Here's How to Fix a Zipper

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

dunhill jacket
Dunhill

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.

The invention's a marvel for many reasons. First, it's simple yet incredibly effective — even more so than buttons. Second, it's super universal. Velcro? Absolutely not. Snaps? Too hard to use. Laces? Too prone to knots. See? The zipper's easiest. That being said, the zipper's primary issue still plagues it to this day: they break!

Did yours? 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.

Step #1: Figure out what's wrong.

Unlike with cars, there's only so much that can go wrong with a zipper. Its job is pretty simple. So are its parts. Therefore figuring out what's wrong with yours is as easy as identifying its fault.

A.

Did the zipper separate from its teeth?

B.

Is the zipper stuck?

C.

Will it slide but not stay closed?

D.

Is the pull tab missing?

E.

Are teeth missing?

close up of zipper
Nattawat Kaewjirasit / EyeEmGetty Images

Step #2: Figure out your fix.

Like I said, with zippers, it isn't difficult to see what's gone wrong. Having trouble seeing its components? Get closer. You'll find the slider, pull tab, teeth, and the bottom stop, plus the tape (not literally but it's what the fabric here's called) it's attached to on either side. Follow from Step #1. If you're facing issue A., read fix A.

A.

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.

B.

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!

C.

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.

D.

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.

E.

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.

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