Sticky Drawer? How to Lubricate Metal or Wood Drawer Slides

There are few things more frustrating than a stuck drawer. Fortunately, drawer slides are usually simple to fix once the problem is identified. Sometimes, a drawer can pop out of the grooves it slides in, in which case you just need to get the drawer back on its tracks. However, if a drawer is on its slides properly but is not moving smoothly or is stuck, you likely need to lubricate both it and its slides.

Because of high humidity that can affect wood drawers, summer is the most common time for this problem to take place. The humidity can cause wood to swell, creating friction and rubbing that make the drawer hard to open. In the fall and winter, when humidity typically decreases, the swelling of the drawer will subside, but the drawer may wobble if you had reduced the thickness of the swollen parts or the wood experienced distortion.

If your drawer is sticking and not sliding properly, remove it to determine exactly where the problem is occurring. Pull the drawer completely out of the cabinet and check the slides for any potential issues. Look for obvious obstructions or damage, or check for more subtle causes like wear, swelling, or warping.

Lubricating metal and ball-bearing drawer slides

Materials needed: lubricant (white lithium grease is the optimal choice) and a damp cloth

  1. Remove the drawer. To do so, carefully pull it straight out to slide it off of the runners. You might have to lift it up slightly at the end to fully detach it. You can empty the drawer to make this step easier, but if you don’t empty it, be careful of its weight when you pull it out.

  2. Use a damp cloth to clean the area you’re preparing to lubricate. Wipe down one or both runners and dry them. Make sure the runners are as clean and dry as possible before proceeding.

  3. Apply the lubricant on the runners. If using a spray lubricant, hold the spray nozzle as close as possible. Spray the runner in increments, using short bursts to ensure the entire area is covered. If you are using lubricant in a squeeze bottle, be sure to coat the entirety of the runners, particularly the areas that make contact with the drawer runners.  

  4. Clean up any excess lubricant.

  5. Put the drawer back on the runners. Open and close it to ensure the lubricant is covering the whole area and working properly.

Lubricating your drawers doesn’t have to be an emergency fix. It’s a good idea to lubricate your drawers as part of routine maintenance so they continue to operate smoothly. Regular drawer lubrication can allow you to extend the life of the drawers. Whenever the time comes that you decide to renovate or upgrade, having your drawers in good sliding condition will make it easier to sell the piece of furniture they are in.

Wooden drawer-slide lubricants

If you are experiencing friction caused by wood-on-wood contact between the drawer and the wood drawer slide—a problem that arises often in older furniture and kitchen cabinets—there are a number of different products you can use for lubrication to remedy the problem. Spray-dry lubricant, silicone tape, paste wax, candle wax, or even a sheet of wax paper can get the job done.

Plastic or metal drawer-slide lubricants

If the drawer slides are plastic or metal, you can still use the recommended lubricants for wood drawers (like wax or tape), but your best bet would be to purchase and apply white lithium grease. Be careful not to use any harsh lubrication products, though, as they can damage the finish.

Lubricating wooden drawer slides

Materials needed: lubricant (spray-dry lubricant, wax, or tape), fine-grit sandpaper (optional)

  1. Remove the drawer by sliding it straight out. Lift upward when the drawer is pulled out nearly all the way in order to completely detach it from the slides.

  2. Examine the wood runners to determine the cause of the problem. Why isn’t the drawer sliding well? If the runners or tracks are overly worn down or broken, they might need to be replaced. However, if they are only slightly rough but in good shape, use fine-grit sandpaper to smooth them out. If there is anything stuck in the tracks or obstructing the area, remove the debris.

  3. Apply lubrication. You can use spray-dry lubricant, which is the preferred method, or wax. Simply rubbing a candle on the runners should be enough to get things working smoothly again. If you don’t have a lubricant or a candle, tape can also get the job done.  

  4. Put the drawer back on the runners. Open and close it a few times to see if your repair job was successful.  

When you invest money in kitchen equipment or furniture with drawers, you expect them to last a long time and operate as they should. Keeping your drawers opening smoothly can be a challenge, but with the right knowledge and products, you can easily fix stuck or stiff drawers by greasing drawer slides properly.

Drawer types

Broadly speaking, there are friction slides and ones on rails. Wooden drawer slides tend to be either grooved at the sides or on the bottom of a drawer frame. For the rail-based drawer slides, there are a variety available and a few you would probably recognize.

Check out more drawer-slide terms and definitions here, or just review our drawer-slide guide.

In most modern situations, you’ll be dealing with one of the following types of drawer slides

Undermount slides: Undermount slide drawers attach to the sides of the cabinet, while the underside of the drawer body has the locking devices. The slides are not visible, and because there are slides on both sides, weight is distributed evenly.

Center-mount slides: Center-mount drawers have slides that attach directly under the center of the drawer. There is only one slide, which makes them easy to install, but this can also restrict the height of the drawer as well as the weight it can hold.

Side-mount slides: Side-mount drawer slides are attached horizontally to the drawer and the cabinet body. This type of slide is ideal where there is limited horizontal space, as they only require less than a fourth of an inch of area to install. Side-mount slides are often used on high-quality cabinetry because they are located out of sight.

OVIS, Phyllis Staats August 23, 2023
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