Why Are Your Wooden Drawers Sticky? 6 Common Causes

Once in a while, you may start finding it getting more and more difficult to open your drawers. This can be pretty inconvenient, but the worst part is not knowing what’s wrong with them. Why are your wooden drawers sticky?

Humidity and moisture are two of the main things that cause sticky wooden drawers. They cause the wood to swell, making the drawers fit awkwardly in the openings. Still, depending on the environment, there could be many other possible reasons. You need to examine your wooden drawers to be sure.

In this article, I’ll talk more about why wooden drawers become sticky, how you can fix them, and whether you can prevent this issue or not. Let’s start!

Why Are Your Wooden Drawers Sticky

What Causes Sticky Wooden Drawers?

When wooden drawers become sticky (meaning: too rough to open), the issue often lies in their structure. They either change in size, get deformed, sport faulty parts, etc. 

You’ll need to check the physical condition of both the drawer and cabinet to know what the exact problem is.

That said, below is a more in-depth look at some of the most common causes of sticky wooden drawers:

1. High Humidity Causes the Drawers To Swell

If you ask different carpenters, furniture experts, and even just regular homeowners, they’ll tell you that extreme humidity is the top culprit behind sticky wooden drawers. Why so?

Humidity directly affects wooden furniture, drawers included. When the humidity level is too low, the wood becomes dry and shrinks. On the other hand, if it’s too high, the wood absorbs too much moisture and swells, resulting in increased size. Sticky wooden drawers usually happen because of the latter.

Carl Eckelman noted in his study about the shrinking and swelling of wood that the exact intensity of the effects of humidity differ from wood to wood. Hence, depending on the treatment and polish used, some of your drawers can stay smooth running while others can hardly move.

Looking back, if you notice your wooden drawer has become slightly bigger than usual, there’s a big possibility that the high humidity level is the cause. The same goes if your drawers have recently come in contact with water.

2. The Drawers Are Deformed

Evidently, drawers come in a specific physical structure, so it perfectly fits in the opening. Thus, what happens if that structure gets deformed? You get sticky drawers

A drawer can get deformed due to a number of reasons: 

  • It may have chips on its sides and surfaces if handled carelessly. 
  • If it’s made out of poor-quality wood, then the structure itself can get deformed once it hits another drawer. 
  • Paint buildup can also contribute to the drawer’s structural issues.

Depending on how serious the deformation is, you may need to even out the drawer’s structure by using sandpaper or extending it using extra planks. In some cases, you will have to replace the drawer or the whole cabinet.

3. The Drawer May Have Loose Screws

Loose and damaged screws can also cause sticky wooden drawers. You’ll know this is the issue if you notice wobbliness in addition to the stickiness and roughness when opening the drawer.

Fortunately, this is one of the simpler cases you might encounter because you can easily solve this by either retightening or replacing the screws. For the former, you’ll only need a screwdriver. You can do the latter yourself if you’re knowledgeable. Just make sure to use the correct screw size.

4. The Drawers Are Overloaded

When you store more than what your drawers can hold, they will undoubtedly become hard to open. The items will be too hard to carry, leading to stickiness. That said, keep an eye on the things you’ll put inside each drawer to keep it from overloading. 

It’s uncommon for manufacturers to specify the exact weight that a single drawer can hold. However, this shouldn’t be a problem. As long as the drawer doesn’t feel too heavy for you to slide in and out, you’re on the right track.

5. Drawers May Have Abrasions From Normal Wear and Tear

For antique cabinets or those that have generally been used for a long time, having sticky drawers is normal. This occurs due to the abrasions that their surfaces get from normal wear and tear. The issue is basically inevitable, especially for furniture pieces that are more than ten years old.

This also applies to drawers that haven’t been opened in years due to too much friction.

6. The Runners Are Misaligned

All drawers have runners. This is the bottom part of the drawer that allows it to move in and out of the cabinet. It can come as a metallic or wooden device. Either way, both materials can become misaligned through usage, resulting in sticky drawers. This can happen if there are loose or faulty parts, deformations, and the like.

How To Fix Sticky Wooden Drawers

Fortunately, having sticky wooden drawers doesn’t necessarily mean the drawers are useless. There are a number of easy fixes that you can choose from, depending on what’s causing the stickiness. These solutions can range from as simple things as applying lubricants to complicated procedures as having to reshape the drawers totally.

Here is a list of what you can do to fix sticky wooden drawers:

Lubricate the Sides of Your Drawers To Smoothen Them

More often than not, lubricating your drawers will be enough to remove their stickiness. The best thing about this is it’s easy and cost-effective to do, so you won’t need a professional. Just use a regular candle, bar of soap, or wood lubricating oil, and splatter it generously on the sides of your drawers.

Try To Lower Humidity Levels

If swelling is the problem, then you should try lowering the humidity levels in your home or at least in the room with the cabinet. Do this by turning on the dehumidifier, providing good ventilation, and turning on exhaust fans. If you have time and the weather is good, bring the cabinet outside and leave it there for a few hours.

Check for Paint Buildup, and Scrape the Excess Off 

As I mentioned earlier, paint buildup can cause deformities and give the drawer an awkward fit. You’ll know this is the problem if you notice a clump of paint on either side of the drawer. To remove it, scrape it off using any sharp tool. If this isn’t possible, or you simply don’t want to cause further damage, you can use a heat gun to melt the excess paint.

Reorganize the Contents of Your Drawers

For overloaded drawers, the solution is as simple as reorganizing its contents. Fix the placement of the items within the drawers to balance the weight. If you can, consider taking out unnecessary things and putting them elsewhere. This should do the trick.

Check the Parts, and Replace Them if Needed

Two of the most vital parts that you need to check in sticky drawers are the screws and runners. Take your time in figuring out if they’re causing the problem or not. If yes, make the necessary repairs and replacements. Again, you can do this yourself or with a professional.

For a visual representation of some of the fixes above, here is a video that you can refer to:


If you can’t figure out why your wooden drawers are sticky or you can’t decide on the most appropriate solution, it’s best to consult a professional. You can talk to your resident carpenter, the store where you bought the cabinet, or a furniture expert.

Can You Prevent Wooden Drawers From Being Sticky?

You can prevent wooden drawers from being sticky by maintaining them regularly. The required maintenance involves a simple routine. You just need to lubricate the sides of the drawers often

You can use paraffin wax, a candle (even an old one that has been lying around), or a bar of soap. All these deliver the same effect, so choose whichever you’re most comfortable with.

However, it’s important to note that this trick isn’t applicable to every stick drawer. For instance, regular lubrication won’t work for drawers placed in extremely humid places. Regular wax and oil won’t prevent the wood from absorbing too much moisture and eventually swelling. 

If you think your drawer belongs in the said exception, consider using a wood wax and polish instead. I specifically recommend this CARGEN Beeswax Furniture Polish that you can get from Amazon.com. It’s one of the top picks because it’s affordable, made out of all-natural ingredients, and is effective in sealing moisture in wooden furniture.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of things that can cause sticky wooden drawers. However, some of the most common ones include high humidity, deformations, loose parts, overloading, old age, and faulty runners.

Fixing sticky drawers usually just needs a reliable lubricant, but it’s still best to assess the root cause first. Doing so will help you save time, effort, and money. If you want a guaranteed solution, then you’ll never go wrong with consulting a professional.

Fortunately, you can prevent having sticky wooden drawers by regularly sliding a reasonable amount of wax or soap bar on the sides.

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