It's likely that you have the remedy stored on a shelf in your home right now.

By Nancy Mattia
May 03, 2021
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woman opening kitchen drawer
Credit: Lourdes Balduque / Getty Images

We've all been in this situation: trying to slide a drawer out of a wood desk, dresser, or side table but it keeps resisting. Is it broken? No, just needs a touch of repair. Before there were today's more-efficient metal drawer slides, there were wooden drawer slides. If you have vintage furniture, the wood tends to swells slightly with humidity—a phenomenon that can cause drawers to stick. However, with some help from wax or furniture lubricant, you can have your drawer sliding in and out again in no time.

Why the Problem Happens

The cause of a sticky drawer is oftentimes the same cause as basically any other wood furniture issue, says Anne Briggs, a woodworker who also teaches at Skillshare, an online learning community for creatives: The furniture-maker didn't properly account for seasonal wood expansion and contraction. "Even after a tree is cut, wood is alive," she says. "It expands when conditions are humid and shrinks when conditions are dry." If you move to a new climate, until the wood has time to adjust, you may have seasonal hard-to-open drawers.

How to Fix It

When this happens, gently tug the drawer out of the cavity and clean both with a slightly damp cloth to remove any dust. Then, use a small paintbrush to apply a wood lubricant, such as Slipit Sliding Compound ($27.21, amazon.com), to the top and bottom edges of the drawer, the central track (if there is one), and along the sides. Alternatively, you can rub the same areas with paste wax, such as Butcher's Wax ($26.99, amazon.com) or regular candle wax. "I often keep a handful of tea light candles close by for just such a situation," says Briggs. "Toss the metal container and rub the wax on the sides—10 to 20 swipes per side—and open and close the drawer a few times to work the wax in." Repeat as necessary and remember to use scent-free wax in order to avoid attracting insects to the wood. Other materials to try: regular bar soap, wax paper, dry lubricant with Teflon.

If these steps don't solve the problem, it's possible the wood has shifted in such a way that the drawer no longer fits properly in the dresser. In this case, check to see where friction is leaving wear marks on the drawer. Lightly sand those spots with 50-grit sandpaper ($6.35 for five sheets, walmart.com), suggests Briggs, but proceed with caution. "If you're doing this, do so sparingly, and try to remove equal material off each side, as evenly as possible, so you don't change the position of where the drawer sits." Something else to keep in mind: If the relative humidity in your house changes by season, it's likely that a drawer that's stuck in summer is going to become loose when the air conditioner kicks into full gear or when you turn the heat on in the winter. Also, since wax is a temporary fix (it wears out over time), you may need to reapply wax in the future.

Oftentimes, the problem is that the drawer has too many coats of paint on it. Briggs suggests sanding it down to the wood layer and leave it unpainted since, as she says, "who looks at the insides of drawers anyway?"). But if you feel you must repaint the inside, sand it down and reapply multiple thin coats of a high-gloss paint. Make sure they dry fully then coat with some beeswax and reapply as necessary. And in the future—always pull a drawer out with both handles, applying even pressure, so it doesn't get thrown off kilter and jam.

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