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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 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 repair type you need. 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) make 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 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 align 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 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 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 the 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 ensure 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 than 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 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). Look for the end with the extra square section of fabric past the zipper if you can tell.
- 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 align 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 squeeze the top and bottom plates closer together slowly. 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. You have successfully fixed it if it moves freely after being squeezed tighter. 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 teeth have been dislodged from their position or worn down. Take a close look at the zipper to see if any 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, 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 tailor 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 paper clip.
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 and drying carefully: zippered garments should be washed in cool water and dried on 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 a 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– users are always 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 immediately.
- 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 correctly 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 items like your favorite T-shirt. Yikes.
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 20 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry.