The Ultimate Guide To Preventing & Removing Salt Buildup From Zippers


The salt buildup has been one of the major enemies for zippers. You can get salt buildup from all sorts of sources. It could be from the dusty air during the summer, especially if you live near the ocean, and in winter, there is a good chance you can get salt buildup from the snowy sidewalk and even your front porch. Thus, zippers on outdoor fashion items and equipment tend to get affected more, such as those on your boots, scuba gear, raincoat, tents, outdoor bags, and many more.

If you are using plastic molded zippers, the salt buildup can clog the zipper, which can be an annoyance, especially in emergency situations. On metal zippers, however, salt buildup can cause corrosion when left untreated, and can permanently damage the parts of the zipper.

In this article, we will discuss some simple and affordable ways to prevent and remove salt buildup from zippers.


“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Avoiding salt damage will also ensure the longevity of the garment itself.

Here are some simple ways to avoid salt damage from zippers.

1. Avoid Storage of Damp Items
Storing your gear while it is still damp is the number one cause of salt damage. If you are doing this regularly, corrosion and mildew will be unavoidable on metal zippers.

Try to air dry your damp gear first by hanging or loosely folding them.

If you have compressed air gun or similar equipment, it will be a faster and more efficient way to dry your items.

For tents and other waterproof/water-resistant equipment and bags, avoid using dryers or air compression gears, as it may damage the water resistance coating. Allow them to fully air dry before storing them.

2. Regularly Rinse Your Items
There are some items we’d like to use several times before finally rinsing them. Be careful on items with zippers, as it is another common cause for salt buildups.

If they are exposed to salt, for example, if you are living or just visiting the beach, rinse and wipe down immediately.

In winter, it’s also better to rinse immediately especially for items like boots, coats, etc.

Always rinse your tents after use.


In some cases, salt buildup on zippers is unavoidable in spite of the preventive measures taken. If this happens, please follow the following tips and tricks.

Use Fresh Water

1. Open The Zipper
Seemingly obvious, this can be a problem if the zipper already got stuck from the salt buildup. In that case:

  • You can use various lubricant products suitable for zippers, silicone or wax-based products( paraffin wax, beeswax, or similar items) are preferable. You can try to find zipper-specific lubricants online, at hardware and auto part stores, and even some supermarkets.
  • You can also use a bar of soap or candle wax.
  • Avoid WD40 at all costs. It could be effective for some zippers, but most likely, you are not sure about the exact materials of the zipper. The aliphatic petroleum of the WD40 can damage certain types of rubber, plastic, steel, copper, brass, zinc, nickel, neoprene, and many other materials.
  • Avoid petroleum-based product, such as Vaseline and other greasy skincare products. They can attract dirt buildup and clog the zipper.

If necessary, you can use needle nose pliers to hold the zipper slider and try to move it up and down. Remember not to be too rough, or you may misalign, or worse, break the zipper altogether.

2. Rinse With Freshwater
You can use freshwater to help dissolve the salt, simply using tap or hose water, and scrub the zipper using a brush with small wire.

If the salt buildup is heavy, you can use non-detergent solution in a bucket of warm water, and scrub the zipper with a stiff brush or similar equipment.

Make sure you don’t damage the zipper and surrounding garment materials with the brush. Also, do not use steel wool. It is effective to remove salts, but small pieces of them can break off and cause corrosion damage.

3. Wipe The Zipper Clean
Use a clean towel to completely clean the zipper from excess water or other residues. Make sure to use a clean towel so you don’t clog the zipper further.

For a light buildup of salt, using freshwater might be enough to dissolve the salt and remove the problem. Test your zipper afterwards, is there any clogging left? Or worse, can you still see a visible buildup? If your answer is yes, we might have to move to the next step: using vinegar.

Use Vinegar

1. Rub With Vinegar
Vinegar can be used to clean a lot of household items in a cheap and effective way.

Pour white vinegar into a container, and use a soft toothbrush to rub the zipper gently. Rub both sides with the vinegar, and wash with water completely afterward.

If you don’t have vinegar lying around, you can also use cola or lemon juice.

2. Soak Overnight
Use a solution of vinegar mixed with water. White vinegar is preferable. Add a small sprinkle of baking soda to the solution, and submerge the zipper in the solution.

Try to only soak the zipper, and make sure the material surrounding the zipper won’t be damaged by vinegar. You can easily look it up on the internet, or test with similar materials. If possible, you can take off parts that are not connected to the zipper.

If the salt buildup is not too heavy, you may skip this part.

3. Wipe The Zipper Clean
Use a clean towel to completely clean the zipper from excess water or other residues. Make sure to use a clean towel so you don’t clog the zipper further.

Source: wikiHow

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