An Open-and-Shut Cure for Sticky Windows

<i> Abrams is a Santa Monica free-lance writer. </i>

Ever go to open a window or sliding door and find that it is stuck so badly that you either cannot budge it at all or have to struggle with it inch by inch? Very frustrating to say the least, especially during hot summer weather.

Before you call a carpenter or handyman, I have a few suggestions to help you “keep your cool” by keeping the most common windows and doors operating properly.

If you are having trouble with wooden “double hung” windows, i.e. windows that lift up and down, you will probably find that there is a paint seal between the sash and the window frame. To break the seal, force a putty knife with 2-inch wide blade into the joint by tapping it lightly with a hammer.

Work it all the way around the sash on the inside and outside. Once the window is free, try to open it manually. If it still sticks, go to the outside and insert the tip of a large flat blade screwdriver under either corner of the sash and gently pry it up. Be sure to alternate between the left and right side as you lift.

Now that the window is unstuck, you may notice that it is still hard to operate. The best way I have found to correct this is to lubricate the tracks with ordinary Vaseline.


First wipe off any dust or debris from the tracks and then dip a paper towel into the Vaseline. Lift the sash as high as possible and apply a light coat to the lower tracks. Close the window and repeat for the upper track. Finally, test the window three or four times. You should find a vast improvement right away.

For sliding aluminum windows, doors or screens that stick or do not slide easily, you will need to clean and lubricate the track. With the window or door closed, use a broom or vacuum cleaner remove any debris from the exposed track, then open the window or door and repeat for the other side of the track.

Finally, spray both sides of the track with a liberal amount of WD-40 spray lubricant (available at all hardware stores). All sliding window and door tracks should be cleaned and lubricated every other month to keep them running smoothly.

French windows (windows that hinge like a “mini” door) are very prone to sticking becauses the wood expands and contracts with changes in the weather, causing the window frame to rub against the jamb. To correct this, look for contacts points (either lines or chafe marks on the paint) on the edge of the window frame. With a piece of coarse sandpaper, rub the contact points you find until you reach bare wood, then test the window for fit.

If it still sticks, open it again and check for new contact points to sand. Repeat this procedure until all contact points have been removed and the window operates freely. (The above procedures also work on full-size doors that stick or rub the jamb). By the way, a good short-term remedy for windows or doors that rub the jamb lightly is to apply a thin coat of Vaseline to the contact point(s) as a lubricant.

Casement windows are windows that hinge on the side and swing to the outside by means of a crank mechanism. When they stick, they can usually be fixed with a well-placed dose of WD-40 spray lubricant. Spray the track on the window, the hinges, and the crank mechanism itself. Operate the window a few times and spray again if its operation is still not smooth enough.

If the window is wooden and rubs the jamb when closing, follow the procedures described above for French windows. If the window is made of metal, check if excess paint on the window frame is getting in the way. Remove any built-up paint with a knife or chisel.