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

Have you ever been in a rush, put on your coat and struggled with your zipper, only to have it stuck halfway up your jacket?

Or it’s torn a hole into the surrounding material?

Now imagine the same happening with your tent…

In the rain… at night…

Yeah, that’s a mood-killer.

How to Lubricate a Zipper - HelloTrail Camping Tips

So why DO zippers fail? How does lubrication help?

Let’s look at why you should be lubricating your zippers regularly.

How Should You Take Care of Your Zippers?

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

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

Keep Your Zippers CLEAN!

Even a speck of dirt here and there can ruin your zipper.

You should do a thorough cleaning of ALL zippers on your tent once you get back from the campsite.

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

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

Lubricate Your Zippers

After you cleaned the zipper, you’ll want to lubricate it to maintain a smooth slide.

Lubrication allows the slider to interlock the teeth, allowing you to avoid the potential issues that we talked about earlier.

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

Zipper cleaner and lubricant
  • Candle:Rub a white candle along each set of teeth. Move the slider up and down to spread out the wax. 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 slider (not too much to make a mess). Then work the slider up and down the teeth to spread the oil across the chain. Wipe off any excess.
  • Pencil: For more sensitive zippers, you may want to try using a graphite pencil. Rub the graphite up and down the teeth and it will act as a lubricant for the slider. Crayons also work.
  • Windex: The same Windex you use to clean your windows and mirrors acts as an excellent 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. Be careful not to use this method on materials that you deem sensitive, as discoloration can occur.

Or use a professional industrial lubricant like Gear Aid Zipper Lubricant.

Take a Deep Breath and Handle With Care

Finally, remember that zippers on most outdoor products are made of plastic, not the top-of-the-line kind.

Don’t turn into The Hulk every time 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.

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Anatomy of a Zipper

We tend to use zippers every day but never stop to think about how they work.

In general, a zipper joins two separate pieces of fabric, but exactly how?

Let’s learn some proper terminology to find out.

Zipper terminology
  • Slider: The part of the zipper that moves up and down
  • Teeth: The stationary aspect of a zipper 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 slider from moving further
  • Pull-tab: The part of the zipper you grab when you 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 wedges the teeth together at an angle through a Y-shaped channel.

Seriously! Check it out the next time you zip up your pants.

Zipper in motion

The teeth, which vary in shape, become interconnected and allow the fabric to join together.

4 Reasons Why Zippers Fail

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

1. The Slider Gets Stuck in the Fabric

Zipper slider gets 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 on the zipper to get the fabric unstuck, put some lubricant (vaseline, soap, etc.) on each side of the teeth where the slider jams.

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

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

To fix it, you’ll have to remove the slider from the entire chain with a pair of pliers.

Then, you’ll need to replace the slider altogether. Contact the manufacturer for specific sizes.

Zipper slider falls off

3. The Teeth Do Not Close

Zipper teeth do not close

Sometimes even after you zip up, the teeth will not stay together, defeating a zipper’s purpose.

This occurs because the teeth are worn out or bent, which compromises the locking mechanism.

Inspect the individual teeth to ensure everything lines up. If any of them are out of place, bend them back with pliers.

If the problem persists, you may have to replace the slider.

4. The Pull-Tab Breaks

One issue usually ignored is when the pull-tab breaks since you can still operate the zipper.

But, instead of trying to grasp the crown or the slider, you can use a paperclip, piece of string, or key ring to replace the pull-tab.

Wrapping Zipping It Up…

Whether it’s your $50 jacket or $500 tent, caring for your zippers is vital to ensure the life of your possessions.

Remember to clean them, lubricate them, and treat them with care.

I hope you’ve learned some valuable tips and tricks to fix some of your zipper problems.

Don’t forget to… Zip Up!


  1. Liked the “Hulk” comment for the plastic zippers…
    Wish I had read your article before I broke mine.!!!!

    1. Hi Joe, glad to know you’re stronger than a zipper! 🙂 It’s crazy how easy some of them get hung up and what we end up doing to break it free. Glad you liked the article and hopefully from here on out those zippers will work like we want them to!

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