How to Fix a Stuck Zipper

Can't get your backpack open, or loosen the fastening on your leather jacket? Surprising solutions in your office, bath cabinet, and workbench will get your zipper to yield.

By Amy Lynch and Gretchen Heber | Updated Oct 26, 2023 4:47 PM

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Three zippers on a brown leather jacket.

Photo: istockphoto.com

The zipper keeps everything from jeans and jackets to duffel bags and lunch boxes closed tight. Still, for all its simple utility, a fastener that won’t budge has caused frustration in nearly everyone. Occasionally, an edge of fabric gets stuck, and a little jiggling and persistence can set things back on track. But sometimes a mechanical failure or an outside culprit, like rust or residue, can leave you in a jam. The good news is that there’s more than one solution for how to fix a stuck zipper, and all of them are are super simple.

The tip of a sharpened yellow pencil lead.

Photo: istockphoto.com

1. Use pencil lead to reduce friction.

This first method for unsticking a zipper is super easy, and may just do the trick: Apply the tip of a pencil to the immobilized zipper and rub.

Graphite is a fantastic dry lubricant. Rubbing a pencil over the front and back sides of the zipper’s teeth should ease the friction between the metal components and help the zipper pull glide up and down without catching.

If you’ve left behind pencil markings on the zipper, go back over the area with an eraser so the marks don’t rub off onto your hands or clothing. You can also use crayon to loosen a stuck zipper—its waxy consistency acts as a lubricant.

Bar of soap laying on black zipped sweatshirt.

Photo: D. Tobey for Bob Vila

2. Use bar soap to loosen the zipper’s teeth and prevent sticking.

Bar soap is a lubricant that can loosen up the tension between the teeth and zipper pull. All you have to do is rub a dry bar of soap on both sides of the teeth, allowing the substance to cover the affected area and make it slippery. Give the zipper pull a firm tug until it comes loose.

Next, you can use a rag or tissue to remove the soap residue or, though it sounds strange, you can leave the soap where it is because it can prevent the zipper from rusting. If you’re more of a shower gel person and don’t use bar soap, you can use other household lubricants like lip balm, petroleum jelly, coconut oil, candle wax, and even talcum powder, to pull off this zipper hack.

RELATED: How to Sew a Zipper

3. Windex and patience do the trick.

Using Windex on a sweatshirt's stuck zipper

Photo: D. Tobey for Bob Vila

Windex isn’t just great for cleaning glass in your home; it’s also useful for fixing an intractable zipper. Spray the zipper’s pull and the surrounding teeth with Windex, and wait a minute or two for the liquid to work its magic on any residue that might be causing the zipper to stick. Gently work the zipper pull back and forth along the teeth, giving it a chance to free itself.

4. Check for stuck fabric.

Often, the culprit in a stuck zipper is a piece of fabric, paper money, or other material that’s caught up in the teeth or under the slider. Use your fingers or tweezers to gently pull the fabric away from the zipper. You might have to use the zipper pull to work the slider back and forth a bit while tugging the fabric out. Attach a paper clip to the pull to give yourself a bit more surface area to grab, or use pliers to clamp onto the pull for more leverage.

5. Use WD-40 to dislodge a stuck zipper.

Using WD40 and a q-tip on a jacket's stuck zipper.

Photo: D. Tobey for Bob Vila

This hack comes with a big caveat. WD-40 works quite well on stuck zippers, but be careful applying the lithium-based grease. Spray it on a cotton swab and then brush the cotton swab against the stuck zipper. Take great care to stay away from fabric with the greasy cotton swab, and don’t spray WD-40 directly on the zipper, as you’ll likely end up with unsightly stains on the garment or bag.

RELATED: 8 Handy Substitutes for WD-40 Around the House

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to unstick a zipper, maybe it’s time to give some thought to how to avoid getting a stuck zipper. No matter how big a hurry you’re in, take your time when opening or closing them, zipping and unzipping slowly and carefully, and taking care not to pull too hard. You might also consider purchasing a preventive zipper lubricant, which you can apply every so often, such as after a few washings.