This Is How to Fix a Broken Zipper

Zippers are everywhere. Sometimes they break. Here's how to fix one.

a broken zipper
Evan Malachosky

Ah, zippers. The contraption was first used on boots, then tobacco pouches, and then leather jackets (by Schott in 1925). Crazy, right? Zippers on clothes isn't even a 100-year-old idea yet. The invention, however, is. It was first tested in 1851. By 1917, it was marketable. B.F. Goodrich's credited with calling it a "zipper" first, in 1923. Until then it was known as a "Separable Fastener." A little too technical, not too catchy. It'd never stick.

But the zipper did, a marvelous invention for many reasons. First, it's simple yet incredibly effective — even more so than buttons. Second, it's super universal. Velcro? It eventually loses its grip. Snaps? Too hard to use. Laces? Too prone to knots. See? The zipper's easiest. That being said, the zipper's foremost problem still plagues it to this day: Even the best ones can break.

A Broken Zipper Can Be a Headache

A broken zipper on your backpack, jeans, jacket or suitcase shouldn't be that item's death sentence. The issue can usually be easily fixed. Be patient and try your best.

Did your zipper break? You're not alone. And don't you dare trash those jeans; scrap that suitcase; or hand-me-down that hoodie. It can be fixed. To do so, though, it's important to understand how your zipper broke. Is it stuck? Has it separated from its teeth on either side? Is a tooth missing? Have the teeth worn down? Did the pull tab fall off? Is the whole system under too much pressure? (Are you sure that suitcase is under 50 lbs? For the sake of your zipper, please don't force it closed.)

No matter the malfunction, there are countless ways to fix a broken zipper. From lubricating the teeth at the sign of a snag to tightening the slider to reconnect unhooked ones, these solutions require little effort beyond a few resources you probably already have access to: pliers, vaseline or dish soap, Q-tips, pencils, and paper clips (in no particular order) — plus, just a little know-how.

How to Fix a Broken Zipper

a broken zipper up close
This zipper lost its pull tab and the hook for attaching a new one. It can be fixed, though.
Evan Malachosky

Unlike with cars, there's only so much that can go wrong with a zipper. Its job is pretty simple — so are its parts. Look closely. You'll find the slider, pull tab, teeth, and the bottom stop, plus the tape (not literally but it's what the fabric here is called) attached on either side.

Figuring out what's wrong with yours is as easy as identifying its fault. Try zippering your jacket or jeans shut. Didn't go? Can you even get it halfway? Assess the situation and find your problem below.

Did the zipper separate from its teeth?

If it's hanging on to the opposite side's teeth, you're lucky you didn't lose it. The bottom stop does just as its name implies: stops the zipper from falling off the chain. To fix it, guide the slider back down to the bottom stop. You don't need to replace or really even mend the zipper, just reattach it. Guide the teeth into either side of the zipper's mouth and slide it up and down as you would normally. Slight pressure might be needed if the teeth aren't catching.

Is the zipper stuck?

This is the most common issue with typical zippers. You're gliding along fine and then... it's stuck. Don't worry. The workarounds are easy. First, check to see if it's caught on stray fabric, on the garment itself, in hair, or...on skin. Tweezers are your best bet here, and a bit of vaseline. Lubricants like graphite (aka pencils), olive oil, and other cooking sprays work well, too, if you're just dealing with stubborn teeth. Apply any of these with a Q-Tip, but be sure not to get the cotton stuck. Work it in until it's coated, but not caked, the teeth. Happy zipping!

Will it slide but not stay closed?

There could be two things wrong in this situation. One, the teeth on your zipper may be worn down or damaged. Two, the zipper's mouth might need tightened. To fix the former, apply a clear coat of nail polish to both sets of teeth. Two coats should be enough — but, PLEASE, let it dry — to help thicken the teeth enough to be caught again. The fix the latter, take a pair of pliers and squeeze the open end of the slider. It might not look like you're doing much, but doing so even a tiny bit with increase the likelihood the zipper catches the teeth and closes the zipper. Watch this video if you're not following.

Is the pull tab missing?

Here's to hoping you have a paperclip on hand. What about a keychain? You can slide it around the hook on the slider and use it as pull tab. Unconventional items that'd work, too? Laces, a rubber band, a thin bracelet, an iPhone charger. Get creative.

Are teeth missing?

If there are missing teeth, you're going to need a tailor — or another garment repair expert. But, if one's merely bent, it can be replaced using pliers. Bend it back in line with the others and hope for the best. Be gentle with it.

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