Key or electronic safe?

You’ve chosen a safe: its size, its type. But still remains one question: should you opt for a key or for a more modern electronic safe? I had the same questioning and I did some research. Though almost identical, electronic and mechanical safes are of different kinds. They are used differently. I didn’t want to make a mistake and leave my valuables at risk, that is why I put together all I have learned on that question.

Key safes provide the benefit of a more simple and reliable type of lock. They can be used in almost any kind of environment even with humidity. But you have to hide the key. Electronic safes, on the other hand, provide better ease of use for multiple users. It is easier to share and change a code than to give multiple keys. Electronics work in dusty environments. But beware of humidity and do not forget to change the batteries.

Each type of safes has its pros and cons. But let’s dig in to understand in what scenario each one of them works best. There is more to it than just key or code. You have be pro-active and anticipate the future usage of your safe, what you expect from it. Only then, you will be able to make the right decision. It will depend on the type of valuables, the frequency you need to access them, if it is a home or office safe, if you will be the only user or not, in what room you intend to install the safe… All those questions will be answered. And remember that mechanical codes exist: a code doesn’t have to be on an electronic safe.

In which room do you plan to install your safe?

Cold room
If you intend to install your safe in a cold room (a cellar, a garage in a cold area) or in a not climate-controlled room, you should probably choose a mechanical safe (key for example).
A cold safe will have to operate on a cold battery. It will sometimes be difficult to open it, and you might have a low battery led indicator often as cold lowers batteries voltage. If the electronic safe has a little motor, it might struggle to open the door. So this is the risk to take. If you choose an electronic safe nonetheless, you will have to check the batteries on a regular basis to make sure they are in good condition. And do not forget to choose a safe which batteries you can change easily from outside.

Humid room
It is somehow the same thing with a humid room. We have covered this topic in depth as a humid room is often the only option you have to install a safe.

Electronics don’t play well with humidity. Corrosion can cause contacts to fail, either on the battery itself or even anywhere in the circuit board or the motor, if any. So there is a risk of a malfunction. How high is the risk will depend on how high is the humidity rate in your room. But as a general use of thumb, you should definitely choose a mechanical safe to install in a humid room.

If again you choose to install an electronic safe in a humid room, this is my guide on how to keep the moisture out as much a possible.

Room with dust
Usually, a room where you DIY, a garage at home for example, or any workshop where work gives dust.
This time we recommend an electronic safe and you easily understand why. Dust can go inside the lock itself, whether it be a traditional lock with a key or a mechanical code. And if dust goes in, the safe will not work reliably. You should definitely choose a safe whose lock is sealed. What better than an electronic safe for that purpose? No risk of dust getting in the mechanism. The same goes with small debris of course, due to work or the environment in general.

Here is a small table to sum up preferable safes for a given environment:

RoomType of safe to choose
Dust, debrisElectronic

How many users will have to access the safe?

One or two users
If your safe (at home or at work) will be used by one or two persons, then a mechanical safe is usable (but you can choose an electronic safe as well). You will have one or two keys to manage, and it is perfectly feasible. The key will have to be on your key-ring but it is sometimes cumbersome to have such a key with you at all times. You might need to hide it somewhere, which is preferable. Needless to say that it must be in a good place, never in the same room as the safe (and the spare key mustn’t be in the safe).
But the problem arises if there is a team of people to use the safe:

A team of users
If you have a mechanical safe with a key, a team will have to have a copy of that key. You will have to manage that. All those keys can be lost, lent, bent; and there might be a security breach if only one of them is lost. The only option is to change the lock (on the good brands of safe), change the door of the safe or change the safe. And have the new key duplicated again. This is not the way to go as it will soon prove to be too cumbersome.
Some safe brands for a reasonable price provide a new set of keys that re-key the safe (for example Burg Wachter in Europe).
I do not recommend buying a safe with a key for a team.

If you have a mechanical safe with a code, you will be better off. The code will be given to all team members and that’s it. The only difficulty will come when you will have to change the code: mechanical codes are not as easy to change than electronic codes.

If you have an electronic safe, it will be easy. You can give a code to every member of your team or business. If you ever need to change the code, it will be a piece of cake (if you have kept your how-to guide at hand).
Some safes will even provide some kind of access control. You will be able to give each team member a unique code. You will then know which person has accessed the safe and when. You can change each code independently, while always having your admin code working. This is the best scenario for teamwork. This will be butter smooth for you.
And even changing the code will be easy, easier than for a mechanical safe.
Some brands even have biometric safes with multiple different fingerprints allowing some sort of access control with fingerprints. Why not, but I haven’t actually tried that.

Here is a small table to sum up preferable safes for different usages:

UserType of safe to choose
One or twoMechanical code, key, or electronic
SeveralMechanical code or preferably electronic
Large teamElectronic with several codes

Are you a techie or not? Pros and cons

Key is easy.
If you are NOT a tech-savvy person, the answer is simple: KEY. Definitely choose a mechanical safe with a key if you’re the only user of your safe and do not want any additional headaches.

  • no need to remember how to operate it,
  • no need to remember how to change the code,
  • no need to remember when and how to change the battery.

With a key safe, the only thing you’ll have to deal with is the key.

Mechanical code is sometimes difficult.
Even a mechanical safe with a code is sometimes difficult to use, especially to change the code. Only consider that option if you are comfortable with that technology. If you get used to it, it is by no means too difficult to use. But if you open your safe once in a while only, chances are you won’t remember how to change the code when you need to, years afterward. So there is more of a learning curve; but if you are serious about it, you will be able to use it and change the code without the help of a professional.

Electronic safe, best overall?
Will the only downside of changing batteries once in a while, electronic safes might be a better option overall.
You won’t have to hide or manage a key whatsoever.
The code is easy to change and how-to’s are easy to find. I even provided the most common ways to change batteries in that lengthy and detailed post.
Sometimes, you even have to remember how to open an electronic safe; but it is mostly intuitive and you won’t be stranded.
For anyone at ease with technology, an electronic code safe is definitely the way to go. They provide many more features that will be helpful in any work process.

UserType of safe to choose
AverageAny, mechanical code can be difficult
Tech-savvyElectronic with several codes


I have been passionate about locks and safes for so long; it is a family speciality since 1898. I hope I can share with you all the simple tips that can make the difference for your security. And that you'll buy the right products for your needs.

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