How (And Why) You Should Lubricate Your Zippers

Nothing will kill a good mood faster than a broken zipper.

Have you ever been in a rush, thrown on your coat, and struggled fiddling with your zipper, only to have it stuck halfway up your jacket? Or perhaps it’s gone and torn a hole into the surrounding material? 

Whatever the case, your jacket, and your mood, are now ruined.

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Now imagine the same happening with your tent. In the rain. In the night. Yeah, that's a moodkiller.

So why DO zippers fail? How does lubrication help? Let's look at why you should also be lubricating your zippers regularly.

Anatomy of a Zipper

We tend to use zippers everyday, but never stop to think how they work. In general, a zipper seamlessly joins two separate pieces of fabric, but exactly how?

Let’s learn some proper terminology to find out.

zipper anatomy
  • Slider: The part of the zipper that moves up and down.
  • Teeth: The stationary aspect of a zipper typically sewn on to each end of the fabric
  • Insertion Pin: The access point that allows the slide to join the teeth
  • Stop: The top and bottom portions of the teeth that prevent the slide from moving further
  • Pull-tab: The part of the zipper you actually grab when you physically zip-up
  • Crown: Where the pull-tab connects to the slide
  • Tape Extension: The fabric on either side of the teeth that connect them to the clothing/tent
  • Chain: The entire ensemble when zipped up

When the slider is pulled onto the insertion pin, it begins to wedge the teeth together at a specific angle through a Y-shaped channel. Seriously! Check it out the next time you zip up your pants.

The teeth, which vary in shape depending on the manufacturer, become interconnected and form a secure bond that allow for the pieces of fabric to join together.

Cool, huh?

4 Reasons Why Zippers Fail

Okay, you’ve learned the anatomy of a zipper, so now let's dive into exactly why these revolutionary mechanisms fail, and how you can fix them.

1. The Slider Gets Stuck In The Fabric

zipper stuck in fabric

Ugh! This is my most common and most frustrating zipper issue. A little piece of fabric gets stuck in the teeth and then the slider gets stuck.

Rather than tugging harshly on the zipper to try and get the fabric unstuck, put some lubricant (vaseline, soap, etc.) on each side of the teeth where the slider is stuck. Gently work the zipper back and forth, reapplying lubricant when necessary, until it’s finally free. We’ll get more into this later.

2. The Slider Falls Off

zipper slider falls off

Through stress and strain, sometimes the zipper slider will break or fall off.

To fix it, you’ll have remove the slider complete from the entire chain with a pair of pliers. Then, you’ll need to replace the slider altogether. Contact the manufacturer for specific sizes.

3. The Teeth Don’t Close

zipper teeth dont close

Sometimes, even after your zip up, the teeth will just not stay together, which defeats the point of a zipper (and is especially embarrassing if it’s the fly on your jeans). Typically, this occurs because the teeth are worn out, or bent, which compromises the locking mechanism.

Inspect the individual teeth to ensure everything is lined up. If any of them are out of place, simply bend them back with pliers. If the problem persists, you may have to replace the slider.

4. The Pull-Tab Breaks

One issue that usually gets ignored is when the pull-tab breaks, since you can still technically operate the zipper. But, instead of trying to grasp the crown or the slider, you can use a paperclip, piece of string, or keyring to replace the pull-tab.

How Should You Take Care of Your Zippers?

Alright, we’ve covered some of the main problems that we may face with zippers and how to fix them, but you shouldn’t have to get to that crossroads if you take proper care of it in the first place.

So, instead of acting reactively, let’s figure out how to proactively prevent these issues from occurring (especially when it comes to your expensive tent).

1. Keep Your Zippers CLEAN!

Even a speck of dirt here and there can ruin your whole zipper. Therefore, you should do a thorough cleaning of ALL the zippers on your tent once you get back from the campsite (you can do this while at the same time you clean your tent).

Wash the zippers with warm water and gentle soap to free up any dirt and grime that is caked between the teeth.

Scrub with caution using a washcloth, and rinse them thoroughly to get rid of any soap residue. Then leave the tent out to dry.

Camper's Tip: If you are in a pinch, try using canned air (like the one you use to clean keyboards) to clean the teeth and the slider.

2. Lubricate Your Zippers

After you cleaned the zipper, you’ll want to lubricate it to maintain a smooth slide. Lubrication allows for the slider to more easily interlock the teeth, which will allow you to avoid the potential issues that we talked about earlier.

Here are some common household items you can use to lubricate your zippers:

  • Candle: Rub a white candle up and down each set of teeth. Move the slider up and down to spread out all the wax evenly. Then, wipe off any excess with a paper towel or cloth.
  • Lip Balm: If you’ve got a spare stick of lip balm hanging around, use it to care for your zipper. Follow the same method as the candle.
  • Olive Oil: Place a few drops of olive oil inside the slide (not too much to make a mess), and then work the slider up and down the teeth to spread the oil across the chain. Wipe off any excess.
  • check
    Pencil: For more sensitive zippers, you may want to try using a graphite pencil. Simply rub the graphite up and down the teeth, and it acts as a lubricant for the slider. Crayons work in a similar fashion.
  • check
    Windex: Not only used for cleaning your windows and mirrors, Windex acts as a great lubricant for zippers. You can spray the zipper, and fabric around it, with the cleaning solution, and work the slider up and down the teeth gently. Be careful not to use this method on any fabrics that you may deem sensitive, as discoloration and wear may occur.

Or just use a professional industrial lubricants like Mcnett Corp Zipper Lubricant.

3. Take a Deep Breath and Handle With Care

Finally, remember that zippers on most outdoor products are made of plastic, and not the top-of-the-line kind. Don’t turn into The Hulk everytime you enter and exit your tent. Only grab the pull tab to use zippers.

If the slider gets snagged on the fabric, take a deep breath. Patience and finesse will get it free, not destruction. 

Your Turn

Whether it’s your $50 jacket or $500 tent, caring for your zippers is extremely important to ensure the life of your possessions. Remember to thoroughly clean them, lubricate them, and treat them gently. Hopefully, you’ve learned some valuable tips and tricks to fix some of your zipper quipples.

As we always say at ICOC, camp on - or in this case - zip up!

Jay toes the line between hiking enthusiast and vagabond as he treks across the world, soaking in it’s natural wonders. When he’s not exploring the trail, he writes articles to help guide others through their outdoor conquests.

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