How to fix sticky drawers

How to fix sticky drawers

We have quite a few pieces of antique furniture in our house and that includes a couple of really nice dressers. This one in particular needs a bit of love, but it’s about 120 years old, and I’ve been using it for the last 34 years-ish, so I’d say it’s hanging in there pretty well. 🙂 It’s funny because I’ve always known about this trick for dealing with stubborn, sticky drawers, but for some reason, we just kept fussing with the drawers for years, pushing and pulling them back and forth every time we tried to open them to get them to go back in place properly. I finally added this teeny tiny, 2 minute task to my to-do list a few weeks ago on another dresser and of course, BAM, it worked like a charm. Dresser drawer problems solved! If you have sticky, fussy drawers on some of your antique dressers, here’s how to fix that!

How to fix sticky drawers

First, start with a dresser that’s slowly driving you just a little bit crazy. Like I said, this dresser needs a bit of attention, but with the drawers now unstuck, at least it’s perfectly functional! Except for that broken handle that I need to fix!

… and the same goes for this corner of the room. 🙂 You can see we ripped the old baseboard heater off the wall when we installed the new flooring in here recently and we haven’t re-painted or put the new trim in yet. Oh, and you can see the reflection of the bare drywall on the other side of the room too. But it’s functional!

Next, grab a candle. Make sure it’s one that you aren’t too in love with. Bonus points if it’s a scented candle.

Pull out each sticky drawer, one by one and rub the side of the candle onto the bottom edges of the drawer, the parts that make contact with the dresser when you’re sliding the drawer in or out. You’ll probably want to get the bottom as well as the sides of the drawer if your drawer fits into your dresser really tightly.

How to fix sticky drawers

If you don’t want to scratch up the sides of your candle, try using the wax from the bottom rather than the side. You’ll probably still get a few marks, but they won’t be quite so noticeable. I just used the side because it seemed like I would get the best wax distribution that way.

How to fix sticky drawers

Slide your drawers back into place.

If you used a scented candle, your room will also smell nice and fresh for the next few days! Fun!

The wax from the candle coats the drawers and allows them to glide without friction really effectively. It’s amazing how often in life it turns out that the best solutions are the simplest!

If you have sticky drawers, do yourself a favor and try this trick out right away!


Introduction: Fix Sticking Wooden Drawers

How to fix sticky drawers

How to fix sticky drawers

How to fix sticky drawers

Older wooden dressers don’t have modern day sliders. Sometimes they can be a pain to open and close freely. The drawers can bind and stick. This is a really easy hack that will save you loads of frustration every time you use your dresser. I’ve applied this to all my wooden dressers and works great!

All that is needed is a piece of candle wax or a bar of soap. I like using white candle wax as it’s not noticeable once applied.

Step 1: Steps

  • Remove the drawer completely that is sticking from the dresser.
  • Take the wax or soap and rub it on the “runner” where the drawer slides on.
  • Also rub some wax or soap on the drawer itself where the bottom slides on the dresser.
  • Put the drawer back in the dresser and test!
  • Repeat every few months if it starts sticking again.


Here is a short video of the whole process and showing how well the drawer slides.

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How to fix sticky drawers Vintage furniture finds are full of charm, but all that tradition and workmanship comes at a cost. A pre-plastic-era piece of furniture uses wood-on-wood glider systems that can easily fall prey to the perils of age. Normal wear and tear can cause those drawer glides to get off-kilter, rendering the drawer nearly useless and quite possibly trapping your prized possessions inside.

Why You Need to Treat Your Wood Drawers

Wood doesn’t have a lot of natural lubrication, which is why it can be hard to open some wooden drawers . This is especially true in the summer. Warm, humid summer air can cause wood to swell slightly, which is why you might notice more friction and have a harder time opening your drawers. These simple DIY tips will ensure your drawer slides move smoothly year-round.

The Benefits of Carnauba WaxHow to fix sticky drawers

Our Carnauba Wax is actually a mix of two waxes: carnauba and beeswax . Carnauba wax is one of the hardest waxes on the market. Using it on your drawer tracks helps the gliding action without creating a sticky mess or affecting the wood itself. Beeswax is much softer and can be sticky when applied on its own, but it supplies much-needed lubrication. Combined in the right proportions, the two waxes make magic and offer a quick fix on this simple home repair project.

Carnauba Wax works so well you can actually hear the difference — an untreated old dresser drawer rattles and shakes as you pull it out, while a drawer treated with carnauba wax is quiet as a whisper. You’ll also reap the benefit of added protection. Apply the wax to your wood furniture and the wax will dry hard, safeguarding your piece against dings, scrapes, and scratches, improving durability and longevity.

How to Apply Carnauba Wax to Your Sticky DrawerHow to fix sticky drawers

The process is simple:

  • Pull the sticking drawer all the way out.
  • Using a clean cloth, apply a thin layer of wax to the glide tracks on the drawer itself as well as inside the wooden dresser.
  • Allow the wax to dry.
  • Buff the drawer glides with a cloth or stiff brush to remove excess and ensure even, thorough application and absorption*.

*This is a surprisingly crucial step. Too much wax on the drawer glides will leave a tacky residue. Once dry, that residue will make your stuck drawer even more immobile than it was before you applied the wax.

When in doubt, go for light layers of wax and reapply as needed — it’s always easier to add more wax than it is to remove accidental buildup.

How to fix sticky drawersDepending on how often you use your drawer, you may need to treat the wood — reducing friction and facilitating easier movement — every 6-12 months.

Over time, the wax slowly wears away and gets absorbed into the wood, though regular reapplications can help create a more permanent solution. That means you will need to reapply the wax after a period of time.

Rarely touched nightstands in your guest room may require infrequent attention, while the drawers in your kitchen island need some TLC often. Listen for the scritch-scratch of wax-less wood and be on the lookout for drawers that resist your efforts to open them and you’ll know it’s time to get out your Real Milk Paint Carnauba Wax and get to work.

Related Articles

If you have antique dressers, vanities, wardrobes or other types of case-and-drawer furniture, you may have had problems with drawers that stick. Using drawer wax, a wood drawer lubricant or even a swipe with a bar of soap, paraffin or candle wax can be a remedy for old drawers that stick. Use and abuse over the years can make drawers hard to open and close but using any of these simple tricks will usually fix a sticking drawer.

Determine the Cause of Sticking

In addition to use over time, another issue that can cause old drawers to stick in wooden furniture is living in a place of high humidity. Decor Cabinets explains that wood is a naturally absorbing material; scientists call it hygroscopic, meaning wood attracts water. Any solid wood piece or piece of furniture that contains wood components will absorb moisture over time. Softwoods (pine, spruce and other cone-bearing trees) absorb moisture less than hardwoods (oak, maple, teak).

Dealing with this issue can mean investing in climate control for the space in the form of dehumidifiers or air conditioners. One simple method that could work is to place absorbent gel packets in the drawers of your affected furniture. These gel packets absorb moisture, which can mean your furniture will absorb less moisture.

Remove and Inspect Drawers

Remove the drawers. Inspect them for loose joints and broken pieces. Reglue loose joints and repair or replace broken pieces. If the drawers are sound, lubricate them by rubbing paraffin or candle wax on the bottom and top of the drawers’ side pieces and around the edges of the drawer fronts where they slide into the case. Buy paraffin or candles at your grocery store.

Apply Drawer Slider Tape

Apply nylon drawer slide tape to the wooden drawer runners if the wax lubrication doesn’t free up the sticking drawer. The Family Handyman says that applying this inexpensive, self-adhesive nylon tape is a five-minute fix, but lightly sand the drawer runners first with fine grit sandpaper to ensure good adhesion. Wipe off or vacuum up the sanding dust. Cut the tape to length with scissors, peel off the backing and stick it down onto the drawer runners. Buy drawer slide tape at woodworking, hardware and home centers.

Lightly Sand Drawers

Sand the bottoms of the drawer’s sides with medium-grit sandpaper if wax or drawer slide tape does not free the sticky drawer. Pay particular attention to any high spots you see. You want the bottoms to be as flat and even as possible. Sand a bit, then check the fit. Repeat as necessary until you get a good free fit. If you see thick paint around the edges of the drawer front, sand away the paint. Lubricate the drawer with wax if necessary.

How to fix sticky drawers

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Sliding drawers that bind, stick or are rough to operate can drive you crazy. But you don’t have to put up with them. Drawers use small bearings or wheels on metal tracks attached to the drawer and the cabinet. These parts routinely wear out, causing the drawer to tip sideways, fall off the track and get stuck. You can replace the tracks using a cordless screwdriver and get your drawer working like new again in minutes. If you’re planning on selling a home or if your drawers are simply driving you mad because they won’t slide, install new slides.

Pull the drawer out of the cabinet. Set it on its side. Using a cordless gun, unscrew all the screws that hold the runner to the side of the drawer.

Reach into the cabinet and unscrew a small plate at the back of the cabinet that holds the left and right side runners to the back of the cabinet. Unscrew the small plate at the front of the cabinet. Remove the runners from the cabinet. Take the runners to a home improvement store and buy replacement runners.

Separate the runners. Select one runner marked “DL.” Place this runner on the left side of the drawer. The wheel should be at the back of the drawer, the front of the runner flush against the back of the drawer front. Screw the runner to the side of the drawer using 1/2-inch screws using the indicated holes in the runner. Repeat the procedure using the other runner marked “DR” on the other side of the drawer.

Place the runner marked “CL” in the cabinet on the left side. The front plate should be horizontal and fit on the wooden face-frame of the cabinet. There is a plate at the back of the runner. It should slide back and come to rest on a wooden runner in the back. Using 1/2-inch screws, screw the runner to the front and the back of the cabinet using the indicated holes in the runner. Place the runner marked “CR” on the right side and screw it to the cabinet the same way.

Tip the back of the drawer at a 30-degree angle. Insert the wheels on the back of the drawer into slots at the front of the runners. Bring the drawer up horizontally and the wheels will lock into the runners. The drawer should glide back into the cabinet smoothly.

  • Always replace all the runners. They come in kits of four, and they all wear out evenly. There’s no advantage to replacing only broken parts.
  • If the drawer operates roughly or is too tight, loosen the screws at the front of the cabinet; these are oval-shaped holes. Tap the runner to the right or left to adjust it. Test, unscrew and tap again until the drawer operates smoothly, then tighten the screws securely.

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.

I refurbished a small old dresser of my husband’s for our daughter. I sanded it, painted, and redid it all myself. Now the drawers stick. I can’t redo it she picked the colors herself and she loves it, but I don’t want her to get hurt trying to open it. What can I do without having to do it all over again?

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Get a bar of soap and slide it along the drawer edges.

Rub paraffin on the meeting parts of drawers to keep them working smoothly. You’ll find paraffin with the canning supplies in your local grocery store. In a pinch you can also use candles, bar soap or even dry spray lubricant.

i guess the first question would be – did the drawers work great before you started your project?

First thing to try – make sure that all of the drawers are in the correct spaces. They may all look the same, but they are not quite the same- one could be a bit warped or have a joint swollen from the moisture of the paint.

Try to determine the places where the drawers are sticking and just work on those areas first. Did you get paint on the underside of the drawer (where it slides/runs on the frame)? If so, maybe some sandpaper would help but be careful and place the drawer on something that will chip or scratch the paint. Lots of sticking drawers have been fixed with a little sandpaper in the right spot.
Tracking down the tight spot will be a first move and then if excess paint is not the problem, there are several thing you can try rubbing on the slides/runners. Paraffin, wax paper, candle wax, bar soap

Rub a bar of soap on the edges of the drawers.

When I was moving into my current apartment, I had to store some of my things in my ex-roommate’s garage for over a month while I was getting settled. One of those things was my dresser. Upon moving it into my new place, I realized something was horribly, horribly wrong—none of the drawers seemed to fit quite right anymore (if they fit at all).

How to fix sticky drawers

The combination of the differences in temperature and humidity in the garage caused them to swell and change shape. Several months later, they fit better, but they still don’t slide in and out as easily as they used to.

A post by redditor tiny_tacos suggested applying carnauba wax to the tracks to make them easier to open and close. Carnauba wax is used in everything from automobile wax to furniture polish, and is common in paper coatings in the states.

Several commenters pointed out that any type of wax works, so I decided to try a few different things I had at home to see which had the best results.

Candle Wax

One of the most popular household items that helps with sticky drawers is a regular paraffin or beeswax candle.

How to fix sticky drawers

Just rub it against all the areas of the drawer where there’s friction when you open and close it, especially on the tracks and around the outside edges.

How to fix sticky drawers How to fix sticky drawers

I used a long votive candle, but if all you’ve got is a tea light, you can take it out of the little metal cup and use it the same way.

Wax Paper

Wax paper is most commonly associated with food preparation, but it’s coated in paraffin, so it will leave a thin layer of wax on wood. It works best if you fold it in half a few times before using it, otherwise it’s too easy to tear.

How to fix sticky drawers

Another option that most people have lying around is a bar of soap. Just give the bottom of the drawer a good coat (preferably a scent you don’t mind smelling often).

How to fix sticky drawers

Just know that you’re going to have shavings everywhere, and it’s probably best to use the cheap stuff since your bar of soap will end up looking like this:

How to fix sticky drawers


After spending more time than I’d care to admit opening and closing drawers, I was surprised to find that the biggest difference was in the one I rubbed with wax paper. Both the candle and the soap left a thicker residue on the drawers, but the thin coating from the wax paper was just the right amount.

You can use just about anything you have that’s waxy or has a similar texture, like silicone spray or plain beeswax. If you don’t want to apply a coating, sometimes sanding the sides and runners will help drawers slide easier since wood chips and splinters can create friction.

Got a clever solution that’s not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below.

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This article covers three of the most commonly found drawer and drawer-receptacle designs. There are others, but these tips and advice should be applicable to most.

Below, we’ll analyze the three common styles, and offer some possible solutions to eliminate the “sticky-situation”:

Drawer-slide design:
1. Drawer is of simple “box designed to slide inside another box”, with no “slide” hardware.
-Ensure wood has not become swollen; if so, sanding or planing may be required.
-Ensure contact surfaces are smooth; lubricate with paraffin or butcher’s wax or plain bar soap.

2. Drawer is equipped with mechanical “roller-track” type slide hardware, which slides into mating hardware inside the drawer receptacle.
-Ensure all mechanical hardware is securely attached to the drawer itself and to the inside area of the drawer receptacle.
-Ensure any “moving parts” actually do move.
-Lubricate with WD-40, lithium white grease or similar lightweight lubricant (minimal amounts required).

3. Drawer is equipped with a rear-mounted (plastic) slider bracket, and the drawer receptacle is equipped with a top, centered metal “slider-track”, as well as two small roller-wheels; one at each bottom corner of the drawer opening.
-Ensure center mounted track inside drawer receptacle is securely anchored.
-Ensure the plastic ‘slider’ attachment on the drawer itself is securely anchored and unbroken.
-Lubricate with Lithium white grease (small amount required).
-Ensure lower roller-wheels are securely anchored to the lower portion of the drawer receptacle area.
-Ensure lower roller-wheels are positioned so they allow the drawer bottom to clearly slide in and out of the opening.
-Lubricate with WD-40 (minimal amount required).

Preventive Maintenance (or…how to prevent recurrence of “sticky drawers”):

Again, depending on which drawer slide system is involved, preventing drawers from sticking is not too difficult.

Some wood furniture with drawers expands and contracts with changes of the seasons or other general atmospheric changes. So, if a wooden dresser or cabinet is stored in a damp area, and it is not equipped with mechanical “slide” hardware, it will very likely swell enough so the drawers will be very difficult to move.
-Obviously, storing wooden furniture of this type in dry areas is the best prevention method.
-There are also moisture-absorbing products available that may help minimize wood swelling from exposure to dampness. Place product inside or near furniture to maximize benefits.

On drawers with ‘mechanical-slide’ systems, the best preventive maintenance is to re-inspect, re-secure and re-lubricate a couple times each year.