Eugene writes a variety of articles on topics including health, technology, STEM, travel, cooking, home and garden.
History of the Zipper
The zipper or zip dates from the late 19th century when Whitcomb L. Judson, an American machine salesman, set up the Universal Fastener Company to manufacture the device.
It first made its appearance at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The original invention had some flaws, but after several improvements over the decades, the zipper as we know it today came into use. It was originally used as a fastener for boots and leather tobacco pouches but eventually became more widely used as a replacement fastener for buttons.
How Does a Zip Work?
Coils or ladders of teeth are fixed onto strips of textile called tapes. As a slider is pulled up along the rows of teeth, it pulls them together and meshes them. Teeth can be made of plastics (typically polyester) wound as a continuous spiral or metals such as brass or nickel for heavy-duty clothing like jeans. Metal teeth are usually preshaped pieces, crimped onto the side tapes.
Parts of a Zip
- Top tape end
- Top stop
- Spiral width
- Bottom stop
- Bottom tape end
- Single tape width
What Can Go Wrong With a Zip?
- The top or bottom stops can wear away or break off or the tapes can fray so that the slider comes off.
- The pin can tear away from the tape so that it can't be easily inserted into the box.
- The spoon-shaped teeth can get filled with fluff so that they don't mesh properly.
- Sticky grime and gunge can build up on the teeth, causing the slider to jam.
- The slider can distort in shape so that it doesn't align the two sides of the tape, preventing proper meshing.
How to Fix the Stops
Sometimes tapes can fray or tear or the stops can pull off. If you can push a tape back into the split in a stop, and the stop is made of metal, try squeezing it tight with pliers and this may hold it securely again. Alternatively, the simplest solution is to just use a needle and thread to sew a "blob" of multiple threads at the end of the tape. This acts as a replacement stop to prevent the slider from coming off.
If the pin is coming off a tape, you can try sewing several loops of thread around it and through the tape along its length.
What to Do When a Zip Jams?
Here are a few things you can try to fix a jammed up zip.
1. Lubricate the Zip
If a zip sticks, it can be because gunge has accumulated on the teeth which doesn't come off when you wash clothes. Also, teeth can roughen with wear so they no longer slide over each other as easily and mesh smoothly. You can try lubricating to prevent sticking.
- Use a pencil. Pencil lead is made of graphite which is a lubricant. Try running the pencil up and down the edge of the teeth a couple of times.
- Use silicone furniture polish. This also acts as a lubricant (good too for unsticking curtain poles, so rings/loops slide free). Spray it on both tapes and run the slider up and down a few times to work it into the teeth.
- Use soap. Slide the bar up and down the teeth, then slide the slider up and down to spread the soap over the teeth surfaces.
2. Cleaning Clogged Up Teeth
Try using an old toothbrush to clean the teeth to remove any fluff that has accumulated. Teeth differ somewhat in shape, but sometimes have bumps and "spoon" shaped sections that fit into each other. Grime can accumulate in the spoons, stopping teeth from meshing. If a few teeth don't mesh, it can cause all the teeth along the tape to eventually open up.
3. Squeeze the Slider
If you tug hard on the slider in frustration when a zip jams, it can distort it and open up the slots in the sides and this may prevent it from meshing the teeth. Try squeezing the slider with pliers to narrow the slots. If you overdo it, open the slot back up again by twisting a wide blade screwdriver in the opening.
What Do I Do if the Slider Breaks?
Occasionally the slider can disintegrate and fall apart. The good news is that often a slider similar in size will work as a replacement. When I'm discarding clothes, I keep the sliders (or even entire zips) to use as replacements if the zip breaks or tears.
To replace a slider, remove the old one by splitting it using a screwdriver to twist the slot open. Next splay the two halves of the new slider slightly, just enough to push it onto the teeth on one half of the zip. Then squeeze the slot gently so that it's the same width as the slot on the other side and the slider doesn't fall off.
What to Do if the Puller Breaks
A quick, simple solution is a short black cable tie, looped and fastened through the slider!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Eugene Brennan
Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on January 02, 2021:
Thanks for the comment. We in Ireland call them zips and anoraks too, although anorak was more a term for a synthetic padded jacket with cuffs and hood and I haven't heard it for decades (Might have to change the title from "zip" to "zipper" for a US audience!).
GwennyOh on January 02, 2021:
Aah, valuable tips. I don't wear many items that have zipper closure (zippers are what they are called here in Canada). I was born in England, so it's odd that seeing someone calling them zips, as I used to when in England, seems strange now.
Anyway, thanks for the time-saving tips. With heavy winter coats (parkas), they will certainly come in handy at some point. I remember, by the way, that in England we used to call winter coats anoraks. It is interesting that both terms, parka and anorak, are Inuit.