Backpack Zipper Stuck? Here Are 4 Working Fixes You Can Try.

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Camper zipping up an unstuck tent zipper

Last Updated On December 7, 2020

Backpack Zipper Stuck? Here Are 4 Working Fixes You Can Try.


Backpacks are supposed to keep your valuables safe during a hike. But what happens when the zipper gets stuck? If you can’t open your backpack, you cannot access the very valuables you need for your trip. But if you try to force the zipper open, you could destroy it, making it all but impossible to close the backpack. Fortunately, there are ways to fix a stuck backpack zipper without ruining it, including:

1. The ‘Tweezers and Safety Pins’ Method

Safety Pins and Tweezers Safety Kit

In many cases, a zipper refuses to move because its teeth are caught in the surrounding fabric. If you force the zipper to move, you ran the risk of tearing the material in question, which isn’t a good idea. This is where tweezers and safety pins enter the picture.

Items Required

  • Safety pins
  • Tweezers
  • A deft hand

Method

  • Check the area surrounding the zipper to find the section of fabric in which the teeth are caught. This process isn’t that difficult. The material where the teeth are snagged should be folded.
  • Once you locate the snagged fabric, start pulling the zipper. Use small, gentle movements. Sometimes, this is all it takes to free the zipper. If it doesn’t work, you can use the tweezers.
  • The easiest way to free the teeth is to pull the fabric away from the zipper. But in many cases, the fingers are too big to grab the fabric surrounding the zipper. This is why tweezers are so popular. You can use them to catch and then tag the material out from under the zipper’s teeth.
  • If the zipper isn’t cutting it, use a safety pin (or any other sharp object) to push the fabric free of the zipper’s teeth. Do this gently. Otherwise, you will damage the fabric.

2. The Pencil Technique

Pencil and sharpener method zipper unstick

The pencil method is more attractive than the tweezers and safety pin approach because it is less likely to damage the fabric. However, if you fail to apply moderation, the pencil method can introduce a whole new obstruction to the zipper.

Items Required

  • Pencil
  • Sharpener

Method

  • Get a pencil and sharpen it. Pencils use graphite to write. People do not realize that the material is a dry lubricant.
  • Hold the zipper with one hand. Use the other hand to rub the tip of the pencil against the teeth of the zipper. Do this until the teeth are covered in graphite. Depending on the zipper’s size, you might have to sharpen the pencil to expose more graphite from time to time.
  • Once the teeth are covered in graphite, pull the zipper gently. The graphite will lubricate the teeth, unsticking the zipper and allowing it to move.
  • If the zipper refuses to move, add more graphite before trying again.
  • If you put too much graphite, it could jam the teeth. This is why you have to be careful with the amount.

3. The Lubricant Option

WD 40 Lubricant for Unstick zipper method

The pencil method uses an indirect means of lubricating the zipper’s teeth. If the methods above have failed to yield results, you should consider applying a more potent lubricant.

Items Required

  • Lubricant (soap, Windex, chapstick, petroleum jelly, crayons, etc.).
  • Cotton Swabs

Method

  • Find a lubricant and apply it to the teeth of the zipper. Unlike the pencil lead, you don’t have to worry about the lubricant jamming the zipper. You are encouraged to apply as much as possible.
  • As you apply the lubricant, pull the zipper up and down (or back and forth, depending on your position). The goal here isn’t necessarily to unstick it, though this can also happen. Rather, moving the zipper during this stage will allow the lubricant to invade every section of the zipper’s teeth. This will make the substance more effective in the long run.
  • Cotton swabs will come in handy where oil lubricants like petroleum jelly are concerned. You can work without them. However, they make less of a mess.
  • Once you are satisfied with the amount of lubricant you have applied, pull the zipper gently in either direction. It should move.

4. Replacing the Zipper

Blue zippers you may need to buy

If the slider breaks, your only option is to replace it. Fortunately, this isn’t all that difficult. The easiest option is to buy a zipper replacement kit. It has everything you might require to replace your zipper. If the kit isn’t an option, you can take the manual approach.

Items Required

  • Slider
  • Pliers

Method

  • Get your backpack and move the slider to the end of the zipper. Use the zippers to detach it. Do this gently. Pliers are powerful. You could deform the slider in the process, making it harder, if not impossible, to remove.
  • Once the old slider is off, attach the new slider. It will only move smoothly if you align it with the zipper’s teeth.
  • Once you are satisfied with your work, push the teeth close. At this point, your zipper is ready to go.

Reasons Zippers Get Stuck

Zipper stuck on green olive jacket

Zippers are more delicate than their appearance suggests. Even those zippers that are made from strong materials can come apart at the most inopportune moments. Some common malfunctions that your zippers will encounter down the line include:

A Stuck Zipper

Every person with a backpack has encountered a stuck zipper at some point. This is where you pull the zipper, and it refuses to move in either direction. It doesn’t matter much how much force you apply. The zipper will resist your efforts to move it because its teeth have either become tangled in the fabric or they have jammed on an obstruction.

The easiest way to overcome a stuck zipper is to lubricate the teeth. If you attempt to move a stuck zipper with sheer force, you will either tear the fabric or break the slider.

Corroding Teeth

Your zipper’s ability to move smoothly is dependent on the condition of the teeth. If the teeth erode due to their exposure to substances such as water (or even salty air), the resulting rust or corrosion will cause them to stick.

The corrosion can be removed with products like vinegar, but only if you identify the problem early if you allow the corrosion to consume the zipper’s teeth completely.

Some manufacturers avoid this problem altogether by using plastic or stainless steel zippers that are not susceptible to corrosion.

Clenched/Misshapen Teeth

As was noted above, your zipper’s operations depend heavily on the teeth. For that reason, if the teeth are no longer straight, the zipper will get stuck because the slider cannot move smoothly over them.

The solution will depend on the exact nature of the problem. If the teeth can be straightened, use pliers to fix them. If the fabric is to blame, pull it out from within the teeth or under the slider. If the slider isn’t clenched tightly enough around the teeth, use pliers to compress it. Do this gently. If you clench the slider too tightly around the teeth, it won’t move.

Pulled the Zipper Out

If you tag hard enough, you may eventually pull the zipper out. This sounds like the worst of problems, but it is one of the easiest to solve. Get a tool such as a clip or a pin and slide it into the hole of the pull. It will resolve this issue in an emergency.

Broken Slider

If you break the slider off, you have no choice but to replace it. You can use a zipper replacement kit, or you can install a new slider using pliers. If you lack the experience and don’t trust yourself to replace the slider successfully, there are plenty of stores that can accomplish this task for a small fee.

Dirt and Debris

Hiking exposes backpacks to dirt and debris. Backpacks are supposed to protect your valuables from these elements. However, once that dirt enters your zipper, it can introduce obstacles that will cause the slider to stick.

You can prevent these obstructions from causing permanent damage by removing the more significant pieces with tweezers and eliminating the smaller pieces with a brush. Don’t be afraid to wash the zipper with soap and water.

Prevent Future Obstructions

Zipper with coroded green

If you hate replacing backpack zippers or going through the trouble of unsticking them whenever they malfunction, you can use the following steps to keep them in the best possible shape:

Wash the Zippers

Keep the zippers clean. Whenever you wash your backpack, give the zippers as much attention as possible. Get a toothbrush and soapy water and scrub them. This will remove all the dirt and grime that might cause them to stick.

Use Lubrication

You don’t have to wait for a zipper to stick to apply lubrication. Use unique products such as olive oil and Windex to keep your zippers lubricated before you take your backpack out on a hike. This will reduce the chances of the zippers sticking.

Apply Moderation

Be as gentle as possible whenever you open your backpack. By pulling the zippers with excessive force, you run the risk of twisting the teeth out of alignment or causing the slider to get caught in the fabric.

Consider the Quality

The quality of your backpack matters. The best models have strong zippers made from durable material that is less likely to stick or corrode. The cheapest backpacks have poorly made zippers that keep sticking or coming apart.

Don’t Overpack

If you exceed your backpack’s capacity, you will strain the zipper, causing it to stick or break. You are also more likely to pull the teeth out of their alignment whenever you force the zipper open or closed. This is why you shouldn’t pack your bag to the point where it bulges.

Zipping Up

Long camping zipper on tents free sml

Zippers are like most things in life. They are delicate, and it doesn’t take much to ruin them. However, if you treat them well, they will serve you and your backpack for a long time.