{Home} DIY: How to Fix a Broken Zipper

Once every year or two, we shop at a {name-brand} clothing clearance center where, in exchange for truly amazing deals on high-quality clothing, you occasionally have to deal with minor damages to your purchases. While it's a little more work to remove a stain, sew on a missing button, or repair an opened seam, the savings I get make it worthwhile to me.

On my latest trip, I grabbed several pairs of pants for Josh, but I didn't have time to check them thoroughly for damage before I checked out. When I got them home, we realized that the two pairs of jeans I had bought him had broken zippers. Normally, that's one thing that will make me pass up a purchase at the clearance center, but it was too late at that point. Not wanting to throw out two new, perfectly good pairs of jeans, I decided to try to replace the zippers myself. I thought I'd share a little tutorial with you in case you ever need to salvage a favorite pair of pants from the plight of the broken zipper too! It actually turned out to be easier than I expected.... So here goes.

How to Replace a Broken Zipper

You're going to need thread that matches the stitching on your jeans (they make special gold thread that is specifically marked for jeans). You're also going to need a brass jeans zipper - make sure it is as long as or longer than the old zipper. You'll also need a sturdy needle, and a sewing machine with a zipper foot.

The first order of business is to inspect the construction of the fly area of your jeans/pants. It's helpful to snap a few digital photos of the zipper for reference later when you're trying to put everything back together. Notice the placement of the zipper - you may want to make some marks with a washable fabric pen so that you see where it should go.

Just to clarify, I will be giving references based on what you're seeing in the photos, so when I say "on the left," it means on the left side of the picture, not the left side of the jeans if you're wearing them...

Okay. Now, after you've carefully inspected the construction of the zipper area, it's time to remove the old, broken zipper. Here you can see the missing teeth.... You're going to need to use a seam ripper and remove any stitching that is holding the zipper in or reinforcing the area. However, don't remove any more stitching than you have to, because, of course, you have to put it all back....

You can see below that I removed the stitching on about two inches of the waistband, the double row of reinforcement top stitching on the front of the fly, and, of course, the stitches on the actual zipper.

Once that's done, you'll see that on the left side of the jeans (if you're facing the front of them), there is an extra piece of fabric attached behind the zipper, which creates the background of the zipper when you're zipping it up (and keeps you from snagging your undies or skin in it - ouch!). When you remove the zipper, this piece will be loose in the middle, as you can see in the second picture below...

Once you've removed the old zipper, take the new one, and (making sure the pull is on the correct side), pin it in place on the "button-hole" side of the fly. This is where your markings and digital pics may come in handy. You can also use the old stitching holes as a reference. You're going to want to tuck the bottom of the zipper as deep down into the seam where the two sides meet as you can. If the zipper is too long (as mine was), no problem - you can trim it later.

Once you've gotten it pinned in place, carefully stitch it down using your zipper foot. If you're feeling ambitious, you can do a second row of stitching to reinforce the seam. Notice that you are only sewing it through the "flap" part that is on the inside of the fly. It should be folded out away from the jeans when you're stitching the zipper on, like you see below....

It should be looking something like this now...Next, you're going to reattach the waistband. If your zipper is too long, you can trim it off at the top. Don't worry if you have to cut the stop and some of the teeth off. The waistband is going to serve as the new stop anyway. Just carefully cut between the teeth.

Insert the zipper part up into the waistband, making sure all the raw edges are covered... It's a good idea to tuck the end in between the fold of the waistband end seam, like you see below. This keeps the rough edges of the top of the zipper part from sticking out in between the two sides of the waistband. (I hope this makes sense.... if you're in doubt, just study the picture below - in this case, pictures are definitely worth a thousand words.)

Once you've got it placed like you want it, carefully stitch the waistband back in place. Be sure to guide the needle slowly and carefully between the teeth of the zipper when you get to the metal part.

Once you've done this, the first side should look like this:

You can then re-do the double row of top stitching along the front of the outside of the fly. If your machine can't handle the thickness of the fabric down at the bottom, don't worry. You can finish that up with a needle and thread later...

Okay, moving on to the other side of the zipper.... the "button" side. The zipper is going to need to be sandwiched back in between the main part of the jeans and that loose flap piece in the middle, but just start by attaching it to the loose flap part. Use the needle holes from the old stitching to help you get it in place. It's also a good idea to try zipping it up once you've got it pinned to make sure it's aligned correctly with the other side.

As you can see here, it's going to be lined up about with the edge of the loose flap (I'm sure there's a technical name for this part of a garment, but I don't know it, and chances are, you don't either!). This is how it should look...

Go ahead and stitch it in place on the loose flap, then bring the "button side" of the jeans over on top of the zipper edge, and pin it in place. Once you've got it all lined up, stitch along the old seam line, like you see below...
Once that's done, you can reattach the waistband on the button side. Once again, cut the excess on the top of the zipper, avoiding the teeth, and pin everything in place. Tuck the raw edges inside one of the end folds of the waistband, so that the threads don't show.

Go ahead and stitch the waistband back in place, being careful to guide the needle through the metal teeth and avoiding the button.

Your jeans should be pretty much back together at this point. You can touch up any extra top stitching that you had to remove at this point...

And if there were any areas where the layers of fabric were too thick for your machine to handle, you can use your needle and thread to finish up the stitching. (A thimble helps push the needle through the heavy jean material.)

I also did a little whip stitch along the bottom of the fly area inside, partly to reinforce the area where the zipper meets at the bottom, and partly because having that area joined together makes it easier to put them on and zip them quickly.

Here's the finished view of the inside:


...and here's the outside. Good as new! I was really excited to learn how to do this. Josh got two new pairs of jeans out of it, and it saved me from having to pay a tailor to do it or from having to buy two more pairs of jeans. I hope you've found this helpful.... Yay for learning to DIY!

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