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How can I open a locked cable tie?

Most standard cable ties made of polyamide PA 6.6 (nylon) or stainless steel are disposable products. This holds true too for the plastic cable ties in the current qbendo assortment. If you would like to use the same cable ties several times, reusable cable ties are ideal, such as those made of rubber or hook-and-loop material. However, often it would be nice to be able to either loosen or open single-use cable ties again.

There is a trick to how plastic cable ties and stainless steel cable ties can indeed be opened again. We will show you how to untie cable ties without scissors or box cutters.

Table of Contents

How easy it is to release a cable tie depends on the type of cable tie. The smaller the zip tie, the more difficult the task. We recommend that you reuse disposable cable ties only once or twice because the material damage to the tongue and strap means that the locking head is becoming less and less stable.

Opening plastic cable ties with plastic tongues

Standard cable ties with a plastic tongue can be easily released with the right tools. You likely already have everything you need at home or your place of work. Depending on the size of the cable tie, choose a tool that you can insert into the cable tie head. Slotted screwdrivers, nail scissors, sewing needles, toothpicks, paper clips or even narrow stainless steel cable ties are all perfect for this purpose.
  1. Insert the tool between the tongue and strap at the cable tie head.
  2. Push the tongue down slightly.
  3. Keeping the pressure on the tongue, pull the strap out with your other hand.

Opening plastic cable ties with metal tongues

Cable ties with metal tongues are difficult to open again. The method here would be the same as for the plastic cable ties with plastic tongues. However, the head of metal tongue cable ties is narrower than those of other cable ties. As a result, the metal tongue is difficult to reach with tools. And since the metal barb digs into the plastic, it is difficult to push down.
Remove metal tongue cable ties by cutting the strap. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to reuse these cable ties afterwards.
Important: Please note that opening standard cable ties will damage the material. The tongue, plastic or metal barb and the serration on the strap will be deformed or worn down as a result. Over time, the tongue won’t be able to secure the strap.

Opening stainless steel cable ties

Metal cable ties can be opened without tools. They feature a so-called ball-bearing lock. With this type of head, when the strap is inserted, an integrated ball moves until it locks the strap. Once in place, this ball is difficult or impossible to move in the opposite direction because it is very stable under pressure. Nevertheless, stainless steel cable ties can be released again with a simple trick:
  1. Take a second cable tie made of metal.
  2. Insert the tail of this second tie into the head of the locked cable tie, sliding it into the head on the same side where you inserted the original cable tie.
  3. Hold the second cable tie in place with your hand. With your other hand, pull the locked cable tie out to open it.

Please note: When inserting the second cable tie, be careful not to insert it too far into the head. Otherwise, the ball would lock the strap and you now would need to free both ties using the same technique.
The advantage of stainless steel cable ties is that the locked head is located on top of the strap, making it easy for you to access. But keep in mind, that stainless steel cable ties bend after the first application and will keep this shape even after they have been opened. Consequently, stainless steel cable ties cannot be reused indefinitely.

The quickest solution: destroying the cable tie

The above-mentioned tricks for opening cable ties only work if the cable tie is easily accessible and you haven’t overtightened it. If you cannot easily move the tie head or find it difficult to access the cable tie, it is best to cut the cable tie. Don’t use a knife, but instead reach for a pair of nippers, a wire cutter or scissors. When cutting, make sure you don’t damage the bundled items, such as cables or hoses. And bear in mind, that you won’t be able to reuse cable ties once they have been cut.

When handling cable ties, please also pay attention to our safety information.