The sign of a truly great invention is a long list of “off-label” uses. These items serve a specific purpose effectively, but can also be used in a wide variety of clever and creative ways. Things like bobby pins, or caulk.
Perhaps the item with more unadvertised uses than any other is the common zip tie. These plastic wonders were designed to help organise cables — and they do that well. But they’re also worth keeping on hand even if your cables are all locked down, because you can also use them to fix, improve, and secure so many other things in your life. Here are 15 things you can do with zip ties.
Unclog a drain
If you have a slow or completely blocked drain but you don’t possess a drain auger or snake, you can make one using zip ties. Take a long zip tie (or link a few together), and cut a series of diagonal “teeth” into the bottom length. You’ll end up with something that resembles the sort of simple, inexpensive drain snakes you can find in stores, like this one. Insert the toothy end into the drain and push it down as far as you can, then slowly pull it back up. The teeth will catch hold of your blockage and pull it up. It might take a few tries, but in a pinch it’ll get your water draining again.
Make a quick car repair
You have probably seen something like this as you move through the world: A car bumper held in place by several zip ties. This works remarkably well for a temporary fix after a minor accident. You wouldn’t want to drive around for too long with your vehicle held together by a bunch of thin plastic ties, but it’ll get your car home without having to load your bumper into the trunk.
Actually, quick repair anything
Zip ties are very useful for fixing things up when you don’t have time to do a full-on repair. They can be used to extend all kinds of connections — like a sun shade on a deck that doesn’t quite reach the corners. They can also be used to repair chain link, chicken wire, or other kinds of fencing by mending gaps and holes until you can get around to a proper replacement.
Zip ties can also be very useful when you’re gluing things together. You’re often instructed to clamp the two sides together for a time to ensure a proper bond, but this can be difficult with oddly-shaped items you’re repairing. Zip ties can be cinched very tight around the repair to provide clamping action without the clamp.
Organise your keys
Need to organise your keys in a hurry? Zip ties make strong, reliable key rings. Simply slip the keys onto a tie and cinch it until it forms a loose ring. Those keys aren’t going anywhere. For extra points, use multicoloured ties to colour-code your keys.
Support plants in your garden
If you’re trying to grow plants that require some support, like sunflowers or tomatoes, zip ties provide a weatherproof way of affixing the stems to your support posts or fencing. They won’t rust or degrade and can easily be removed when it’s time to make adjustments to your garden setup.
Lock your suitcase
If you find yourself heading to the airport and you’re worried about someone getting into your checked luggage, a zip tie threaded through the zippers on your bag can provide some quick security. These won’t stop a determined thief, of course, but they will deter low-effort baggage thieves or nosy folks who might see a crime of opportunity. Plus, they will prevent your zippers from working loose and spilling your clothes all over the place.
Fix a zipper
Zippers are themselves an incredible invention, but they’re surprisingly delicate and complex. If you’ve suffered the frustration of a broken zipper pull, you can make a quick fix by threading a zip tie through the zipper mechanism itself, then snipping off the excess. And if you have a zipper on a pair of pants that won’t stay up, you can temporarily avoid embarrassment by zip tying the zipper pull to a button or belt loop.
Keep your bread fresh
Zip ties can be used to keep your anything in a plastic bag fresh and contained. If you lack a twist-tie, chip clip, or other way of holding your bags closed, a zip tie will do the job just fine in an emergency — and you can even find releasable, reusable zip ties that will spare you the waste of having to cut off your zip ties every time you make a sandwich.
Create some crampons
Did you wake up to an ice storm and walking to your car is a dangerous process of slipping and sliding? If you lack crampons or cleats for your shoes you can make a set using a few zip ties. The end result is custom-fit to your shoes and will give you surprisingly robust, if temporary, traction. They won’t last too long, but they’ll get you where you need to go without a concussion.
Remove a broken cork
A broken cork is one of life’s many annoyances — you’re looking forward to a relaxing glass of wine and instead you get a project when you need to reseal the bottle and want to get the cork out of there. Well, zip ties can rescue your evening — two ties linked together into a loop can be used to fish the cork out. This takes a bit of patience, but if you plan to finish that bottle of wine later it’s well worth it.
Make temporary snow chains
Find yourself stuck in your car because of unexpectedly icy conditions? You can make a set of ersatz tire chains using zip ties. Linking several ties together and wrapping them around your tires won’t last long — they will probably snap pretty quickly. But they can offer you just enough temporary traction to get out of a slippery trap, and are well worth keeping in your car just in case.
As emergency shoelaces
If you’re out walking or hiking and your shoelaces fail you for some reason, a zip tie can be used to cinch your footwear up tight and keep your shoes in place. While shoelace failure isn’t a common occurrence, in situations where you need to use your shoelaces for a survival-adjacent purpose while out in the wild being able to re-secure your boots with a zip tie could be a (literal) lifesaver.
Secure your cabinetry
Got a curious toddler or a surprisingly dexterous cat who keeps getting into your kitchen or bathroom cabinets? You can secure those cabinet doors while you run out to get some child safety locks by tying up the handles with a zip tie. Zip ties can also act as temporary security when you don’t need to protect your cabinets all the time but occasionally have the need — for example, when friends or family with small children visit.
As impromptu replacement shower curtain rings
Need to hang a shower curtain or window curtain but forgot to get rings? Or maybe a few rings broke, leaving the curtain gaping? Zip ties will do the job so well you might forget to replace them with the real deal.
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