I have a number of keys on my keyring - screen door, main door, garage door, some random key that I don't know where it goes, etc. When I purchased the house, the previous owner placed different coloured zip ties on each key for identification and snipped the tails off. This is pretty clever but adds to the bulk of the keyring. What is another good way to identify the keys? The heads are assorted shapes and sizes.


12 Answers 12


Since I have lots of different color permanent markers, but not lots of different colors of nail polish, I use my wife's clear nail polish.

Mark the key up with the sharpie - I usually put a dot on - and then a drop of clear nail polish to cover it and keep it on there. Once dry, it stays on there forever - or until you use nail polish remover to remove it.

  • Nail polish is not in abundance at my house either, but I've got a bit of modelling paint. I think I'll use the paint to mark up the keys, and after it's dry I'll apply some clear nail polish to help keep it there.
    – Adam
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 22:39
  • I didn't have any nail polish in my house either. So I went to a grocery store and bough five. Problem solved.
    – Cano64
    Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 15:33
  • My local dollar store carries nail polish. No point in spending $3-$5 in cosmetic section of a regular store per bottle if one of these is local to you. Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 14:19

I have added notches to the side of the key head in the past. One of the advantages to using this method is that you can find the correct key in the dark.

Start with this:

Image of a key

Take a file to the edge of the key head. Move it back and forth to create a furrow. End up with this:

Image of a key with notches filed into the large turning area

Add as many notches to the key as you require. If your key has a flat edge that isn't used by the pins to unlock the lock, you can also use that side.

  • 3
    I've always done something similar, drilling holes instead of notches. Works quite well. Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 9:14
  • +1 for works in the dark too, ubiquity of cellphone flashlights notwithstanding;)
    – Caius Jard
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 23:07

I've often seen people solving this problem by using colored key caps.

eight colored key caps of different colors

But if you are like me and want to avoid extra weight/volume, you can use dot stickers. Stick one on each side for faster lookup. (update: according to another user, such stickers often have the color rub off in your pockets)

a sheet of dot stickers


Coloring the keys is a good way to go.

For coloring I would suggest nail polish, which is quite durable. Other spray paint might be tried as well, but nail polish is really accessible and easy to apply.

If you want you could even mark keys with letters or numbers or symbols. But please take care not inviting thieves by writing house number or address on the keys. Make the markings subtle and the meaning known only to you and those using the keys.

  • Point given for nail polish, this is what I use in different colours. Seems to last ages
    – Bamboo
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 12:57
  • If i could accept two answers, this would have been the other. Alas, an up vote will have to suffice. Thanks for the tip!
    – Adam
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 22:40
  • I was going to suggest the key covers.
    – Terry
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 11:08

You could try to group them together in small clusters based on your daily activity, and even put them in a sequence based on step by step usage. Add a label rather than a color on each key, especially if you have a lot. If the keys keep adding, an idea would be to switch "technology" (badge-based access systems etc.).


1/4" Professional 36pc Letter & Number Stamp Punch Set

enter image description here


  • 2
    Unfortunately I don't own one of these punch sets, and can't really justify purchasing one just to mark out a few keys. I like the idea though!
    – Adam
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 22:42
  • Do these work on key metal? Keys tend to be very hard and brittle Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 5:24
  • @Oxinabox Yes, all of my keys are stamped. The stamps are hardened steel and keys are usually made out of brass, so no worries.
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 5:34
  • That's routinely used here to mark the maker of duplicate keys, so yeah, it'll definately work. Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 10:48
  • Why does this set have two 'Y's? I could see doubling up on something that's used a lot like 'E', but 'Y'? Weird. Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 13:21

I use order and memory.

Start by removing any keys you don't need on your keyring. They're just adding to the bulk from the off.

I order my keys by frequency of use and by direction where one way represents locks at the front of my house and the other way represents locks at the back of my house. The car key is the "root", the key next to this is "forwards".

While this exact pattern might not work for you, I'm sure you could come up with something similar to suit. If you need a lot of keys, I'd consider two keyrings linked together with i.e. one for work and one for home, or one for inside and one for outside.


Since nobody has mentioned it: Split it up into multiple rings. E.g. you can put your work keys on one ring, your home keys on another, and the car keys on a third, then link all the rings together. This has the advantage that if you need to separate them for any reason (say, to give your car keys to the repair shop, or lend your home keys to the neighbor when you go on vacation so they can water your plants), it's as simple as separating that one ring.


I used Washi Tape and used not only colors but patterns. For instance, my mailbox key has a brown polka dot pattern and my apartment key has a light green squiggles. Worked better for me than having to remember the colors.

  • Overal, good answer. I have made a slight edit and you are welcomed to change it back if you wish.
    – L.B.
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 1:10

There are a lot of key organizing product on market. I use a Keysmart organizer to organize all my keys into a slim case. Other brands of similar products are available too if you just do a simple google search for key organizers.

As to identify the keys, usually I arrange them in the order of most frequently used, but I think with this type of organizer, you can also use permanent marker or nail polish to color code back side/the spine part of the keys as labels.

This is their main website: http://getkeysmart.com

example of a keysmart organizer

  • Do these help identify the keys?
    – Adam
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 19:17
  • I usually arrange them in the order of most frequently used, as the previous answers mentioned. I didn't want to include a duplicate answer, but I should still have mentioned that. Thanks for reminding me! Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 19:57

Discard this idea if you're looking for quick identification with the requirement of some memorization (i.e. colors).

Personally, I use a metal engraver from Amazon (roughly $14) and write something on the key. I use an acronym (SR = Snowboard Rack) or a name/word (Dad = Dad's house). The benefit of this is that you can be descriptive, but the downside is that you will need to take a close look at your keys.


I recently found myself looking for a new/better solution for organizing separate sets of keys as I have access to several properties/storage units across Southern California.

While I subscribe to a lot of the aforementioned solutions (ordering of keys, colored dots/key tags, easy means of separation) I came up with a new, unique solution which I am quite proud of.

I created a spreadsheet on Google Drive entitled 'Keys' with a single sheet called 'Legend.' This sheet has 3 columns: color, name, and address. For each address, I use a colored key tag and add all the keys to the ring (in order of sequence used), then add a row to my spreadsheet with the color of the key tag, descriptive label, and the address the keys go to. I then share the spreadsheet with myself (i.e. only my Google account can access the sheet) and copy the link to this shared document.

Next, I use the link to create a QR code (this can be done for free on any number of sites online). The colored key tags I use have a clear window where you can slide a slip of paper to identify the set. Using a word processor, I create custom labels for each keytag using the same QR code. For example, if I have a set of keys to 2 separate storage units I would create a label with the QR code and maybe the name and city of the storage facility (avoid using unit numbers in the event that you drop/lose the key on the premises -- someone would know exactly which unit to steal from). I print out these labels and slide them into each key tag whose color corresponds with the color specified in the Keys spreadsheet. Now I can use my smart phone to scan the QR code and it will give me (and only me) the additional info to identify which set of keys I need as well as the address of the place that they go to.

Finally, in the event that I do drop/lose the key somewhere, I include some type of contact info (phone number/email/mailing address/etc.) on the reverse side of the key tag so that the keys can be returned. For added protection/security I specify a return address that is a P.O. Box.

NOTE: do NOT make your spreadsheet publicly accessible or it defeats the whole purpose! Share the sheet with only specific people by entering their Google user IDs.

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