How To: Fix a hanging closet door

As a result of poor care by the previous occupants of our house, several of our closets have suspended doors that continually fall off of the track. You merely touch the door to open it and it plops down and refuses to move. Typically, for a short-term fix I have to get into the closet, lift the door, and bang it until the little wheels jump back onto the track. This fix sometimes does not even last a day; the wheels are poorly connected to the hollow door and allow it to sag and drag, so it easily falls off track again.

Today I decided to finally replace the hardware and use better materials to prevent future problems. Armed with a replacement kit available from Lowes or Amazon, I have to remove the old hardware, fix damage in the wall, and then install the new. I usually have my kids help me whenever possible, but in this case there’s some danger that the large doors could fall on them, and it’s a relatively messy job involving paint and spackling, so I’ll pass on the free labor for now.

(1) I start by unscrewing the floor piece, which is meant to keep the doors mostly aligned with the track. Once the screws are removed, you can usually shimmy it out from under the doors, allowing them a freer range of motion.

(2) Now I remove the doors. If the doors aren’t already off track, you can knock them off track with some creative violence. After that, it’s only a matter of tilting the doors until they can slide under the track and track cover.

(3) Removing the track and its cover is a mere matter of unscrewing it.

(4) Many months of dealing with the doors has left severe marks in the drywall beside the track and elsewhere. I lightly sand the affected areas with a rough 60-grit sandpaper to remove debris. Then I clear any dust by wiping with a moist washcloth (which Mexican Americans like me call a trapo—literally, a “rag”). Once dry, I apply drywall spackling and smooth it out. Don’t overwork the spackling, and don’t worry too much about perfection; it’s necessary to sand it down when it dries anyway. Use 220-grit or higher to sand it, and you can also paint it if desired.

(5) Now it’s time to replace the wheels. Notice these old wheels were poorly-designed and poorly-installed. They should have been much closer to the outer edges; the new wheels are designed to be centered 2.5″ from the edge. Also, while the old wheels were adjustable in height, the adjustment was theoretically held in place by one of the mounting screws; but the mounting screws could not keep the adjustment in place because they were screwed into cheap doors made of glorified cardboard. As a result, the door always sagged to its lowest height.

Installing the new wheels was a breeze once I figured out which wheel goes where. The directions were unclear, but the thicker wheel brackets (labeled #1) belong on the rear door, and the thinner wheel brackets (#2) belong on the front door. Since the door material is so weak, I simply drill some tiny guide holes using my inexpensive electric screwdriver. The self-drilling screws do the rest. I use such a small drill bit so that there will be plenty of compression force around the screw to hold it in place.

(6) To make it all look nice, I also cover over damage on the doors. There are paint scrapes from poor handing, and the old wheels have left a clear mark. Doors don’t need spackling, but a little bit of paint will help. I start by scraping off old, loose paint, and sanding a little with 220-grit paper. It’s best to repaint the entire door at once, but I’m trying not to spend unnecessary time so I’ll just repaint the affected areas. Most people won’t notice the color difference.

Buying the right paint is always a headache, so here’s some tips. If you want it to look nice or if you plan to use any color other than plain white, always begin with a first layer of primer. Don’t settle for a paint that claims to be its own primer! Specific paint targeted for doors is probably best, but in lieu of that you can use furniture paint or another kind of enamel. In any of these cases, follow the directions carefully and allow plenty of time to dry—more than for non-enamel paint—otherwise after a short while the enamel may just flake off

(7) With the spackling dry, I work on replacing the track. It simply screws in where the old one was removed.

(8) Now I hang the new doors: rear door first, front door second. It’s simply a matter of bringing them in at an angle and letting the wheel catch onto the track. After releasing the angle and letting the door point straight up, I use my fingers to make sure that the entire wheel—top and bottom—has fully engaged into the track. Adjust the wheels to make it so the doors touch the side walls flush when closed.

(9) It’s time to install the new floor piece. Simply slide it under the two doors and position it in the middle so that when closed, both doors hover over the floor piece. This piece needs to be well-aligned with the track up above, so use a level to make sure the doors are perfectly aligned up-and-down by gravity. Have someone hold the floor piece in place while you drill pilot holes, but be aware that your drill will get into a fight with the carpet. That’s OK; you don’t need perfect holes, but only enough to establish where your screw will fit. Even after drilling, chances are that your screw will go in crooked because of the pile; that’s fine, so long as you can get the floor piece to stay where you want it.

All done! This new and improved closet door looks much better and works very consistently. It hasn’t fallen off once since this fix.


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