Anyone who has ever experienced a broken zipper on a favorite pair of jeans, jacket, backpack, sleeping bag, or anything that relies on a zipper to keep shut knows the frustration a broken zipper can cause. It was working for you for all that time, and then suddenly decided to come off the track, get stuck, or stop moving as smoothly as it once did. Unfortunately, too many people toss out their items when the zipper breaks, without realizing that you can fix them. If a stuck zipper is preventing you from using one of your items, read on for some tips on how to fix a broken zipper, as well as how to prevent it from breaking again.
To understand how to fix a broken zipper, it helps to understand how it works. A zipper uses two sets of teeth that act as hooks. As a zipper is being zipped up or closed, it pulls each set of teeth together, where they join to hook into each other. When you grab the zipper pull to pull the slider back, it separates the connected teeth by using a wedge tucked inside the zipper slider. Once this happens, it should be difficult to separate the two sets of teeth — that is, unless the zipper pull isn’t properly attached or the zipper isn’t strong enough to handle the job it was intended for, like if your daughter takes one of her cute backpacks and decides to stuff everything she owns into it for a one-night sleepover.
Before jumping into how to fix a broken zipper, it is important to have a basic understanding of how they break. After all, some might not be broken and might just need a little bit of lubricant to help guide them and make the zip more smooth. That’s where the old pencil trick works, as rubbing graphite on a metal zipper helps make it slide more easily across the teeth. Other times, the zipper slider may be broken. Here are two of the main ways zippers break:
1. Teeth Don’t Interlock
Have you ever had a pair of women’s jeans where the zipper seems to zip up just fine, but then the teeth come undone while you’re wearing them? The problem is most likely the slider. That’s the piece that is supposed to bring the teeth together and lock them in place. It’s natural for the slider to loosen over time, making its teeth-binding abilities less effective. But fear not — it’s replaceable.
2. Lost Teeth
If you look closely at a zipper, you’ll see all the little pieces that are individually sewn onto the fabric of a zipper. Those are the teeth. Considering how small they are and how much abuse they sometimes take, it’s easy to understand how they can just fall off and go missing. When that happens, the slider can get stuck, since it has no track to follow. This will require either a new zipper or a trip to the tailor.
Hopefully, it is just the slider that needs to be fixed. Even if it needs to be replaced, that’s easy enough as well. Start by gathering your equipment and making sure you’re in a well-lit space. At a minimum, you will need a pair of needle-nose pliers. Ideally, you’ll also have a pair of “end nippers,” which are basically zipper pliers that make the job easier. They cost around $10 and are a smart investment, especially if you have kids and find yourself fixing a lot of kids’ hoodies, kids' backpacks, and other items that kids are notoriously rough with. The other two items you may or may not need are a zipper stopper and a new zipper slider (with a pull on it so you can easily slide it up and down).
The first thing to do, since a loose slider might be the culprit, is to use pliers to try to tighten it. Don’t take it off of the item you’re fixing yet, however. Start by familiarizing yourself with the parts of the slider. The part that attaches to the puller (the part that you grab to pull the zipper up and down) is called the top plate. In contrast, the part of the slider that faces inward is called the bottom plate. Use the pliers to squeeze both plates together and make it tighter. Do this gradually, each time taking note of whether you are squeezing hard enough or too hard. If you squeeze both sides of the slider too hard, it could break the slider, not to mention make it very difficult to get the zipper up and down. Now, check the zipper. Does it work? If so, congratulations — you’re done! If not, proceed to Step 3.
If the tightening of the slider didn’t work, you likely need a new one. You’ll need to take the old one off before putting on the new one, though. But first, since there is a stopper on the top and bottom part of your item keeping it in place, you’ll need to remove one of the stoppers. With pliers or some end nippers, remove the stopper at one end of the zipper, gently. Remember that you’re not trying to cut the fabric surrounding it. You’re gently pulling the stopper off so you can take the slider off. Once you remove the stopper, consider placing it into the pocket of the kids’ jeans or whatever garment you’re fixing so you don’t lose it. (That is if the stopper is still in good condition and you plan on using it again.)
Now that you’ve removed one of the stoppers, you can slide the slider off of the track. It should come off easily. But before you do that, take note of its position and alignment so you can put the new one on correctly. You’ll want the plates to be on the correct sides.
Align your new zipper slider onto the same spot you took the old one off of, and in the same orientation. This might be tricky on delicate clothing such as women’s dresses where zippers can be quite small, but patience and persistence will pay off!
Now that you have the slider back on, locate the position where you will be replacing the stopper. Use your needle-nose pliers to pinch it into place. This will prevent the new zipper slider from falling off.
Align both sides of the zipper, connect them to the slider, and use the zipper pull to slide the zipper slider up and down. It should work now, as long as the teeth aren’t misaligned. See how easy that was?
Although it feels good when you know you can fix something, you might not want to go through it all again. Keep the following in mind to keep your zipper in working order.
It’s easy to get carried away and get too rough with our clothing, bags, and anything that has a zipper on it. For example, we might eagerly want to take off our dress pants when we get home from work and don’t think twice about how tough we are on our zippers. We also send things through multiple washes in the washing machine and expose them to high heat in the dryer. If there’s one thing to take away from this experience, it is not to yank at the zipper too hard. Otherwise, you risk misaligning the teeth, breaking the zipper pull or slider, bending the teeth, or ripping the fabric that the zipper is connected to.
Make Sure the Zip Isn’t Under Too Much Pressure
We also don’t often think about the pressure we’re exposing zippers to when we’re stuffing backpacks and sleeping bags to capacity. If you struggle to get the zipper closed, the zipper is struggling to stay together and resist opening due to the pressure of the contents it’s guarding. As a general rule, if it’s difficult to close, it shouldn’t be closed.
As you can see, there’s no reason to throw away your jackets, jeans, backpacks, or whatever it may be that you rely upon a zipper to keep closed. Simply replacing the zipper pull and stopper might be all that you need. Even if you have to replace the whole zipper, it is still much more cost-effective than replacing the item with something new.