Zip ’er Up — The Zipper Tips You Never Knew You Needed

Yes, this is a blog post about zippers. Because you’ve always wanted to know more… We’ve all dealt with the pesky buggers. They tend to get stuck or break at the most inconvenient times. We open up the jacket on how this magical invention was created and give you tips for maintenance and fixes in case you ever find yourself in a pinch.

A Brief History of the Zipper

Efforts to invent something akin to the zipper were made during the 19th century but were not very popular. In 1913, Gideon Sundback designed and patented the “hookless fastener.” In the four years following he continued to work to improve the design, and in 1917 he patented the “separable fastener.” This device was the first truly successful effort to create a popularly used device to replace hooks and eyes.

As the story goes, in 1925 B.F. Goodrich used the device in their rubber galoshes. One of their employees was demonstrating the hookless fastener in a boot and said “zip er up” because that was the sound it made when being closed or opened. This is thought to be how the device began to be called a zipper.

Types of Zippers

  • Cast Tooth Zipper – This is either a metal or molded plastic zipper with individual teeth that are placed at regular intervals. The teeth can be many different sizes and vary in shape depending on the manufacturer.
  • Coil Zipper – This is the most popular kind of zipper. The interlocking part of these zippers are created by two winding coils of nylon/plastic that come together from each side to close the device.
  • Waterproof Zippers – The teeth on these zippers are coated with polyethylene and form a seal similar to a water-tight, air-tight, sealing sandwich bag. NASA helped with the development of the first of this kind of zipper. High-end outdoor companies helped create the designs used in waterproof jackets and in items like duffle bags and tents.

Zipper Parts

  • Zipper Pulls/Sliders – The molded piece that slides up and down the teeth or coil to open or close the zipper
  • Zipper Stops – The small crimped piece at the ends of the zipper that prevent the zipper pull from disengaging from the zipper teeth or coils.
  • Zipper Teeth – The interlocking part of the zipper that are on each side of the zipper and which interlock when the zipper pull aligns them into the closed position.

Zipper Repair

Zipper repair kits are available in various configurations of parts and tools. A few basic problems and potential fixes to try when your zipper is not cooperating include:

  • Caught Fabric – Often a zipper gets stuck because the fabric behind the zipper gets caught in the teeth. If this is the case be careful to very gently pull the material free from the zipper pull by tugging in the opposite direction from the place it is stuck.
  • Zipper Tooth Separation – If a zipper separates or opens behind the slider of a coil zipper, there are two common solutions. The first is to use a needle-nose pliers and to very gently squeeze the flat bottom area on each side of the pull. This should cause the pull to bring the teeth closer together during closing so that they interlock correctly. This only works once or twice in the life of a zipper pull. Warning, if you squeeze too hard, the zipper will freeze up entirely. The second way to handle zipper tooth separation, is to replace the zipper pull with another of the exact size.  This repair requires removal and replacement of the zipper stops.
  • Zipper Misalignment – In the case of a cast tooth zipper, the zipper pull needs to come off in order to get the teeth realigned.  Start by removing the zipper stops.  To remove the stops you need to pry them off with a needle nose pliers or small screwdriver or very blunt knife.  Remove the pull, realign the teeth, return the zipper pull and then replace the stops.
  • Missing Zipper Teeth or Deformed Coils – This is time to replace the zipper or the item with the bad zipper.

Many companies will also help you fix or replace a zipper under their product warranties. (Just know that if you send in a coat or bag or other item, they may sometimes end up replacing it with a new jacket vs the one you sent in and not return the broken or defective one to you. This is often considered a good thing, but if that coat is your sentimental favorite — don't be caught unaware!) 

So go on and fix that zipper on your coat from 1999. You know you kept it for a reason.