This has happened to me at least half a dozen times before but I never found a really great solution so this time when it happened I thought to ask here.

If I've stayed in one place for a while or been between trips for a while, my backpack and daypack get little attention in storage. Several times when I've next used them I've found that one or more zippers have seized shut. This happens especially if the backpacked was sweaty or damp when stored or when stored in salty air near the sea.

About half the time no matter how gentle I'm trying to be I end up breaking off at least the tab of the zipper. A few times I ended up breaking the whole zipper. And the rest of the time I manage to free it up without breaking anything.

Metal zippers tend to be made of cheap die-cast "pot metal" which is not very strong but can become brittle with corrosion.

I know I've tried penetrating oil like WD-40 and I've tried soap. I can't remember what else I've tried but they all seemed a bit hit-or-miss. Sometimes gently forcing it a tiny bit one when then the other and gradually increasing the movement works, but sometimes this ends up in breakage.

Is there a known product or technique that's much more likely to work most of the time?

  • My answer is general, but are you thinking of plastic teeth, metal teeth, or both? Plastic teeth are less prone to corrosion but can absorb some fluids and swell. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 9:11
  • @ChrisH-UK Probably both. I'll check my daypack that it happened to last week. Sometimes I suspect the teeth are enamelled and seem like plastic but aren't? Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 9:14
  • 2
    Most if not all of my backpack zips have plastic teeth. Some are old and good quality, others newer and variable quality. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 9:16
  • 1
    For alternative solutions, check or ask on Lifehacks Stack Exchange. Or on The Great Outdoors Stack Exchange.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 9:43

1 Answer 1


As a preventative measure, candlewax is good (not beeswax but the common paraffîn wax). You can simply rub a cheap candle all over the zip teeth. Also check for loose threads getting in there - they're not your main problem by the sound of things but anything that can increase friction is to be avoided.

It's not so good as a cure, because it doesn't penetrate. You can still put it on the accessible parts, and it will help if with gentle jiggling you can get some movement.

If you suspect it's stuck, try avoiding the tab - where it attaches is a weak point. Instead try to push the whole zip pull (the part that slides along the teeth). Starting at the end or with two pulls together, you can often use leverage (like a screwdriver). This might be a good time to try a drop of oil. Personally I'd use bike chain lube. The sort with PTFE should have a preventative effect too.

If dust is likely, try to remove it, with a brush, vacuum cleaner, or (especially inside the pull) compressed air. This can be done before or after storage. You can get cans of compressed air for cleaning cameras etc. If salt is likely, whether from seawater or sweat, rinse and dry before putting away)

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