100% secure.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. The author, and website hosting entity will not be held responsible for any misuse of the information, including any and all activities forbidden by applicable laws.

Step 1: Improperly Hung Doors

Picture of Improperly Hung Doors
You may have heard of people opening a door with a credit card. Well, you can usually do the same thing with a paper clip.

There are a number of ways that a door can be improperly hung that make it easy to get through. If a door does have not a deadlatch or if it isn't functioning properly, then the door latch can be pried open. It is even easier if there is a large gap between the door and the strike plate. Here is a quick video tutorial.

If you can't pry the latch open from the front side, you can also use a paper clip to pull the latch open from the back. To do this, start by bending your paper clip into a large hook. Then insert it into the gap in the door and feed it behind the latch. Keep feeding it through until the end of the paper clip comes back out the front where you can reach it. Grab both ends of the paper clip and pull. The door should pop open.

Step 2: Open Doors With Privacy Locks

Picture of Open Doors With Privacy Locks

Many houses have door knobs with privacy locks on bathrooms and bedrooms. These knobs are locked by pressing in the handle an rotating the knob slightly. This prevents the outer knob from turning. Privacy knobs mostly serve to prevent people from just walking through a door without knocking.

Fortunately, they are designed to be easy to open. The outer knob has a hole in the center that lets you insert small rod (in our case a paper clip).  This pushes on a pressure plate that disengages the latch. You can then turn the outer knob and open the door. 

Step 3: Simple Latch

Picture of Simple Latch

Simple latches such as swing latches are also easy to open with a paper clip. Start by unfolding end of the paper clip. Insert it into the gap in the door below the latch. Then just slide the paper clip up until the latch is lifted free from the hook (called the keeper).

Your paper clip can also be used to re-latch the door. To do this, slide the latch down so that the door can barely close. Then with the door closed, use your paper clip to slide the latch down the rest of the way back into the fully latched position. This trick makes it looks like it was never opened.

Step 4: Cheap Luggage Locks

Picture of Cheap Luggage Locks

Cheap luggage locks like the kind pictured here are one example of pad locks that can be picked with a paper clip. These rudimentary locks just have a small spring loaded clamp that holds the U-bar (called the shackle) in place. To open the lock, all you need to do is pry this clamp open. You can do this with a paper clip whose end is bent into a small loop. If you have a key to use as an example, try to replicate its shape as well as you can. Then just insert it into the lock, and rotate the paperclip until the lock pops open. You may need to  move the paper clip around until you find the clamp. This method is easier and more discrete than other methods such as cutting it open with bolt cutters.

Step 5: Open Paper Towel/Toilet Paper Dispensers

Picture of Open Paper Towel/Toilet Paper Dispensers

No one is really concerned about the security of their toilet paper or paper towels. But it is useful to be able to refill them is you lose the key. There are a wide variety of latching mechanisms used on toilet paper/paper towel dispensers. But usually there are one or two spring loaded plates that latch around the front cover. You will have to examine the latch on your dispenser to determine exactly how it opens. 

Most often you can open a dispenser by inserting the straightened tip of a paper clip into the key slot and pressing down on the plate below. When there are two plates, you need to straighten out the whole paper clip and bend it into a U shape. Then use one end to depress each of the plates at the same time.

Step 6: Toy Handcuffs (and Other Toy Locks)

Picture of Toy Handcuffs (and Other Toy Locks)

Most toy locks are a single spring loaded latch or pawl. To open them, you just need to use your paper clip to press on whatever plate or pin that the key would normally press on to release the locking mechanism. This spring loaded plate is usually located just above the key hole.

Note: A paper clip can not be used to unlock actual police handcuffs. While the construction is similar, a large paper clip is too wide to fit in the key hole and a small paper clip isn't strong enough to raise the pressure plate. So you will need to use a bobby pin to unlock those.


dll932 (author)2016-05-09

As a locksmith, I'd like to weigh in here.

1) "Professional" thieves: Anyone who is expert at bypassing locks and alarms probably works for one of those "3 letter agencies." No, I'm not kidding. The average burglar uses a hammer, a crowbar or a foot to gain entry.

2) Locks CAN slow burglars down quite a bit...if you have good ones (and reinforce the strike in the frame). Any lock rated Grade 1 will resist a good bit of force and locks can be keyed to resist picking. High security locks can be had that are virtually pick proof, but they're pricey. Your judgement call as to how much to spend.

3) Breaking windows makes noise, which burglars don't want to make. Even so, you can apply film to glass to make it harder to break (3M makes it) or apply plexiglass over the windows in your door.

4) Just having decent locks (especially dead bolts) can be enough to dissuade the casual would be burglar.

imcp1024 (author)dll9322016-08-07

Where I live thieves dont worry about the noise so much. they just smash and grab. unfortunately the know they are not likely to be caught.

hihihi607 (author)dll9322016-05-09

I have picked an Abloy and a Medeco in the same week before

dll932 (author)hihihi6072016-05-10

Very good, but burglars won't be doing that. Same with bumping. They want to get in and out quick. However, high security locks like Medeco and Abloy, etc. are also made sturdier than the stuff you find at Big Box.

Moribundi (author)hihihi6072016-05-09

There was a lot of controversy back in 2008 about some Medico locks being "bump" picked (Google it). It very difficult and time consuming to pick a quality lock using conventional lock picks, but there are quite a few locks that have specific weaknesses you can exploit. Medico did redesign their locks after the bump-technique was revealed and they made a claim that the new design was bump-proof. However, I've read that Medico has quietly removed the bump-proof claim.

PamG10 (author)dll9322016-05-10

Thank you! How does one reinforce the strike in the frame?

dll932 (author)PamG102016-05-10

At the least, replace the 7/8" long screws with 3" screws. Better yet, get a reinforced strike plate-they're larger and spread out the stress.

n0myst3ry. (author)2016-08-07

If you normally pull the door open, meaning it opens towards you, you're better off with a wire hanger. Bend it however you need to because you'll need to insert the free end of the hanger between the door and the door frame in such a way that it hooks around the latch (sloped thing) from behind. Grab the free end as it pokes out below the latch and an effortless pull should do it.

lonelyBlobby (author)2016-06-23

that is simply AWESOME

Moribundi (author)2016-05-08

Want to get past a door chain without causing any damage? This could be handy if you have a door key (or you've just carded your victim's $hitty spring-latch lock) but your spouse (or victim) put the chain on before going to bed and you don't want to wake (alert) everyone up by knocking, shouting, ringing the doorbell, or kicking the door in.

Get a fairly long piece of string. Tie a slip-knot at one end of the string.

Now, open the door as wide as the chain will allow. Unless you're Popeye you should be able to get your arm through far enough to touch the knob at the end of the chain.

Now tighten the slip-knot around the little knob and run the string up over the top of the door toward the hinged edge. Make sure the chain isn't caught on the string.

Close the door while pulling on the string. Unless the grooved door plate has been installed so there is absolutely no slack when the knob is aligned with the open end of the track the string should pull the chain out. The lesser the angle of the string, the better, so that you are pulling the chain toward the hinges as much as possible, rather that upward, which can cause it to bind in the track.

It might take a couple of tries but the chain will eventually come out.

If there is no slack - even with the door closed - you can always use the hook and elastic method: Get a peel-and-stick hook and an elastic. (You do have these along with your duck tape and rope right?)

Reach in and stick the hook to the door so it's along the same line as the track. You are going to be hooking the elastic between the little knob at the end of the chain to the hook you've stuck on the door (a thumbtack also works if the door is wood) so want the elastic to be as taut as possible at all times

Slowly close the door and the elastic will pull the chain out of the track. Again, it might take a couple of tries if the chain binds at the end of the track.

If you really want to do this on a regular basis, you could rig a stick-on hook with an extension that pulls the chain inward and outward away from the door as you would if you were taking off the chain by hand, lessening the chance of it binding.

If you're the one who prefers to not sleep with one eye open while enjoying the security of speaking to someone without opening the door all the way, you might want to get the hinged alternative (see picture). You should also have a metal-clad front door. It not only holds up better against forced entry, but is also non-flammable, giving firefighters a lot more time to get you safely out of your apartment/condo window.

VictoriaH53 (author)Moribundi2016-05-28

My fiance has gotten past the door chain by unscrewing the part attached to the frame with a coin. Slow, but effective and from 3 rooms away I heard nothing.

rivermikerat (author)Moribundi2016-05-09

Except the doorchain, when properly installed, must be pulled towards the center of the door to unlatch it. Or, on some newer installations, upward and at an angle.

Moribundi (author)rivermikerat2016-05-09

Right. So you are using the string or elastic to pull the chain toward the centre of the door. Or at an angle if necessary.

TheodorE2 (author)2016-05-08

Any idea for this problem ?

stewdanko1 (author)TheodorE22016-05-08

Sure. Cut the lanyard with anything you've got. Pull the lanyard part that has the key on it all the way to the bottom of the door. There is usually enough of a gap in the bottom of the door to pull the key out with the lanyard part that is still attached to it.

tcox14 (author)stewdanko12016-05-24

I don't think you'd need to cut anything. The lanyard looks loose enough to slip off the doorknob.

Eli_Tek (author)stewdanko12016-05-15

Dang you're good.

TheodorE2 (author)stewdanko12016-05-13

...uuh... yeaah.. ... .... that should work.

RJCook (author)TheodorE22016-05-10

I did that a few times in my coaching career.

To 'pick' the lock, I had a fellow teacher with a master key open my door.

Moribundi (author)TheodorE22016-05-08

From the looks of the lock (and I use the term loosely) you could probably get it open by just yelling at it.

JosiahC5 (author)2016-05-17

Very cool, now you can have a spare key to a cheap lock

make sure thieves don't get to the paper clip key

JosiahC5 (author)2016-05-17

Very cool, now you can have a spare key to a cheap lock

make sure thieves don't get to the paper clip key

spleena (author)2016-05-13


Moribundi (author)2016-05-08

Handcuffs: The ones in the article picture are novelty handcuffs.

A bit of trivia: You can pick handcuffs with a paperclip, IF your hands are cuffed with chain (not hinged) handcuffs with your palms inward and the keyhole facing your fingers. Not many modern police forces use the chain cuffs anymore and the proper technique is to cuff you with your hands behind you and your palms facing out. If this technique is applied properly you wouldn't be able to get yourself out of the cuffs even if you were given the key.

Then there's the lock-box, which covers the keyholes and is padlocked. This is used for long-term or high-risk cuffing when it's not practical to maintain constant watch to ensure the prisoner isn't trying to tamper with the cuffs. Like, during the transfer of numerous prisoners on a bus.

rivermikerat (author)Moribundi2016-05-11

I'm a guy. I wasn't handled with kid gloves. I personally don't think I was even handled with the respect accorded me by The Constitution.

Thankfully, my stints "on county vacation" were all less than 9 months at a shot and I never adapted to life inside. At all. Which, at times. proved problematic with the other groups there.

rivermikerat (author)Moribundi2016-05-09

I've gotten myself out of cuffs when I was "properly cuffed."

PamG10 (author)rivermikerat2016-05-10

As have I. I was in my youth extremely flexible and I did read all about Houdini so I flexed as the cuffs were being put on making my hands and wrists larger. Once relaxed it was simple to fold my thumb joint into the palm of my hand and slide the cuff off. You only need to take off one! I did this in the back of a police car because my purse had fallen over. After putting the bag back together, and still not being discovered, I waited until I was taken out of the car to let them know! I was NOT put in a cell, they kept close eye on me from then on! LOL!

Moribundi (author)PamG102016-05-10

During a proper cuffing you can't flex or clench. I think your situation was a combination of being treated more gently because you're female, your crime wasn't too serious, and the cops were cuffing you because it was just procedure rather than you need to be restrained. You can also factor in complacency, which brings me back to proper cuffing.

Being handcuffed isn't meant to be comfortable. In fact, most cops will make the cuffs as uncomfortable as they can, just out of spite. You see, in my experience, most cops are the punks we stole lunch money from as kids.

Moribundi (author)rivermikerat2016-05-10

Has it been hard adjusting to the outside world after your release?

Moribundi (author)rivermikerat2016-05-09

Then you weren't properly cuffed.

However, I would love to hear how you did if you were indeed "properly cuffed".

Pinkrobot82 (author)Moribundi2016-05-09

what's to prevent you from turning your hands inward- facing each other? Facing hands outwardly is painful - just from putting my hands behind my own back...

Moribundi (author)Pinkrobot822016-05-09

If the cuffs are hinged and the keyholes are facing away from your hands your fingers can't get anywhere near the keyholes even if you had the key.

rivermikerat (author)Pinkrobot822016-05-09

The handcuffs aren't left lose enough.

Moribundi (author)Pinkrobot822016-05-09

TimT1 is right. If the cuffs are properly applied you couldn't rotate your wrists without inflicting serious damage to your muscles and tendons.

TimT1 (author)Pinkrobot822016-05-09

I believe handcuffs are meant to be on tight enough that it would be impractical to rotate your wrists relative to the cuffs, and you would likely get lacerations if you attempted to do so.

wldcrd (author)2016-05-10

I am American and I think we are very rude. I did not mean you in particular were rude. I meant some of the other comments were rude. I am allowed to call myself and my fellow Americans rude.

ElectroFrank (author)2016-05-08

More kids will become thieves BECAUSE they learn these instructions on the internet.

I have locked myself out quite a few times. So I leave a spare key with a trustworthy heighbour or somewhere (extremely well hidden) outside. And I make a habit of touching my key before I close the door behind me (frequently works).

wldcrd (author)ElectroFrank2016-05-10

Well thanks anyway I learned my lesson. I will never comment or reply on Instructables again. Americans are very rude.

ElectroFrank (author)wldcrd2016-05-10

I am not American ! But your expression of racial prejudice is rude.

Just because you think someone is rude, it does not prove they are American ! There are rude people from all over the world on the internet !

You may disagree with my statement (unsupported, though I think self-evident), but exactly what do you find rude about my comment ?

wldcrd (author)ElectroFrank2016-05-10

Well thanks anyway I learned my lesson. I will never comment or reply on Instructables again. Americans are very rude.

jalind (author)ElectroFrank2016-05-08

You cannot possibly be serious. Did you even read this? The instructions here wouldn't get you past all but the privacy locks found on the interior doors of a house, and even with many of them it needs to be a pretty stiff paper clip.

Well, if more kids are to become thieves from learning these instructions on the internet, I'd say that's a good thing; I wouldn't want them to learn how to become thieves out on the streets.

Kinnishian (author)ElectroFrank2016-05-08

Are you joking?

TheodorE2 (author)ElectroFrank2016-05-08

For your car: Fit a spare key in your purse or somewhere on your body that will not be left in the car, e.g. Maxwell Smart had his phone in his shoe...

cybericius (author)2016-05-10

Works only in America...

rivermikerat (author)2016-05-09

Privacy locks haven't been the way you describe in at least 30 years. Yes, there is a small hole in the center of the knob outside. No, it isn't just a plate you push against. You need a small flat screwdriver.

Moribundi (author)rivermikerat2016-05-09

If you mean the simple bathroom door lock, there are different types. Some have the hole with a push-pin inside, and some have notch you can turn with a flat-head screwdriver. Both types are available on Amazon (and everywhere else).

rivermikerat (author)Moribundi2016-05-10

Except as someone who's been in construction for 15 years, I can tell you these aren't installed anymore. Except as direct replacements when the "turn tab" kind with the same look as the old "push plate" kind can't be found.

You assumed that I meant that you would never find a house with that kind of privacy lock. You assumed wrong. Unless it's special ordered by the buyer, you will never find that kind of lock in new construction homes or homes built within the last 20-30 years in the US.

rivermikerat (author)Moribundi2016-05-10

Bathroom and bedroom door locks, actually. The house I grew up in 30 years ago had them. In fact, the whole neighborhood did. Just took a small flat-blade screwdriver to open. The push pin type are from the 50s and 60s.

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Bio: My name is Jason Poel Smith I am a Community Manager here at Instructables. In my free time, I am an Inventor, Maker, Hacker, Tinker ... More »
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