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How to Clean and Repair Tent Zippers

4 min read 0 Comments

Tent maintenance is a must. Whether a canvas tent or a backpacking tent, taking care of your tent’s fabric, zippers, poles and more can make it last generations. Not to mention, maintenance ensures you stay protected whenever you venture outdoors.

The Importance of Cleaning a Tent Zipper

Tent zippers are a fairly delicate mechanism that can easily malfunction if you’re not careful. Fabric snags, misaligned teeth, and even losing the pull somewhere along your journey, from your camp gear storage to the campsite, can ruin a camping excursion. Ultimately, it could mean leaving doors and windows wide open, inviting in bugs and failing to prevent the elements like rain, dust and more from entering your tent.

So, whether you’re a new camper or an avid one, learning how to repair tent zippers is important. And we’ll show you exactly how in a few easy steps.

camping tent window zipper

How to Repair a Tent Zipper

Determine the zipper problem first and make the necessary repairs. Of course, out in the wild, you may lack the necessary tools, so we’ll offer some quick-fix solutions to do the trick until you get your tent back home.

Stuck on Dirt or Fabric

Make sure the zipper is not simply stuck on dirt or fabric. Clean it, and, of course, if it’s snagged fabric, don’t attempt to jerk the fabric free – it can tear thinner tent materials! Instead, wiggle the cloth from the track gently. If you need to use pliers, do so without breaking surrounding teeth.

Missing Zipper Pull

Imagine going to crawl inside your tent only to find the zipper pull totally missing. If this happens, a temporary fix is to thread an object like a safety pin, paperclip, or zip-tie through the remaining slider. But just remember that you’ll want to replace the pull or, if necessary, a new slider.

Bent Teeth

Another reason for tent zipper snags is bent teeth along the track. Repairing bent teeth with take the strong grip of pliers. These are typically found on a multi-tool – a handy repair tool to keep around. Taking the pliers and opening the zipper, straighten any bent teeth delicately until you can glide the zipper over them again.

Missing or Broken Teeth

If you go to straighten bent teeth and find a few gaps or broken teeth, this is another issue entirely. You may have to replace the entire tent zipper.

For outdoorsy folk who can sew on the fly, you can simply replace it with a new zipper. However, you could have it professionally replaced and sewn. In fact, broken teeth could eventually turn into missing or broken teeth, which can compromise tent zippers, so it might be a good idea to go ahead and replace the slider.

Broken Tent Zipper Slider

Lastly, your tent zipper slider could just need replacing altogether. Replacing a zipper slider depends on the style of tent you have. For a general overview of the steps on how to install a new zipper slider, GearAid offers an extremely detailed breakdown.

Luckily, Life inTents canvas tents are designed with durable SBS zippers throughout, from windows to doorways.

Quick Fix Solutions

If your tent zipper snags or stops working mid-camping trip – don’t fret! There’s an easy way to repair tent zippers while in the wilderness. Even if it’s a temporary fix, it’s enough to ensure no bugs, pests, or critters are getting inside your tent.

Perfect for camping trips, the travel-friendly and compact Gear Aid zipper lubricant will have your zipper gliding in no time. Vaseline works in a pinch, but be careful not to leave behind residue that could stain the tent fabric.

If you need more than the lubricant, a nice alternative to Gear Aid is this Zipper Rescue Repair Kit.

A word of caution: As tempting as it may be to grease up your zipper with wax (such as lip balm or chapstick), it could have unintended side effects. Since these types of wax are often scented, and you’re in the wilderness, it could attract bugs and the like.

Basic Tent Zipper Maintenance

canvas bell tent mesh window with tent zipper

Again, a little maintenance goes a long way in preserving your tent. Cleaning the canvas and other materials is a good initial step, but remember to address the smaller pieces, like the tent zippers. Below are a few basic steps to maintain tent zippers:

Don’t Strain Your Zipper

While a tent is meant to take on a rugged environment, remember the zipper mechanism. How tightly you stake your tent, as well as how tightly you stretch the walls around the tent zipper, then make the fabric tauter than necessary, overextending your zipper by pulling away the teeth and making it less functional.

Clean Your Tent Zipper

Make sure to remove debris that gets your tent zipper stuck in the first place. Dirt, grit and sand from the campsite can all-to-easily wind up in the teeth grooves and post ends, which can jam up a satisfyingly smooth zip.

Also, beach camping is wonderful, but the salt accompanying it (from the air and water) can corrode metal zipper teeth in time. So whenever you return from such a trip, flush the zipper with clean freshwater as soon as you can and let it dry.

Grease Your Tent Zipper

Once your zipper is clean of debris and completely dry, you’ll want to give it a good greasing.

You can do this with your Gear Aid lubricant (mentioned above), but we recommend rubbing in some WD-40 Silicone Lubricant for extra measure. A nice eco-friendly lubricant substitute is the Gear Hugger.

Most importantly, when greasing your tent zipper, take extra caution to avoid touching the tent fabric. For safe measure, apply the lubricant with a Q-tip and then wipe away with a damp cloth, ensuring the lubricant does not stain the tent.

Quality Tent Zippers

green tent zipper

Investing in a quality tent with durable features will ensure a comfortable, stress-free camping experience. One that doesn’t require rigging a tent zipper slider in the middle of the night when you can’t locate the pull (or whatever other issues arise).

Life inTents canvas bell tents and the Scout About offer extra-durable SBS zippers that will stand the test of time and last generations. 

And if you hit a snag (literally), you can always reach out to LIT for help.

Brette DeVore
Brette DeVore

As a former hospitality interior designer with an adventurous spirit and love for travel, I now help interior designers and tourism-related businesses in creating online content and media.

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