How To Fix a Broken Zipper and Other FAQs About Our Favorite Fastener
September 21, 2021
We’ve all had a zipper problem at some point. Zippers can get stuck, separate, come undone, refuse to close, the puller can come off, and more. You struggle with it, you make it worse. Don’t get stressed– and definitely don’t throw it out. At least not yet. Because we’ve got some easy zipper hacks for you.
Sure, you could take it to the tailor, but that won’t help you if you just got dressed and are on your way out. Or worse, at a party having a fashion emergency. And why pay for that? In most cases, you can fix it quickly at home yourself. And zipper repair is one of the most useful fashion hacks you can learn.
Useful items for fixing a zipper
- Soap, petroleum jelly, or WD-40
- Cotton swabs
- Needle-nose pliers or tweezers
- Wire-cutter pliers
Depending on the type of zipper repair, you may only need one or two of these items. Below you will find step-by-step instructions for the particular type of repair you need to do. First, let’s quickly go over the names for each part of a zipper so there’s no confusion.
Definitions of zipper parts
- Tape – The fabric part on either side of the zipper.
- Teeth – The individual nubs (also called elements) making up the chain.
- Chain – The continuous piece that is formed when both halves of a zipper have meshed together.
- Slider – The device that moves up and down the chain to open or close the zipper.
- Pull Tab – The part of the slider you hold when moving the slider up or down.
- Stop – The small pieces at the top or bottom to prevent the slider from coming off the chain.
- Pin – Small piece at the end of a separating zipper that gets inserted into the box.
- Box – Correctly aligns the pin to allow the joining of the two zipper halves.
- Separating – The bottom part of the zipper has a pin and box that separates (jackets, hoodies, etc).
- Closed-bottom – The bottom stop goes across the base and doesn’t separate (quarter-zips, bags, etc).
How to fix a stuck zipper
A stuck zipper is the most common issue– and probably the easiest to fix. It’s caused by either the teeth jamming in the slider from being out of line, or from fabric or something else getting snagged in the slider. If that something else is your skin, be extra careful with it (and maybe seek medical help). Ouchy.
- Don’t struggle or force it. This could make the situation worse and damage the fabric and zipper. And be sure to remove the garment first so you can get a better view and approach it from the right angle.
- If there’s fabric caught in the slider, gently tug on the fabric– not the zipper (it could separate the teeth). If that doesn’t work, use your needle nose pliers or tweezers to grab the fabric closest to the slider and gently pull. Wiggle it just a little bit, and gradually slide the zipper’s pull tab as you tug on the fabric until it releases.
- If there is no fabric or threads to pull out, use a pencil to coat the teeth with graphite (both sides of zipper if possible). You can also use a small amount of dish soap or petroleum jelly, applied with a cotton swab.
- After it’s unstuck, examine the teeth to make sure they’re not damaged. Straighten them out if they’re bent. And check the fabric for any damage or a crimp that may cause the same thing to happen in the future.
Bonus tip: Hold the zipper slider by the body (rather then the pull tab). It’s closer to the teeth so provides more control, and will help prevent damage.
How to fix a zipper that comes off track
If one or both sides of the slider have come off the teeth, the zipper doesn’t need replacing, it just needs to be reattached. This can be simple or a bit tricky, depending on what kind of zipper it is.
- Find the bottom of the zip. It’s usually the end closest to the ground (when wearing the garment). If you can tell, look for the end with the extra square section of fabric past the zipper.
- Feed the teeth from that end into the slider. Use a screwdriver if you need extra leverage. Once both sides of the teeth are in the slider, move it up and down to lock it into place.
- If the end that you need to feed into the slider has a stop: use your fingers to fold the stop away from the teeth so you can get an angle to get the slider onto them.
- If the tape is too stiff or you can’t get the angle by folding it, remove it using needle-nose pliers. Bend the back part off first, then the front. Once you get the slider onto the teeth, then replace the stop.
How to fix a zipper that separates
If your zipper seems to work right, but then all the teeth come apart after it’s fastened? This could mean the slider is the problem, the part that locks the two sets of teeth together. Over time, they can get loose or bent open slightly, making them unable to properly do their job of aligning the teeth into place.
- Take your needle nose pliers and position them above and below the top and bottom plate of the slider. The top plate is facing outward and the bottom plate is facing inward towards the garment.
- Pinch them together to slowly squeeze the top and bottom plates closer together. You should see the small gap between the plates closing up, and the plates should stay parallel to each other without an angle.
- Test the zipper and make sure it still moves. If it doesn’t, you have closed the gap too tight. If it moves freely after being squeezed tighter, you have successfully fixed it. Here’s a short video showing the process.
How to fix a zipper that keeps sliding open or won’t stay closed
If your zipper keeps opening or falling down, it usually means that some of the teeth have been dislodged from their position or have worn down. Take a close look at the zipper to see if any of the teeth are out of alignment or missing. If they are bent out of shape, use your needle nose pliers to carefully get them back in position.
Bonus tip: If the teeth are worn down from usage, try painting them with clear nail polish (with the zipper open). It can thicken the teeth and restore them to working order. Multiple coats can work better than one, just make sure to allow time to dry in between coats or they will get gunky.
How to fix a falling zipper fly on jeans
It’s one of the more awkward problems to have, but one of the easiest fixes. If the zipper fly on your favorite pair of jeans keeps falling, just put a keyring (or something similar) through the hole on the pull tab, and when you zip up, hook the keyring over the top button before closing it. No more XYZPDQ comments. You’re welcome.
How to fix a zipper with missing teeth
Missing zipper teeth are probably the trickiest repairs to do yourself and require sewing experience and buying materials. It usually means replacing the whole zipper. And if you can do that yourself, you’re probably not reading this. So if missing zipper teeth is your problem, we recommend taking it to a tailer or alterations shop.
How to fix a zipper with a missing pull tab
Another annoying problem with an easy fix. If the pull tab is missing from your zipper, use a paperclip.
How to fix a wavy zipper
Hoodies are especially prone to buckled zippers. The reason is that the zipper tape is almost always made of polyester, while the rest of the hoodie is typically cotton, and much more prone to shrinkage than the zipper tape. Avoid this by always washing your zippered garments in cool water and a low-temperature dryer setting.
If your favorite hoodie has a wavy zipper, you can try these methods for stretching the fabric out. They involve using hair conditioner, an iron, some strategic stretching, and air drying. It might take a little time, but hey– it’s your favorite hoodie. Put some work on it and wave goodbye to those wavey waves.
Best practices for avoiding zipper problems
Zippers breaking or wearing down because of manufacturer defects are extremely rare– it’s almost always users being too rough or careless with them. Below are some best practices to keep in mind when using zippers. Follow these six rules to avoid stuck and broken zippers for the life of your garments.
- Be gentle with the slider. Don’t force it if it’s not moving smoothly. You should always check to see if something is caught, even if you don’t see it right away.
- Keep the zipper straight. Don’t overstuff bags or pockets like a maniac. And if it is full, hold the two sides close to each other while zipping.
- Completely open the zipper when undressing. It can damage the zipper if you take off your clothes while half-zipped, as tempting as that can be.
- Button first, then zip. When putting on pants, the zipper will work more smoothly if you fasten the top button first like a normal person.
- Close zippers before ironing. Also, make sure to put the pull tab in its correct position and avoid pressing the iron directly onto the zipper.
- Close zippers before washing. Open zippers can be damaged if snagged inside the machine or on other items like your favorite T-shirt. Yikes.
What’s the best kind of zipper?
YKK zippers are widely considered to be the best and most reliable zippers, and they dominate the market. Talon zippers (a U.S. company) are also excellent. Beyond brand names, there are three common types of zippers: metal, coil, and molded plastic. They each have strengths, weaknesses, and different uses.
Types of zippers
Metal zippers are the classics, with metal teeth clamped onto the zipper tape, and are known for being durable and versatile. They’re great for heavy-duty coats, duffle bags, leather, and of course jeans. Although they are as popular as ever, they are heavier than their plastic counterparts, and the slider doesn’t move as smoothly as the other two, especially when compared to the coil. The zipper fixes in this post are mostly for metal zippers.
Coil zippers are lightweight and flexible, with teeth made of coiled polyester or nylon that are either stitched or woven into the tape. Coil zippers are increasingly popular and great for performance gear and other lightweight projects. The texture of the teeth is more subtle than plastic or metal zippers, making it a great choice for bags and pockets where you don’t want a zipper sticking out. The one drawback is that these types can be a bit harder to repair.
Molded plastic zippers are exactly what you might expect: plastic molded teeth that are melted directly onto the zipper tape. Molded plastic zippers are great for children’s clothing, bags, and more. The shape of the teeth makes them less flexible than the coil and metal zippers, but depending on the brand and style, they can be constructed for extra durability, waterproofing, and more for practical and industrial applications.
What is a YKK zipper?
The letters YKK on your zipper stand for “Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha” which translates into Yoshida Company Limited in Japanese and is the biggest zipper company in the world. Founded in 1938, they now make roughly half of all the zippers manufactured or about 7 billion per year, and their reputation in the fashion industry is unrivaled.
The company is vertically integrated, meaning the company executes every step of the manufacturing process, including packaging the finished product. They even smelt their own metal. Having this level of control and oversight means quality, reliability, efficiency, consistency, and keeping their proprietary methods secret.
Over the years, they’ve innovated many different types of zippers and other fasteners. Since a garment can be rendered unwearable if the zipper breaks (typically one of the cheaper parts), it’s no wonder that the fashion industry has overwhelmingly relied on a company that focuses on reducing that risk.
Button-fly vs zipper fly
Button flys are popular with people who love authenticity. When jeans were first introduced by Levi Strauss & Co in 1871, they featured a button fly as the fastener. It wasn’t until 1954 that they added a zipper fly and wasn’t until the 1960’s that zippers became more popular, and by the ’70s they were ubiquitous.
But the debate had apparently already been settled in 1937 when the zipper triumphed over the button in the so-called “Battle of the Fly.” French fashion designers of the time praised the use of zippers in men’s trousers, while Esquire magazine declared the zipper the “Newest Tailoring Idea for Men.”
Fast forward to the ’90s when Levi’s reintroduced the button fly to much fanfare. Which then faded over time. You can still get button fly jeans, but the zipper reigns supreme. Bottom line: it’s a matter of style and personal taste. One thing for sure is that people who wear button flys won’t have the problem of a zipper breaking, or getting anything caught in it.
Who invented the zipper?
It was an American in 1851 who first patented what would be the start of what we know as the zipper, although he didn’t coin the term. Elias Howe, Jr, inventor of the sewing machine, created what he called an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure” and was nothing like today’s zippers, but the idea was born.
Fast-forward forty-four years to when the inventor Whitcomb Judson marketed a “Clasp Locker” device similar to the 1851 Howe patent. Whitcomb tends to get credit for being the “inventor of the zipper” even though his 1893 patent did not use the word zipper. It was a “hook and eye” fastener for shoes that debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair but essentially flopped.
It wasn’t until 1913 when a Swedish-born electrical engineer named Gideon Sundback, who had been hired by the Universal Fastener Company came up with what would become the modern zipper. His new-and-improved system increased the number of fastening elements and had two facing-rows of teeth that pulled into a single piece by a slider. His patent for the “Separable Fastener” was issued in 1917.
Where did the name “zipper” come from?
It was the B. F. Goodrich Company that put Sundback’s fastener on a new type of rubber boots in 1923, which became the main use of zippers in the early years. The boot was originally called “The Mystik” but they weren’t selling. As the story goes, the company president came up with the crucial marketing angle: “What we need is an action word … something that will dramatize the way the thing zips … Why not call it a Zipper?”
The Universal Fastener Company was renamed Talon, set up manufacturing in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and began mass-producing its zippers. By 1930, 20 million zippers were being sold a year, and in the mid-’30s the fashion world took notice and began promoting the zipper for use on everything. By the end of WW2, talon was selling 500 million zippers a year, only to be eclipsed by YKK in the ’70s.
What are the best zipper hoodies?
Every major apparel brand has its own version of the zipper hoodie. The better hoodies tend to have higher-quality zippers that don’t break easily or buckle. Some of them have metal zips, and some have coil or molded plastic zippers.
What’s nice about the zipper hoodie is that you can control your body temperature and comfort by zipping it all the way, halfway, or not at all. Look for zippers that have a fabric “lip” covering the zipper– in most cases, we can print across the chest (something you can’t otherwise do with full zip hoodies).
The best hoodies we offer for customizing are American Apparel, Bella+Canvas, and Next Level. These hoodies are super soft, fashion fit, durable and look great with a screen print. We also carry premium performance gear brands such as Under Armor.
For more about zipper hoodies as well as pullovers, check out my article about choosing the best hoodie.
For more about zippers, Google it 😉
About the Author
A graduate of the Multimedia program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Imri Merritt is an industry veteran with over 10 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry.