So, we’ve all had a situation where someone is coming into—our out of—some place, we notice someone coming towards the doorway we are in… At what point is it safe to just let a door close an not hold it open?

By my benchmark, if I make eye contact with someone who is close to me (behind or in front) or I see they are struggling with bags and things they are carrying—or are physically impaired in some way—I feel I should be able to hold the door open. But if someone is out of eyesight—and not struggling carrying bags or items or physically impaired in some way—I can let the door close.

Or is the solution just to not even think about this and just walk through the doorway and let people “fend for themselves” when it comes to opening a door for themselves?

For context, I am talking about doors to buildings and physical structures that don’t automatically open. I am not focusing on doors to subways, trains and elevators. I am located in a major city in the northeast part of the U.S. if that adds context.

P.S.: I am also not talking about “access control” or restricted areas or anyplace that is supposedly “climate controlled.” I am not asking to explain the obvious in common sense situations like that. This is simply a question about normal social expectations in a situation where access is clear and open; possibly public as well.

  • Comments deleted. Please do not answer in comments; instead write answers as , , , answers.
    – HDE 226868
    Oct 20, 2017 at 14:01

9 Answers 9


I usually determine this by distance and perceived ability. Are they close enough to the door to not feel obligated to walk faster for my benefit and are they able to easily open the door themselves.

Like if someone is far away it usually gets a little awkward, they feel pressed to hurry and you get stuck letting the ac vent out of the building for longer than necessary.

If the person is far away and has their hands full, I usually let the door close and wait a moment or two till they're closer to open the door.

In most situations you're not really obligated to hold the door, it's just a nice gesture. The only instance where I would consider it rude is when the person is following directly behind and they'd have to grab the door before it even had a chance to close fully.

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    Yeah this is basically my policy. I do it by: if I walk through and don't hold the door at all, will it close before the person reaches it? If yes, keep walking. If no, hold the door. Apply modifiers as needed if they are carrying something etc.
    – Nilerian
    Oct 18, 2017 at 18:09
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    @Nilerian Exactly. Some people are clearly overthinking it... In an ordinary situation, if there's nothing preventing the next person from opening the door themselves and you have to hold the door more than a few seconds, let it close. No sane person is going to have their day ruined because they had to open a door themselves. Oct 18, 2017 at 18:52
  • Same here. I used to overthink this and you're going to bring it out again... If you spend 5 minutes sitting in a lobby with a manually-operated door, you'll see the odd awkward chap holding a door for 20 seconds and the intended beneficiary trot along, equally awkwardly. In general, it's okay to wait longer when the person over there is someone you know or need to speak with. Otherwise, let the door close: they don't know you.
    – Rich
    Oct 19, 2017 at 0:39
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    @apaul good point, I agree
    – ESR
    Oct 20, 2017 at 4:53
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    Sometimes as a middle ground I'll give the door an extra shove so it stays open a bit longer. This works well for someone who is following close enough that they'd be able to catch it, but far enough that you'd have to stop to hold the door.
    – David K
    Oct 20, 2017 at 13:23

TL;DR: If they're 20+ seconds away, don't hold the door. If they're 10+ seconds away, it depends on the person.

I have this issue a lot, especially when it comes to going into my dorm. The outer doors lock automatically when they close, so if I hold the door, I can save someone the hassle of having to get their ID to unlock it again. Plus, the doors are heavy, and not exactly easy to open (or shut!).

In general, I look at a bunch of things:

  • How urgent is my destination? Where do I need to get to, and how quickly? There's a balance of convenience, between what's convenient for me and what's convenient for them.
  • How long will it be until they reach the door? This is the thing I look at most; see below.
  • Are they carrying bags, and are they having any trouble with them? Something like a purse or backpack isn't a huge burden; two heavy suitcases might be.
  • Is there anyone else in the vicinity who will go in or out soon after me, and could they hold the door briefly? Maybe it will only take them 5 seconds to hold the door, when it would take me 20.
  • Is the person elderly or otherwise infirm? I think most people are generally more respectful to old people, especially if they have a walker, cane, wheelchair, etc. That said, the presence of a handicap button to open the door could help them.
  • Do I know this person? Maybe I want to talk to them; maybe I don't want to be rude.
  • Does the person see me, and are they hurrying up because they see me holding the door?

Here's how I, in general, judge whether or not to hold the door, based on how long I'd have to wait:

  1. 0-5 seconds: Hold the door under most circumstances unless I'm literally running somewhere out of urgency. I can spare 5 seconds of my life to be nice to someone.
  2. 5-10 seconds: If the person is elderly or struggling with bags, then I'll absolutely hold the door. If there's someone who will get to the door after me but before them, though, I'll let the door close if I think that person will hold the door. Again, 5-10 seconds isn't a huge burden for me.
  3. 10-20 seconds: Is the person is, again, impaired in some way - physically or with luggage - then I'll probably hold the door. Again, though, odds are decent that someone else will come in 5-10 seconds before this other person, if it's a busy enough area.
  4. 20+ seconds: I'll hold the door only if this person is in some sort of emergency.

Keep in mind that if you hold open the door, the other person may feel obligated to get there quicker - and you don't want an old person to start trying to jog your way if they feel bad for you! Likewise, if someone with bags starts to run, they might end up dropping the bags, which means that you'd have to wait until they pick them all up, which just ends up annoying everyone. You can counteract any potential feelings of guilt by smiling and making it clear that you're just happy to help them out - assuming that's the case.

Just for reference, if a person's walking at 4 miles per hour, then they can travel about 100 meters per minute. So 10 seconds = 16 meters, 20 seconds = 32 meters, etc. 1 meter is about 3 feet, so if the person is less than 50 feet away, you should probably hold the door.

It's sometimes tempting to prop open the door with a doorstop or rock, if you think nobody's going to come by but you have to go. Don't do this. Many places would consider this a security risk, and it could set off (fire/burglar) alarms or let out cold or warm air, depending on the season and heating. People at my college have gotten into trouble for propping over outer doors, mainly for the security reason.

As a final note, I'm a young person, and supposedly energetic and fit. The person may expect (or not expect) you to hold the door, depending on your age and build.

  • 4
    Sometimes in the 0-5 second range I'll just whack the door open with extra force or give it a slight extra push as I go through.This buys enough time for the other person to go through or catch a mostly open door.
    – jmathew
    Oct 18, 2017 at 17:31
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    If there's another person between you and someone you'd normally hold the door for (elderly or burdened person), you could hold the door for the next person and might reasonably expect them to pass on the favour to the other person. (That case actually happens a lot. I've never seen the person I held the door for not doing the same for the other person.)
    – Llewellyn
    Oct 18, 2017 at 17:31
  • @jmathew With most doors that only works for about a second or so, so the person has to be practically right behind you. You also have to be careful that the door doesn't rebound and whack them in the face.
    – Barmar
    Oct 19, 2017 at 22:01

I generally hold the door open if it would not fully close before the person reaches the door (since I'm holding it, I should be able to make a good guess).

Especially for heavy doors, having to stop and push back the closing door is more work than just opening it. The next person would have to correctly guess the momentum of the door in order to know how much to lean forward to stop it without being pushed off-balance, while taking over an open door (balance can be adjusted with the current step) or opening a fully closed door (not time critical) are a lot easier to plan ahead, and thus a lot less "annoying".

Holding the door open should save them from an "annoying" task, which could be either catching a closing door of unknown weight, or figuring out a way to open a door with hands full, then it is useful and appreciated.

  • I had an entirely different answer all typed out, but honestly yours is better. Oct 18, 2017 at 21:35
  • This is a simple, straightforward, and helpful answer. No math required.
    – barbecue
    Oct 19, 2017 at 20:11
  • That's exactly my rule too.
    – Kevin
    Oct 19, 2017 at 22:07

Under what circumstances is it okay to not hold a door open?

Here's an important one: When access is controlled or occupancy is tracked.
For example, some office buildings have strict rules that EVERY person MUST scan his or her badge individually, either for security purposes (i.e. you don't necessarily know if access has been revoked, even if you recognize the person) or for occupancy-tracking purposes (e.g. even if they're getting help with the door, they still need to register their entrance because that creates an occupants list used in fire alarm situations to verify that everyone's out safely).

Those are some clear circumstances that answer the question.

If there's a large temperature difference between inside and outside, holding the door open wastes more energy, so that can sometimes be a factor to consider, especially if the person is not right behind you. If the person is further away, they also may feel obligation to hurry up and this can be a worse outcome than not holding the door and letting them take their time.

Another situation is when it's not clear that the other person intends to pass through that door, but has a reasonably high probability of turning to one side or the other just before reaching the door.

  • -1: Sorry, but this answer is utterly ridiculous. My question is about interpersonal skills on a site focused on interpersonal skills. Meaning common sense human situations. I am not talking about holding doors open for cases of access control or climate control. And this? “Another situation is when it's not clear that the other person intends to pass through that door, but has a reasonably high probability of turning to one side or the other just before reaching the door.” Can’t facepalm that any harder. Oct 18, 2017 at 18:21
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    @JakeGould Well, I'm sorry then. I've had plenty of experiences learning when NOT to hold the door in those situations - including some particular locations where I would hold the door as someone approached - and then turned without entering and thought I was the oddball for holding the door when the turn was (in their mind, and maybe objectively) more likely than going straight through. It seemed to answer the question.
    – WBT
    Oct 18, 2017 at 18:31
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    This is the only answer so far to bring up the extremely important "If the person is further away, they also may feel obligation to hurry up". Even if you remove the non-interpersonal-skill parts, it's a great answer. I absolutely hate it when people force me into a social situation that I wish to avoid by awkwardly holding up the door, since it's much faster to open a door for me than it is for them to keep it open. It serves no purpose. I have able arms.
    – pipe
    Oct 18, 2017 at 20:13
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    @pipe you mean the accepted answer that says "Like if someone is far away it usually gets a little awkward, they feel pressed to hurry" doesn't say it?
    – Patrice
    Oct 19, 2017 at 17:43

My rule of thumb is if they are close enough that I can talk to them without shouting, I'll hold the door. Or in bad weather (rain, snow, etc) I'll extend it about double that distance. Likewise, if they are carrying something or their hands are full, I'll also double my normal distance.

  • 1
    Your point about weather is a good one; I hadn't thought about that.
    – HDE 226868
    Oct 18, 2017 at 16:06

I gauge it on whether it's actually going to help the person, vs provoke that half-jog to get to the door. 15-20 feet is about right. If your "door openee" is a touch further, it doesn't usually make sense unless:

  • Target is elderly

  • Target is overburdened

  • You're trying to be charming; of course this is getting into flirting territory instead of basic good manners

Side-note: I got a date once by opening an automatic door for a lady with a smile and declaration of "I got this"... ;D

  • 4
    You just wanted to tell your date story :)
    – user3306
    Oct 18, 2017 at 18:14
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    @thumbtackthief I admit nothing. Nothing! ;D
    – akaioi
    Oct 18, 2017 at 18:56
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    "Target" lol. You should include children. And jugglers. They always need someone to hold the door for them.
    – Rich
    Oct 19, 2017 at 0:42
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    @Rich I'm with you. Might have to add in mimes ... those cats can barely move through air.
    – akaioi
    Oct 19, 2017 at 1:35
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    I'm glad that this worked out for you and a woman once, but... well, as you acknowledge, "trying to be charming" is basically flirting, and not everyone wants to be flirted with when they're just trying to go through a door. So I would encourage people to think of this more like your answer started ("actually going to help the person") and less as an opportunity to get something out of it for themselves.
    – Cascabel
    Oct 19, 2017 at 16:02

+1 for this question. But I think holding a door for someone who is 50 feet away is overkill. See my comment How to efficiently and effectively decline help, being somewhat rude if necessary.

I am irritated by people who make a big production of holding the door, and holding the door for someone who is not immediately behind you is making a production. In general, hold the door only if not holding it means it would interrupt the flow of the person's walk, by closing just as he or she got to it.

As other people noted, always hold the door for someone burdened with packages or small children or someone who is obviously weak or infirm. Your and their age and gender should have nothing to do, just by themselves, with whether you hold the door or not. As a woman well past retirement age, there are few doors that I can't open myself, and nothing in my gait or bearing that suggests I can't. Holding a door because someone has a few wrinkles is actually insulting, in my view. (US, DC area.)

  • 1
    +1 and I learned a new expression today: make a production of. It appears to be chiefly UK. And it's nice. :)
    – NVZ
    Oct 18, 2017 at 18:49
  • @NVZ I often hear "make a big production of" in the US as well.
    – barbecue
    Oct 19, 2017 at 20:10
  • @barbecue Sometimes it is "make a big hoo-ha", but "make a big production of" is quite common in my circles in the US.
    – user1760
    Oct 19, 2017 at 20:16

I have developed this technique where when possible, I just don't look at who is behind me. I will open the door, walk through casually (1 second), and then after passing slowly start shutting the door in a manner that takes about 3 more seconds and is not firm.

If someone was behind me closely, this gives him/her the opportunity to take over the grip of the door.

If someone was behind me a bit further away, he/she could see that I didn't look back and see that I am closing the door slowly, giving him/her the opportunity to speed up and catch the door before it is closed.

If someone was far away, it would be obvious that the door would close, as I am not aware of them.

If I do however get to have eye contact with the person behind me, or if someone would be coming towards me while walking through, I will set exactly the same time frame as above. This mimicking of what I would do if no one was in front of me, I just started enforcing, as I too needed some reference on what to do.

I will make exceptions for 'special' cases, such as for the Elderly, young children, disabled, sometimes even VIP. In these cases I will wait two or three more seconds if I think they might benefit from it, considering their velocity.


All the answers have been pretty valid. An additionally case I haven't seen is if it is into a locked building (i.e. a college dorm that requires a student ID to open the doors, it is a nice gesture to hold the door open slightly longer so the person does not have to reach for their ID) if you know that the person belongs in the building.

  • My original question clearly indicates I am not talking about locked buildings and access controlled areas: ‘I am also not talking about “access control” or restricted areas or anyplace that is supposedly “climate controlled.” I am not asking to explain the obvious in common sense situations like that.’ This is simply a question about normal social expectations in a situation where access is clear and open; possibly public as well. Oct 19, 2017 at 13:25

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