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Lockset Cleaning

I have an old front door mortise lockset that is complete, but doesn’t work very well. The bolt doesn’t really spring very well. What are the steps for cleaning and restoring this thing? I opened it up, and its full of nasty grease. How do I go about cleaning all of that out? I assume I’d soak it in something, but I don’t know what. Anything else I should do while I’m in there? Thanks.

Some locksets are quite simple devices and others are complex mechanisms. If your lockset seems too complex for you deal with, the best thing might be to take it to a locksmith for cleaning and adjustment.

If you decide to do it yourself, the first thing to do is take pictures and notes so you can remember how all the parts go together. If it’s not too complex a mechanism you might disassemble it, but be careful, sometimes there is spring pressure that sends parts flying around the room.

The old-time standard is to clean the parts one-by-one with a steel wire brush and kerosene–but kerosene very flammable so be careful not to burn the place down!

A safer way would be to soak them in a TSP & water solution for a few days, then scrape and scrub off all the oil & grease. Wear heavy rubber gloves & splash-guard goggles. Be careful to not scratch soft brass parts by using a hardwood stick (like a popsicle stick, or tongue depressor) whittled down to get into the nooks and crannies.

After the parts are clean, reassemble to see how they operate and if any parts are broken, worn or have lost their spring. Probably it was just the gunk gumming up the works, and you can lubricate rubbing surfaces with a drop of light oil (3-in-1 Oil) here and there, or the tiniest dab of Vaseline in just the right place.

John Leeke is a preservation consultant who helps homeowners, contractors and architects understand and maintain their historic buildings. You can contact him at 26 Higgins St., Portland, Maine, 04103; or by E-mail:; or log onto his website at:

© John Leeke

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