Discovering that you’re suddenly in a situation that requires replacing a zipper always happens at the worst time possible. It usually seems to happen when you’re rushing out the door and already late for work or trying to get your child to school.
Pull too hard on a miss-aligned slide or fill your zipped bag too full — and POP! — the teeth separate, and your zipper breaks! Sometimes, the slider will jump the teeth, but in a worst-case scenario, it will pull one or more of the teeth entirely off the path. So, knowledge of zipper repair, zipper replacement, or even just temporarily fixing a broken zipper pull may save you time, trouble, and a lot of embarrassment.
In all but the most severe cases, your zipper can usually be satisfactory, if not wholly, repaired. The time and effort you decide to put into this repair are up to you. But, it’s often impractical to throw away an article of clothing, a tent, or an heirloom jacket. Especially, when the cost of repairing or replacing a zipper is so affordable. You’ll need to determine if you can fix that broken zipper and then learn how. Believe it or not, replacing a zipper is easier than you thought.
Before learning how to repair or replace your zipper, you’ll need to know the right terms for all parts of this ingenious device. In this article, we’ll also refer to the “slide,” which is the part of the zipper that opens and closes it. We’ll use the term “pull,” which is the handle on the slide you use to zip it up and down.
One crucial thing to look for is any missing “teeth,” which are the individual units that come together to lock and unlock the zipper. Another important term is the “path.” This term refers to the strip of cloth that the teeth are attached to that you sew to the garment.
Finally, you have the “bumper.” This is the square part below the teeth where you insert the “pin” that holds the two sides together and aligns the teeth before you begin the actual zipping process.
Put them all together, and you have what is called the “zipper.” It’s also known as the “interlocking and separating clasp fastener,” which is the official, generic name for a zipper. We bet you had no idea that simple zippers were so complicated.
Can You Repair It or Will You Need to Replace It?
When you have a broken zipper on your favorite shirt or skirt, it can be easy to fix. First, you’ll need to figure out how badly it’s broken and determine if you can fix it. Is the zipper broken, or is just stuck? Did the slider come off? Have the teeth been damaged or are they just crossed up? The most important factor to check is if any teeth are missing. If so, replacing a zipper might be your only option.
Fixing zipper pulls
Zipper pulls can be easy to repair. If it’s an emergency, and you need to fix it on the spot, you can put a piece of yarn or string through the hole where it used to be. You can even use a twist tie in an emergency. As long as you can grab it and pull it, you’re in business. For a permanent fix, you can get a new pull at a fabric store or craft store and replace the entire slider as in the directions below.
Has the slider come off?
What is most likely to happen is that the slide comes right off the top of the zipper. Getting it back on is also pretty simple. If the teeth are still closed, put the slide back on at the top of the zipper. Once you slip it back on the teeth, it should work just fine.
To keep it from coming off again, you can either replace the metal stop or make stitches using heavy-duty thread above the last tooth to keep the slide from slipping off. That should fix it.
Fixing a gap in the slider
If the teeth are all still there, you may just need to close the gap on the slider, so that it grips the teeth correctly. The slider is usually made of one piece of metal or plastic. They’re designed to have a gap where the teeth enter and are forced together so that they lock and unlock. If this gap is too wide because of wear and use, it won’t work correctly.
If that’s the problem, get a pair of pliers and squeeze the gap closer together. Don’t bend it too much, or it won’t work. You may have to pull the zipper up and down roughly to get it to work again. Rubbing a bar of soap on it will make it slide easier. However, don’t use oil, or you might stain the fabric.
Replacing a zipper slider
If the slider is broken or lost, you’ll have to replace it. If broken, measure it to make sure it will fit your existing zipper. Sometimes, you can find a size on the slide that you can use to get a perfect match. If you have an old coat or suitcase that needs a fixed slider, it’s cheaper to go to a second-hand store and purchase an item with a similar zipper on it. You can use the slider from the charity shop purchase.
Replacing the slider is easy. First, take off the new slider by cutting the zipper in half and just sliding it off. Pry it open slightly with a screwdriver, so it fits over the old zipper. Make sure you put it on the same side as the bumper. Pull it all the way down to the bumper. Close it back with pliers until it’s firm and grabs the teeth. You might have to open and close it a few times until it fits right and slides easily. Rub the zipper teeth with bar soap to make it slider easier.
Repairing partial zippers
Some zippers don’t come apart at the bottom. You can find these on pants, gym bags, and similar items. They are actually easier to fix than those that separate at the top and bottom.
If it’s broke at the bottom, you can fix it by just adding stitches with heavy-duty thread below the last working teeth. That will keep the slider from coming off and the zipper from popping open. However, if it’s broken too high up, you can’t fix it. You’ll need to replace the zipper.
Now, replacing a zipper might seem a little complicated, but there may be no way around it. If you think this is more than you can handle, you might want to let a professional do it. But, if you’re willing to be patient and learn the steps, you’ll find it’s more straightforward than it appears at first.
Finding the right zipper replacement
For this article, we’ll show you how to replace the biggest zippers you can break — the zipper on a jacket. First, make sure you have a zipper that is both heavy enough and long enough for the replacement. If you can’t find one the exact length, one that is slightly longer will still work.
If you’re purchasing an old item from a thrift store to reuse the zipper, take the time to zip it up and down a few times before buying it to make sure it works well. You don’t want to find out that the reason it was at a thrift store was that the zipper broke.
If you’re purchasing a new zipper from a fabric or craft store, make sure you’re getting the right length and durability for the item you’re repairing.
Take pictures before starting
Any time you repair an old garment, take some pictures of it before you start. Especially if it’s a cherished heirloom that you can’t replace. Often, you’ll get halfway through a project and forget where everything fits or how it should look when you’re finished. This is particularly true if you’re interrupted in the middle of the task. Use your smartphone to take plenty of pictures when you take it apart, so you’ll know where all the parts go when you put it back together.
Rip the old stitches
Take the stitches out of the old, broken zipper path with a seam ripper. Don’t ever use a razor blade or knife, because you can slip and ruin your garment. A seam ripper doesn’t cost that much and actually makes this job much easier.
Start by slowly cutting the stitches just below the zipper. There is no rush, and the old saying, “haste makes waste,” applies here. Remove the stitching on both sides of the old zipper. The zipper path cloth is usually folded under at the top to keep it from showing.
Pin the replacement zipper to your garment
Once you’ve taken out the entire zipper, remove all the loose thread to start with a clean surface. You’ll find a lint roller is very useful for this step. Lay the jacket down on your work table and put the new zipper in place while making sure it is facing the correct way out. The new slide should go on the outside. If you had to buy a zipper that was longer than you needed, this is the time to solve this problem. Simply fold the extra material at the top of the garment.
Put pins in every inch or so to help hold the zipper in place while you align it properly. They will also help keep it in place while you’re sewing it. Double check the jacket lining to make sure it also lines up correctly while pinning in the zipper.
Once you have pinned the entire zipper, check your work carefully before you start sewing it in place. Another old saying applies here: “Measure twice, cut once!” Once you’re satisfied with your results, you’re ready to sew.
Sewing the replacement zipper
This is not a job for hand sewing. You should use a sewing machine with a quality zipper foot, a denim-weight needle, and very heavy thread for replacing a zipper on a jacket. When you start sewing, be sure to “back stitch” to ensure that it all stays in place. That means run the sewing machine back and forth a few times to keep the thread from unraveling.
Stay on track
Starting at the bottom, try to follow the same stitching path of the old zipper you’ve just removed. On any heavyweight jacket, it should be easy to see the old sewing holes. The heavier the coat, the easier it is to find the holes. On thinner material, you may have to look harder for them. This can be quite difficult with some lightweight cloth. Now, aren’t you lucky you took all those pictures?
Hold the fabric as tightly as possible to avoid wrinkles and puckers when you sew. When you get to the top of the zipper, the material may be thicker because of collar material or folded-over fabric. The thickness of the material may make it harder to sew. In this case, sew very slowly or hand-walk the machine, so you don’t drop any stitches or break your needle. Usually, just one row of stitches will keep your new zipper in place.
If you have a zipper longer than you need, you can also fix it by cutting it off rather than tucking it in. In this case, it may be necessary to overstitch the slide above the last useful tooth to keep the slide from sliding off. You can either hand-sew this or set your stitch width as wide as possible and your stitch length to zero, so your needle doesn’t move forward. Now, simply stitch across the zipper path until you’re sure the slide can’t come off.
See! It’s easy to replace a zipper. It might just take a little time and patience.
Easy, Practical, and Economical
Use your best judgment when repairing or replacing a zipper. In some cases, repairing or replacing a zipper will be easier than it is in others. However, once you understand the way zippers work, it will be much easier to do either.
Fixing a broken zipper could save items and garments with sentimental value when you just can’t face throwing them away. And considering how quickly kids grow out of their clothes and the cost involved, why throw away something that still fits when replacing a zipper will make it last just a bit longer?
Just remember to be patient and take your time learning this new skill. The time spent will be repaid in the long run when you discover you that replacing a zipper, or even just repairing it, will give new life to your favorite clothes!