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Passage vs. Privacy Door Knobs: Which Should You Choose?


Quick Summary

The main difference between passage and privacy door knobs is that passage door knobs do not lock and privacy door knobs only lock and unlock from one side of the door. Passage doors are often used for common rooms, closets, and children’s rooms. Privacy doors are typically used for bathrooms, bedrooms, and home offices.


Door knobs play a critical role in home safety as well as privacy. In certain environments, they also have a decorative effect that complements the existing design. There are two main types: passage and privacy. The main difference between a passage and a privacy door knob is the ability to lock it, which is a consideration when you’re replacing a knob or setting up a new door.

In this blog, the team at Access Residential Hardware goes over the differences between passage vs. privacy door knobs. Most homes have a combination of both, and these tips can help you make the right selection for your needs.

Privacy Door Knobs

Privacy door knobs have locksets to control the door. They lock and unlock on one side, so they’re usually installed for rooms requiring privacy like bedrooms, bathrooms, and home offices. One notable exception is a child’s bedroom - you don’t want to be locked out if an emergency occurs.

It is important to note that privacy knobs cannot be locked from the outside, thereby ensuring the safety of the person within the room. These locks usually consist of a button that you push in to secure the door from the inside, allowing the occupant to remain in control. Even though privacy knobs are designed to unlock from one side, there are still ways to open the door from the other side in emergencies.

Some privacy door knobs will lock on their own when the door closes, but they usually come with a special key called a privacy key that lets you unlock them from the outside.

How Do You Use A Privacy Key?

Many privacy doors will come with a privacy key. Privacy keys provide assistance in an emergency involving a locked door. You may need to use a privacy key if your child has locked themselves in a room, or you’ve locked yourself out of a room. Privacy keys consist of a thin shaft with a hook or loop at one end. Although different door knob manufacturers make their privacy keys differently, practically all keys work the same way.

  • Insert the key’s flat end into the door knob’s central hole.
  • Push until the key can’t go any deeper.
  • Turn the key so that it aligns with the groove. With most knobs, you’ll want to rotate it to the right. If you have a lever-style door handle, turn the key to the left.

Some privacy keys have a round shaft on one end. These ones don’t need to be turned: just insert the key and push to open the door.

Additional Ways To Unlock A Privacy Door From The Outside

It’s possible your door knob may not have come with a privacy key, or you lost the privacy key. Even without a privacy key you can still unlock a privacy door from the exterior side using everyday household items. Below are a few methods you can use to unlock privacy doors from the outside.

Using A Small Flat-Head Screwdriver

A tiny flat-head screwdriver will actually function just like a privacy key. You can insert the screwdriver straight into the door knob’s central hole and twist to unlock the door.

Using A Clothes Hanger

Some work is required to turn a clothes hanger into a tool that can be used to open your locked privacy door. You’ll first want to straighten out the hook of your hanger. You’ll then take a hammer and pound the tip of the hanger to flatten it just like the tip of a flat-head screwdriver. Once you have a flat tip, you can insert the tip of the hanger into the knob’s central hole and twist to unlock.

Using A Paper Clip

This method isn’t quite as easy as using a screwdriver, but it can still work. You can straighten out a paper clip and bend the end of the paper clip into a tip. You can then insert the paper clip into the knob’s central hole and twist to unlock the door. Larger paper clips will work better than smaller ones. You need a paper clip thick enough to keep its shape and integrity when you twist in the hole.

Using A Thin Plastic Sheet

This method is different from all of the previous methods mentioned above. With this method you won’t be inserting anything into the door’s central hole. Instead, you’ll be using a thin plastic sheet to slide between the door and the door frame just above the handle. Once you have the sheet wedged between the frame and the door, you can slide the sheet down to push the latch in and open the door.

Passage Door Knobs

Passage door knobs allow you entry into a room that doesn’t need to be secured for privacy or safety reasons. Common examples include living rooms, libraries, sitting rooms, closets, and children’s bedrooms. While they’re perfect for access within your home, they aren’t appropriate for exterior entry doors, as they only latch once closed. They don’t lock.

Common types of passage door knobs include:

  • Door Levers: An alternative to traditional door knobs, door levels have long horizontal handles. They’re more commonly seen in offices and businesses, but some homes have them installed too.
  • Dummy Knobs: These simplified knobs look like regular passage door knobs, but they don’t turn. To open the door, grip the knob and pull or push. Dummy knobs are usually found on doors leading to home offices or dens.

Can Passage Door Knobs Be Installed on Exterior Doors?

Technically yes, but they should be accompanied by a deadbolt or keyed entry mechanism because they don’t lock on their own. It’s a risky situation because your home and its occupants can be vulnerable to unwelcome visitors or intruders. When paired with an appropriate lock, a passage knob will function as a door handle, so you can enter the home once the deadbolt has been lifted or code inputted, but it’s still not an ideal solution: passage knobs normally have an ANSI security grade 3, which is the lowest grade, so they’re comparatively easy to manipulate.

Another concern with installing a passage door knob on an exterior door involves product longevity. Most of these knobs simply aren’t designed for outdoor use, so they can tarnish, lose their finish, and deteriorate.

All the Door Hardware You Need at a Single Location

Choosing the right door knob is vital for home access, comfort, and security, but with so many options available, making a decision can be difficult. Access Residential Hardware provides a wide variety of passage and privacy door knob options and can recommend the right product for the intended use. From modern keyless entry solutions to traditional knobs and levers, we have what you require to solve your access needs. To speak with one of our hardware specialists, please call 866.752.9002, or fill out this contact form and we’ll be in touch!