The backpack zipper is undoubtedly one of the most abused pieces of hardware anywhere. If we made a list of the most mechanically stressed things on Earth, the backpack zipper would likely be number one, followed by something like car keys and doorknobs. Anyway, the point here is that there is a good reason why backpack zippers are permanently getting damaged. Luckily, it is possible to carry out zipper repair at home.
This is an important skill to learn because you won’t always have the luxury of driving to a bag repair store to have it fixed. And what if you are out in the woods, and your trusty backpack suddenly becomes less trusty because half the zipper track is yawning open? You have to do something. An outdoor fix is better than no fix at all.
Table of Contents
First Fix: Realigning the Zipper on the Backpack
The most common cause of a misbehaving backpack zipper is a misalignment in the zipper track. The track refers to the two strips of the fabric where the zipper teeth are attached.
The zippers need to be immaculately aligned with each other to work. A single tooth out of place will cause a gap and cause the entire track to break open. The teeth are also offset to a certain angle, so small misalignments can already push the zipper to malfunction.
Below are steps that can help you bring a zipper to its normal alignment.
- The first step is to find out where the problem is occurring. Sometimes, a zipper will valiantly try to function despite gaps or misalignment.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that you keep forcing the track to function with the pull tab if there is a misalignment because the teeth will loosen, and eventually, the broken area will widen.
It is easy to spot broken spots on a zipper track. Find any bulges or bends along the way. These squeezed spots are usually indicative of a damaged or poorly aligned tooth.
- Remove the zipper pull by raising the base of the zipper track and pulling the tab until it reaches the terminal point. It should slide off easily. Do not try to excessively tug at the zipper pull, as this can damage the teeth at the end of the track. As much as possible, remove the zipper pull with one swift and smooth motion.
- With a pair of long-nosed pliers, gently remove four to five teeth from the zipper base. Remember to remove teeth from both sides of the track. No matter how gently you go about this step, the fabric will rip off.
Do not be alarmed. You will sew this part of the track later, anyway. Remember to collect any metal parts that will spring out as you remove the teeth from the track. Throw these away.
- Thread a needle with something similarly colored to the zipper track. Any thread can be used, but we recommend using one that is thick and sturdy.
- Reinsert the zipper pull, making sure that the first pair of teeth align perfectly. Everything else should follow suit. The teeth were removed to give way to the pull tab again. The purpose of this fix is to make sure that everything is aligned perfectly.
- Pull the zipper tab upward, so it secures the track and is out of the way. Begin sewing the base of the track from the bottom. Use any stitch that you know. What’s important is that the seams are sewn shut, and the stitching is super durable because it will hold the weight of the bag’s contents later. If you need to use a different thread because the fabric seems frayed, go ahead and do that.
- After finishing your stitches, be sure to tie a knot to secure the thread.
- Test the newly-repaired zipper and see if everything is now working perfectly. Remember to tuck the base of the zipper, so it’s out of sight. Your zipper should work perfectly now.
Second Fix: The Zipper Pull Keeps Getting Stuck
Nothing is more frustrating than a zipper pull that goes halfway up the track and stops for no good reason. Before you throw away your backpack in frustration, know that this is also a common problem and one that you can fix quickly.
Before trying to fix the problem, assess the situation and try to get to why the zipper won’t close. Usually, backpacks are overloaded with stuff, and the track is over-stretched.
We discussed earlier that these are precision instruments, and the teeth have to be perfectly aligned to work. The teeth’ alignment also refers to the distance that the teeth have to hook each other.
If your backpack is overfilled, there will be sections where the teeth are too far apart and won’t hook properly. Try reducing the contents of your bag and see if the zipper functions properly again.
The second possible reason why the zipper pull is getting stuck is rust or just flat-out dryness. If you are in a tropical or arid location, the track may have become too dry for the zipper pull to work.
Grab a pencil and sharpen it. Rub the pencil’s lead (which is graphite) across the track. Make sure that you rub on both sides of the way. The graphite from the pencil will act as a dry lubricant, and it just might fix the issue. If you want, you can add graphite to the entire track to condition the zipper again.
If the track is aligned and the pencil method doesn’t work, we recommend going one level higher and using WD-40 on the zipper. Make sure that the bag is empty, and wipe away the excess lubricant ASAP.
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