Last Updated on May 5, 2024 by Vincent Zhu

The key cards are designed to meet most guests’ requirements. Almost all hotels use them both as keys and cards for various purposes, such as opening the door to your room or paying for services using a pre-installed credit system.

But sometimes, the hotel key card will not work, and you can not open the door.

Here are some general steps to try and make a key card work again:

  • Step 1: Check Key Card Types
  • Step 2: Identify the Problem
  • Step 3: Check for Physical Damage
  • Step 4: Clean the Card
  • Step 5: Demagnetization Check
  • Step 6: Check the Card Reader
  • Step 7: Re-encode or Reissue
  • Step 8: Check Expiry Date

The whole process will take 15 minutes (or more, depending on the availability of tools and replacement cards).

Note: If you have a hotel room key or a similar temporary access card, it’s often easiest to return to the front desk or the issuing authority and request a replacement. They can quickly provide a new card or re-encode the existing one.

Let’s prepare some necessary tools to make a key card work again.

Prepare to Make Key Card Work Again

  1. Soft Cloth: For cleaning the magnetic stripe.
  2. Isopropyl Alcohol: To clean the magnetic stripe.
  3. Card Encoder/Writer: If you have access to one, and must re-encode the card.
  4. Card Reader: To test the card.
  5. Replacement Card: If the original card is damaged beyond repair.

Step 1: Check Key Card Types

Step 1: Check Key Card Types

Before attempting any fixes, determine the type of key card you have. There are several types of key cards, including:

  • Magnetic Stripe Cards: These cards are the most common and have a magnetic stripe on the back, similar to a credit card. They store data in the stripe and are swiped through a reader.
  • RFID Cards (Radio Frequency Identification): These cards use radio waves to communicate with the reader. They don’t need direct contact with the reader, just proximity.
  • Smart Cards: These cards are embedded with a microprocessor chip. They can be contact-based (requiring insertion into a reader) or contactless.
  • Proximity Cards: Use an embedded antenna to communicate with the reader without direct contact.
  • Barcode Cards: Have a printed barcode that the reader scans.

Identifying your key card type is crucial, as each type has common issues and solutions. Knowing the type will guide subsequent troubleshooting and fixing any issues.

Step 2: Identify the Problem

Examine the card for any visible cracks, chips, or signs of wear. If the card is physically damaged, it may need to be replaced.

  • Initial Assessment: Before jumping to conclusions, take a moment to assess the situation. Is the card reader showing any error messages? Is the key card visibly damaged or dirty?
  • Test the Key Card: If possible, try using the key card on a different door or reader. This will help determine if the problem is with the card itself or an issue with a specific reader.
  • Test the Card Reader: If you can access another key card (e.g., a friend’s or colleague’s), try using it on the problematic reader. If the other card works, it’s likely an issue with your key card. If the other card also doesn’t work, the reader might be the problem.

By the end of this step, you should have a clearer idea of whether the issue lies with the key card, the reader, or possibly an external factor. This will guide the subsequent steps in troubleshooting and resolving the issue.

Step 3: Check for Physical Damage

Step 3: Check for Physical Damage

Examine the card for any visible cracks, chips, or signs of wear. If the card is physically damaged, it may need to be replaced.

  • Visual Inspection: Hold the key card to a light source and carefully inspect both sides. Look for any visible cracks, chips, or deep scratches, especially on the magnetic stripe or chip area.
  • Feel the Card: Run your fingers over the card, especially the magnetic stripe or chip. This can help you detect any bumps, dents, or irregularities that might not be immediately visible.
  • Magnetic Stripe: If your card has a magnetic stripe, ensure it’s not peeling off or excessively worn out. A faded or damaged stripe can prevent the card from being read correctly.
  • Embedded Chip: For cards with an embedded chip, ensure the chip is intact and free from any visible damage or debris.
  • Replacement Consideration: If you find any significant damage, especially on crucial parts like the magnetic stripe or chip, it strongly indicates that the card may need to be replaced. Using a damaged card can lead to further issues or even damage the card reader.

If the card is damaged, it’s advisable to seek a replacement from the issuing authority. If the card appears in good condition, you can proceed to further troubleshooting steps.

Step 4: Clean the Card

Use a soft cloth to wipe the magnetic stripe or chip on the card gently. Dirt or debris can interfere with the card reader’s ability to read the card.

  1. Gather Materials: Ensure you have a soft, lint-free cloth available. Microfiber cloths, often used for cleaning glasses or screens, are ideal.
  2. Inspect for Dirt: Before cleaning, inspect the magnetic stripe and chip for any visible dirt, grime, or debris. Sometimes, even a small particle can cause reading issues.
  3. Gentle Cleaning: Dampen a corner of the cloth with water (ensure it’s not too wet). Gently wipe the magnetic stripe from one end to the other, following its length. Avoid scrubbing or using excessive force.
  4. Chip Cleaning: If your card has an embedded chip, gently dab it with the damp cloth, ensuring no moisture enters any crevices. Then, gently wipe it with the dry part of the cloth.
  5. Dry the Card: Ensure it is completely dry before using it again. This is especially important for cards with embedded chips.
  6. Avoid Harsh Chemicals: It’s essential to avoid using any chemicals, solvents, or abrasive materials on the card, as these can damage the magnetic stripe or chip.
  7. Regular Maintenance: Even if dirt isn’t the cause of the current issue, it’s a good practice to clean your key card periodically, especially if it’s frequently used or stored in places where it can gather dirt.

By the end of this step, any superficial dirt or debris on the card should be removed, potentially improving its interaction with card readers. If cleaning doesn’t resolve the issue, further troubleshooting or replacement might be necessary.

Step 5: Demagnetization Check

Step 5: Demagnetization Check

If the card’s magnetic stripe has been demagnetized, it won’t work. This can happen if the card is placed near strong magnets or electronic devices.

  • Common Culprits: Items like speakers, MRI machines, cell phones, and even some electronic security systems can demagnetize a card. Reflect on whether the card has been near such devices.
  • Symptoms: A demagnetized card typically doesn’t give the reader an error message. Instead, the reader might act as if no card was presented.
  • Immediate Action: If you suspect demagnetization, keeping the card away from the potential source is crucial. Further exposure can make the damage worse.
  • Re-encoding the Card: Unfortunately, once a card is demagnetized, its data can’t be recovered. However, the card itself can be re-encoded with the necessary information. Contact the issuing authority (e.g., hotel front desk, office security) to have the card re-encoded.

By the end of this step, you should have determined if demagnetization is the cause of the malfunction. If it is, the card will need to be re-encoded or replaced. If not, further troubleshooting may be required.

Step 6: Check the Card Reader

Sometimes, the problem isn’t with the card but the card reader. Ensure that the card reader is clean and free of debris. If you’re at a hotel, try using the card on another door or reader to see if it works.

  • Visual Inspection: Before attempting to clean, inspect the card reader’s slot or surface for any visible dirt, debris, or obstructions. Sometimes, even a tiny piece of debris can prevent the reader from functioning correctly.
  • Gentle Cleaning: Using a soft, lint-free cloth, gently wipe the exterior of the card reader. If the reader has a slot (like for magnetic stripe cards), try to clean as much of the interior as you can reach without forcing the cloth too deep.
  • Alcohol Wipe: For more thorough cleaning, especially if the reader is visibly dirty or hasn’t been cleaned in a while, use an alcohol wipe. Ensure it’s not dripping wet. Gently wipe the reader’s surface and slot. Alcohol can help remove sticky residues and disinfect the reader.
  • Test with a Known Working Card: If you have access to a card you know works (e.g., a colleague’s card with no issues), test the reader with that card. This can help determine if the cleaning resolved the issue or if the reader might have a deeper problem.
  • Consider reader Wear and Tear: Card readers, especially in high-traffic areas, can wear out over time. If the reader is old or heavily used, it might be nearing the end of its lifespan.

By the end of this step, you should have ensured that the card reader is clean and free of obstructions. If cleaning doesn’t resolve the issue, the problem might be deeper, requiring professional maintenance or replacement of the reader.

Step 7: Re-encode or Reissue

Step 7: Re-encode or Reissue

If the card still doesn’t work, it may need reprogrammed or reissued. For hotel key cards, the front desk can usually do this quickly. For access cards, you may need to contact the security or IT department.

Re-encoding involves reprogramming the magnetic stripe or chip with the necessary data to grant access. This is often required if the card’s data has been corrupted or erased.

  • Hotel Key Cards: If you’re staying at a hotel and your room key card isn’t working, the most common solution is to visit the front desk. They have the necessary equipment to re-encode the card. Sometimes, the card might be faulty, and the hotel staff will provide a new one.
  • Access Cards for Buildings or Offices: The process might be different for access cards used in office buildings, residential complexes, or other facilities. Typically, the security or IT department handles access card issues. Reach out to them and explain the problem. Depending on the nature of the issue, they might re-encode the card or provide a new one.
  • Data Verification: When re-encoding or reissuing your card, ensure the correct access permissions are granted. For instance, if you had access to specific floors or rooms, verify that the new card has the same permissions.
  • Handling Fees: Some establishments might charge a fee for reissuing a card, especially due to damage or loss. It’s good to be aware of any potential charges.
  • Backup Cards: If you frequently face issues with your key card, consider requesting a backup. A spare can be handy, especially if you’re in a situation where immediate assistance isn’t available.

By the end of this step, you should have a functioning key card or a clear path to obtaining one. If re-encoding or reissuing doesn’t resolve the issue, deeper technical problems might require professional attention.

Step 8: Check Expiry Date

Step 8: Check Expiry Date

Some key cards, especially those for temporary access or hotel stays, have an expiry date. Ensure your card hasn’t expired.

  • Locating the Expiry Date: The expiry date is usually printed on the front or back of the card, often in an MM/YY format. If the card has no expiry date, it might be encoded in the magnetic stripe or chip. In such cases, you’d need to check with the issuing authority.
  • Why Expiry Dates Exist:
    • Security: Expiry dates add an extra layer of security. Even if someone finds or steals an old card, they won’t be able to use it if it’s expired.
    • Data Management: For systems managing many users, expiry dates help keep the database clean by periodically removing or updating old entries.
    • Temporary Access: In places like hotels or temporary office spaces, the expiry date ensures that guests or temporary workers can’t access the space after their allowed time.
  • What to Do if Your Card is Expired:
    • If you’re in a hotel, visit the front desk. They can either reactivate the card for you or provide a new one.
    • For office or building access cards, contact the security or IT department. Depending on the policy, they can issue a new card or extend the validity of the current one.

By the end of this step, you should ensure that your key card is valid and hasn’t reached its expiry date. If it has expired, you’ll need to take the necessary steps to get it reactivated or replaced.

How to Avoid a Demagnetized Key Card?

If your key card doesn’t work, you want to avoid this problem in the future. Here are some ways for your reference:

How to Avoid a Demagnetized Key Card

Use a mobile hotel lock system

Mobile hotel locks are designed to work with mobile phones. They are easy to use and convenient for guests. You will need a mobile and an App to open the door; key cards are no longer needed.

For hotels, this means that even if you have forgotten your keycard somewhere else, it can still be unlocked hotel room with your phone remotely through a mobile phone app.

For example, you can use the TTlock hotel lock system for your hotel, which will let you open or close a door from anywhere in the world without carrying extra keys or cards. It works on an app and comes with GPS tracking, so if someone breaks into your room while you’re out of town, they won’t be able to get inside!


If you follow these steps, your key card should be working again. But it’s better to prevent it from being demagnetized in the first place. This can happen when something with a strong magnetic field is placed near your key card, so keep that in mind when using one!

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About Author

  • Vincent Zhu

    Vincent Zhu has 10 years of smart lock system experience and specializes in offering hotel door lock systems and home door lock system solutions from design, configuration, installation, and troubleshooting. Whether you want to install an RFID keyless door lock for your hotel, a keyless keypad door lock for your home door, or have any other questions and troubleshooting requests about smart door locks, don't hesitate to contact me at any time.