Zippers keep our backpacks closed, our pants up, and turn comforters into sleeping bags. Where would civilization be without zippers? Cold, pantless, and fumbling around with buttons in the dark—that’s where. But broken zippers are also frustrating little monsters. Without fail, zippers are the first thing to break on a much-beloved jacket. If you’re living with a broken zipper, take heart. You aren’t the only one. I once spent months with a giant box full of broken zippers—learning how to fix them all and creating some handy resources to fix your glitchy garments.
Fortunately, zippers are actually pretty easy to fix—once you know the tricks.
A pull tab is that dangly thing on your zipper that you pull—hence the name. Sometimes, pull tabs break off. Thankfully, a broken pull tab only takes a few minutes to replace. Even if you don’t have another metal or plastic pull tab, you can make a replacement pull tab out of pretty much anything: a paper clip, a safety pin, a spare bit of fabric, a string, and even a wire connector.
Here’s how we replace pull tabs around these parts (we used a cord pull tab from Patagonia—but, like we said, you can use pretty much any looped bit of fabric or cord.)
When a zipper pull breaks, or when the slider simply wears out, you don’t need to replace the entire zipper. You only need to replace the zipper slider. The slider is that part of the zipper that moves up and down the zipper teeth, and it’s easy to fix! Before you start this repair, you’ll need to figure out what type and size of zipper you have, since the procedure differs between plastic tooth and coil zippers. From there, your new zipper is less than ten minutes away!
Here’s how you replace a coil zipper slider:
And here’s how you replace a plastic tooth zipper slider:
Stuck zippers are the worst, and they always seem to pop out at the least opportune times. The good news is they’re preventable! The most common cause of a stuck zipper is dirt and debris lodged in the slider. Cleaning and lubricating a zipper, with something like ZipCare, helps to extend the zipper's life and prevents sticking, oxidizing, and jamming. It’s especially important to lubricate your zipper after you’ve been in a dusty, dirty, or wet environment. A little care and cleaning will make sure your zipper is jammin’, and not jammed.
If you’re in a pinch, and it’s wayyyy too late for maintenance (e.g. it’s 2 am and you’re stuck in your favorite pair of skinny jeans)—have no fear. There are tricks to get out of your zipper pickle. In a pinch, you can use a graphite pencil to help unstick your stuck zipper. Rub the pencil against the teeth, and keep working the zipper down. No pencil on hand? That’s cool.
WonderHowTo’s Yumi Sakugawa has a great list of common household items to help you unzip with ease—including candlewax and Windex. (Because Windex actually does cure everything. Go figure.)
It’s an all too common problem: the bottom of your zipper pops open when the top is zipped. As annoying as it is, this is the easiest zipper problem to fix. When your zipper pops open, it’s almost always the result of not fully inserting the zipper tab into the box at the bottom of the zipper. This causes the teeth of the zipper to misalign and not close properly. To fix this zipper issue, just wiggle the slider so that the two sides of the zipper separate, and then insert the bottom tab all the way into the box, and re-zip your jacket.
If the problem persists, replace your slider.
Still stuck with a zipper problem? Try our zipper identification tool and coil or plastic tooth zipper diagnosis guides. These guides will help you identify and troubleshoot other common zipper problems. If the problem is stubborn enough, you might have to replace those zippers altogether. We have a couple of guides for that. While these might not be your exact jackets, they will give you a good idea of the process.
So, zip off to your closet and get fixing. Be sure to let us know how your repairs go.