Plus, experts share what to do if your zipper needs to be replaced altogether.
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The term "zipper," named for the sound it makes, doesn't seem an appropriate moniker when the fastener gets stuck. The most common reason for a jammed zipper is that the interior lining of the garment becomes trapped between the slider (the mechanism that runs up and down) and the teeth. As for what to do when this happens, or if the zipper is broken altogether? Follow these expert-approved steps to resolve these common problems in a snap.

zipping up grey sweatshirt
Credit: AntonioGuillem / Getty Images

How to Fix a Stuck Zipper

The first step to troubleshoot a stuck zipper is to check and see how it may have gotten caught on fabric, says Amy Latta, a bestselling author and the founder of the Amy Latta Creations crafting blog. "You can usually grab the fabric that's still on the outside and gently, but firmly tug it to release the trapped part," she says. "If that's not the problem, the best solution is to try a lubricant to get the zipper pull moving again."

The most effective solution is to push the slider down again when your zipper is stuck and use household objects, like a bit of bar soap, clear lip balm, or the point of a graphite pencil (all can act as lubricants), says Mike Roussell, owner of The Tailor Shop in Stowe, Vt.

Here are Roussell's best tips to fix a stuck zipper:

  1. Use one hand to keep a firm grip on the material stuck in the zipper and the other to hold the slider.
  2. Work it down one tooth at a time, resetting your grip on the material and tucking it out of the way as needed. 
  3. Apply one of the aforementioned lubricants to the zipper as needed during this process.

How to Fix a Zipper That's Misaligned

If the zipper's teeth are no longer aligned, follow these steps:

  1. First close the zipper; you may have to tug a bit.
  2. Remove the metal "stops" at the top of the zipper using pliers, and take off the slide.
  3. Now you can realign the teeth manually.
  4. Put the slide back on, and reattach the top stops.

How to Fix a Broken Zipper

If you're not able to fix the problem with the above tips, it is likely broken, and part or all of the zipper may need to be replaced. "If a particular tooth (or several) on the zipper is bent or misaligned, it can cause the whole thing not to function," says Latta.

To repair a broken zipper, take a pair of slim needle nose pliers and gently straighten the tooth back into the correct position, says Latta. "If the broken part of the zipper is the pull, you can use a paper clip or a key ring in its place," she adds. 

Preventing a Broken Zipper

In the future, when preparing clothes for the washer, remove hardware like pins, buckles, close snaps, and zippers, to prevent snags and abrasion. Also keep a stick of Zipper Ease Lubricant handy, recommends Claudia Kaneb, the former wardrobe supervisor for NBC's Today show. She keeps this in her kit and runs it over metal zippers every time garments are dry-cleaned or every few times they're washed. "If you're pulling too hard on the zipper, you're dragging on it, and before you know it you're missing teeth," she says.

How to Replace a Zipper

The best alternatives for a zipper are velcro, snaps, and buttons. These are great closures to use for anything from clothing to bags, says Latta.

Here are Latta's tips on how to replace a zipper with a new closure:  

  1. Remove the zipper from the garment. 
  2. Turn the item inside out to reveal the back of the zipper and the stitching that's holding it in place. 
  3. Take a seam ripper and remove the stitches until the zipper is separated from the fabric on both sides. 
  4. Either sew in a new zipper or one of the aforementioned alternatives. 
  5. For velcro, sew the strips in place where the zipper used to be. 
  6. "If you choose to add buttons, you'll need to choose how many you'd like to use, space them out evenly, and use a sewing machine to create button holes on one side of the garment," says Latta. Hand sew the buttons themselves onto the other side.

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