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Travel Tip: How to Maintain Your Zippers

Subjecting a zipper to mud, dust, or water is just about the quickest way to destroy it, and yet they’re used on some of our most expensive and exposed equipment. Products like roof top tents and awnings are among the most vulnerable, as they’re often left on the vehicle permanently to deteriorate in the sun and rain. Add in a few days of trail use like in the photo below, and most people find themselves tugging a stuck zipper while uttering obscenities at camp. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. This travel tip will cover a few quick and easy ways to extend the life of your investment, and make setting up camp just a little bit easier.

Cleaning

If you just purchased your tent or awning and the zippers haven’t seen a lick of dust then congratulations, you’re ahead of the curve! Skip on to the next step. However if your accessories have even seen light dirt road use or have been mounted on the vehicle more than a week it’s best to begin with a good cleaning. For this we recommend starting with a tooth brush or other light bristle brush. Undo the zipper in a dry environment and run the brush over all the teeth. The goal is to remove excess dust or dirt before getting the area wet. If you have a can of compressed air, you can use it to blast off any remaining particles. Next wipe the zipper and teeth down with warm soapy water and wash away remaining residue. Dry with a clean microfiber and ensure no threads or any other debris remains.

Protecting

Now that it’s clean, your zipper will need some lubrication and resistance against the elements. There are many opinions on what method works best, but beeswax or a similar product will generally work well. I chose to purchase Zip Care for $7 on Amazon, and thus far I feel its a better solution. Read more on that below. Take whatever solution you choose and apply a thorough coat of it to the open zipper on both sides. Run the slider back and forth several times and then wipe away the excess lubricant. Repeat as necessary until the slider runs cleanly down the teeth.

Caring

Okay so the final piece of this travel tip should be common sense, but we’ve all done this while frustrated in camp. If your zipper becomes clogged or sticky during a trip, DO NOT TUG ON IT. Keep a rag or can of compressed air in the vehicle to clean out the track. Wipe it down as best you can and ease the zipper back and forth until it breaks free, then repeat the cleaning process once you’re off the trail.

Additional Recommendation

Whether you’re looking to clean your awning or just need a backup solution on the trail, I’d highly recommend purchasing a bottle of Zip-Care. It was well worth the $7 I spent online, and it doesn’t even require you to clean the zipper with soapy water, making it a perfect choice for “trail-fixes”. To determine just how effective it was, I decided to try it on something other than my brand new Fox-Wing. After some searching I found another awning that had been used for several years without a cleaning. It was near failure point, which made it the perfect candidate for this test. I decided to follow the directions exactly, so no pre-wash was done with soap or water. I used the dry-brush tip to dust a section clean and then applied the solution along both sides of the teeth. After a few passes of the zipper the difference was shocking, so I made a quick video and posted it below. The quality isn’t great, but I felt seeing the results was worth a thousand words.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Managing Editor.