Bathroom doors generally come equipped with privacy locks. They're designed to be secure against unintentional intrusion but not so secure that you can't pick the lock if the need arises. Many homeowners are surprised by how often the need does arise, especially with small children or the elderly living in the home. These can be distressing events for everyone concerned. Fortunately, privacy locks are meant to be relatively easy to pick from the outside with simple, everyday items you probably already have around the house.
Types of Privacy Locks
Most bathroom doors come equipped with one of two types of locks: Push-button and turn button.
With push-button locks, the person inside the bathroom shuts the door, then pushes a button in the middle of the interior door knob. This button then activates the lock.
Turn button locks are slightly less common in residential bathrooms. These locks engage with a simple twist of a knob located on the interior door knob or handle.
Older doors may still come equipped with a third type of privacy lock. This lock type is typically engaged by pushing the door knob in towards the door and turning it slightly in one direction. To unlock this door from the inside, the procedure is reversed: Push in and turn in the other direction.
Finding Your Makeshift Lock Picking Tools
To unlock your bathroom privacy lock, you can use one of the following items depending on the type of lock with which you're working: Bobby pins, sharp-tipped knives and straightened paper clips for push-button locks, miniature screwdrivers for turn button locks, or sturdy, thin pieces of metal or strong plastic for twist-style locks.
How to Unlock Your Push-button Bathroom Door Lock
Push-button locks generally present on the outside of the door as a small, round hole centered in the middle of the knob. To pick this kind of lock, select a bobby pin or straightened paper clip. These items generally have the right shape and size to maneuver inside the confines of the lock without damaging the mechanism.
To begin, first straighten a large, sturdy paper clip. You should have at least an inch of straight working space on the end of the clip you're using. Avoid smaller paper clips. These tend to be too flimsy to work with and may wind up breaking off inside the lock. If that happens, you'll probably need the services of a professional locksmith.
Once the clip is straight, position the straight end inside the hole on the outside of the doorknob. Using minimal force, push the clip into the hole until you hear a light click or "pop" sound. When this happens, a small button inside the locking mechanism presses against a bar, which in turn pops the lock to the unlocked or open position.
Try the doorknob. It should open freely.
Unlocking a Turn Button Door Lock
Less common than the push-button lock style, the turn button lock requires a slightly different approach. The process can be slightly more complex as well and may require several attempts before successfully unlocking the bathroom door.
For this kind of lock, the best tool is a small flathead screwdriver. The head of the screwdriver must be small enough to slip inside the slot of the outside door knob.
Gently insert the screwdriver's flathead into the door knob's slot, then turn it counterclockwise. If you hear a click, the lock is disengaged and the door should open freely. Be careful not to exert too much pressure here. If you meet significant resistance when you attempt to turn the screwdriver, try removing the tool and repositioning it.
What to Do if There Is No External Access
Somewhat less frequently, you may encounter a bathroom door that presents no mode of access from the outside of the bathroom. Sometimes these locks are engaged by pushing the doorknob in and turning it slightly from the inside of the bathroom.
In these cases, since there's no way to pick the lock from within the knob itself, you'll need a different approach. The solution that is most likely to produce successful results requires a thin but sturdy piece of plastic or metal. Credit cards may work, but are often too flimsy and may break. A stronger material is preferable.
Slide the edge of the metal or plastic tab in between the edge of the door and the door jamb down towards the engaged latch. When you make contact with the latch, try gently pushing the tab in towards the door and away from the door jamb to move this metal latch. If you can push the latch far enough into the door, the lock should disengage.
Annie Sisk is a freelance writer who lives in upstate New York. She has written extensively for publications and websites in the home repair and decor fields, among other topics. A homebody by nature, Annie particularly enjoys Scandinavian and French Country design, and learning how complicated things are put together.