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The Daily Fix: Repair a Zipper

So you're replacing a freshly washed pillow cover or just putting on your jacket when -- uh oh! -- the zipper separates! What could be more annoying? Well, no need to grit your teeth. We've got the 411 on zipper repair.

Corbis Images

Whether you've hit a snag that seems immovable, the teeth are misaligned or separated, or the whole thing's busted and the slider's come off in your hand, that zipper can be saved! Zipper repair is not as difficult or as time-consuming as you might think. Here's how to get things gliding smoothly again.

Tools & Supplies
A sewing needle
A seam ripper, pair of scissors, thread nippers, or a razor blade
Thick thread
Needle nose pliers
A safety pin (optional)
A candle, pencil, bar of soap (optional)
Replacement slider (optional)
Sewing pins

Types of Zippers
There are generally two types of zippers: closed-end, and open-end.

Closed-end zippers: One end always stays fastened on this type of zipper. Think: jeans, upholstery cushions, pillowcases, and bags.
Open-end zippers: Both tracks come completely apart on this type of zipper. Think: jackets and sleeping bags.

Why Do Zippers Stop Zipping?
When it's brand new, a zipper's slider (the part that joins and separates the teeth when the zipper is open or closed) starts off tightly attached and precisely calibrated, ensuring both sets of teeth (the grooved elements that pass through the slider) fit together to form a perfect chain (interlocked teeth).

But after repeated use, tiny gaps can form between the teeth and the slider -- and that's when the problems start. Here's what to do if you run into trouble:

Scenario #1: The slider isn't gliding smoothly:
1. Rub candle wax, a bar of soap or a graphite pencil over the surfaces and edges of both sets of teeth. Do it while the zipper is open, then close the zipper and do it again.
2. Open and close the zipper several times.
3. Wipe off residue with a clean, dry cloth.

Scenario #2: The slider is stuck:
1. Flip over the fabric to see if something's caught in it. Thread? More fabric? Lint?
2. Remove the obstruction with scissors, thread nippers or a razor blade until the slider pulls free.

Scenario #3: The chain separates below the slider, or the slider gets off track:
1. Pry off the metal stop at the base of the zipper (the piece that prevents the slider from falling off) with needle nose pliers.
2. Move the slider down toward the base of the zipper (but don't remove it completely!), smoothing out any gaps and creases. Then carefully realign the teeth, one by one.
3. Run the slider halfway up the chain to ensure teeth interlock properly. Once they do, zip it up all the way.
4. Stitch a new stop with a needle and thread. Knot the end of the thread and start sewing on the inside of the fabric (where the stitches will go unseen). Make six or seven tight passes. Tie off and double-knot the thread, then trim excess with scissors.

Scenario #4: The slider breaks off:
1. Undo the stitching that secures the lower portion of the zipper tape (the polyester, or other synthetic fabric on which the teeth are attached) in place.
2. Pry off the metal stop and remove the slider.
3. Smooth any gaps; realign teeth.
4. Re-thread teeth through the slider. Gently tug until both sets are in and evenly aligned. (It's helpful to hold the slider in one hand and pull on the teeth with the other.)
5. Drag the slider upward to form a chain.
6. Follow Step 4 in Scenario #3 (above) to stitch a new stop with your needle and thread.

Scenario #5: The slider is missing its pull-tab:
1. If you still have the pull-tab, reattach it to the metal loop that it slipped out of and squeeze the loop -- so it closes tighter -- using needle nose pliers.
2. No pull-tab? A safety pin or paper clip both work in a pinch.

Scenario #6: The zipper is missing teeth:
If the missing tooth is located on the bottom portion of the chain:
1. Position the slider slightly higher than the missing tooth.
2. Stitch a new stop for the slider just above the gap.
NOTE: If a tooth is missing in the upper two-thirds of the chain, it's time to replace the zipper.

Fix a Stuck Zipper with Pencil Lead (Real Simple)
How to Choose Upholstery Fabrics (ShelterPop)

So your zipper is fixed, but what about a sweater snag or loose button? Watch this video for these additional tips:

  • micky eggs

    what has always worked for me is to grab the pulltab and at the same time pull one side of zipper then the other side 1 notch at a time until you get the snag of material out that was stuck or you get the zipper to the end and pull out the open end zip the zipper up and down a fewto make sure it works o.k.

  • Cathy

    I read "The Daily Fix: Repair a Zipper", and decided it would be a great article to print and keep for reference. I chose the "print" option at the beginning of the article, assuming I would get ONLY the article on zipper repair. Not so: I now have TWELVE (12) PAGES of text, only 2 1/2 of which are the actual article featured! What a tree-killing waste of paper--not to mention ink! Why does every jot, every dot, and every ad of NO relevance whatsoever to me have to be printed in order to have access to wanted information?? Disgusting...

  • Bethany

    Hi Cathy,
    Next time you want to print only a certain section of a page, highlight the text by clicking at the beginning of the first word and dragging the mouse over the rest of the words you want (while keeping the right button on the mouse clicked. Then, left click and hit print. There, you can choose "print selection" and only the words you have highlighted will print. You may have already known how to do this. I just thought I would try to help you out. Hope it helps. :)

  • ruthsgardens

    The worst invention is the nylon zipper.If you have to have that article of clothing with a nylon zipper,do yourself a favor.Take a bar of soap and run up and down on it as soon as you buy it.Repeat after every washing or it won't last long.You can get years out of it with just a little soap every washing.

  • Kay C

    I know how to fix a metal zipper but a lot of dresses and other clothes come with a non-metal, (Plastic type) and you just can'd fix them. You have to replace the whole zipper and a lot of people don't have this knowledge or even want it. Lots of younger people don't even know how to sew on a button.

  • Tabitha Kokoska

    Wow. Amazing - I was just about to search for this info on the internet! It's finally chilly here in Texas and the zipper on my hoodie broke (the slider broke off) when I tried it on this morning. This is great. Thanks!

  • 6 Comments / 1 Pages

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