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Do-Anything Duct Tape: Clever Uses for the DIY Workhorse

BY Sandy Lindsey TIMEJuly 19, 2022 PRINT

“If you can’t fix it with duct tape, you aren’t using enough duct tape.” You may laugh, but this workshop staple goes quantum leaps beyond simply adhering and repair, although it certainly excels at both.

You can use it to remove wood, fiberglass, and metal splinters. Just press a small piece of duct tape over the offending object, and pull very slowly. Flies in your workshop or buzzing around the backyard cookout? Hang a foot-long strip, or several, for an instant fly trap. Basement crickets? Lay strips on the floor, sticky side up. Duct tape also easily removes pet hair from furniture. Simply wrap a piece, sticky side out, around a paint roller, or even around your hand.

It’s time to dig out that old roll and change your life.

The Tape That Helped Win a War

The earliest mentions of what would ultimately become today’s duct tape date back to the late 1800s, when sturdy, specially treated cotton duck cloth was used in projects to bind and strengthen everything from shoes and clothing to the support cables for the Manhattan Bridge.

In 1943, Vesta Stoudt, a quality inspector at the ordnance plant in Green River, Illinois, who had two sons serving in the U.S. Navy, saw the need for a military-grade waterproof tape. At the time, ammunition boxes were sealed using paper tape, with a tab to open them. The entire box was then dipped in wax to make it waterproof. But the tabs would often tear off, leaving soldiers frantically trying to open the box while under fire. When her supervisors didn’t support her idea for a revolutionary waterproof tape, Stoudt wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt stating the problem and her solution, with diagrams.

He was impressed, it was approved for production, and Johnson & Johnson soon began to make a green version to seal the Allies’ ammo cans. World War II soldiers began calling this adhesive marvel “duck tape” because it was made from duck fabric, and they felt it “repelled water just like a duck’s feathers.”

Both “duct” and “duck” are correct, according to the company.

“The military also called the waterproof, cloth-backed, green tape ‘100-mile-per-hour tape’ because they could use it to fix anything, from fenders on jeeps to boots,” according to Margaret Gurowitz, chief historian at J&J.

Duct,Tape,Isolated,On,White,Background
This workshop staple goes quantum leaps beyond simply adhering and repairing. (Bjoern Wylezich/Shutterstock)

Endless Repairs

Today, you’ll commonly see duct tape used to make a temporary repair on a cracked vehicle tail light or cracked bumper, or taped along the floor at a trade show or movie set to keep wires out of the way (in the movie industry, they call it gaffer’s tape). The same trick works around the house, particularly when running holiday lights.

You can use this sticky sensation to repair a broken garden hose, vacuum cleaner hose, leaking tire inner tube, air mattress, above-ground pool liner, or the kids’ inflatable swimming pool. It will patch a tear in carpeting or vinyl flooring, or a rip in a Jeep soft top or in a tent.

Speaking of tents, if the zipper is broken or jammed, tape that flapping door shut with duct tape. Put it on the bottom of couch legs to protect flooring from furniture marks, or over the sharp edges of a ladder so as not to scratch the surface you lean it against. You can even use it to make a temporary repair to a sagging hemline of a pant leg, dress, or skirt. If it holds still long enough, you can probably duct tape it.

Ironically, the one thing that duct tape shouldn’t be used for is heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts. These require a special heat-resistant, flame-retardant foil HVAC tape, as do clothes dryer vents.

Blisters, Insulation, and More

Few things ruin a day faster than developing a blister on your foot. As soon as you notice the irritation, apply a piece of duct tape to the affected area. If you’ve already developed a blister, take a piece of gauze or cut out a circle of paper and put it inside the duct tape for heavy-duty protection that doesn’t stick to the affected area.

While you’ve got the roll out, tape some inside the insoles of your winter boots, laying it so the silver side reflects the warmth of your feet back at you. Keep your house warm, too, by weatherproofing windows and doors to keep the cold air out during winter and reduce your energy bill.

Wrap the handles of hammers and other tools to give them a more secure grip; choose a bright color to make them easier to find (this works for the TV remote, too!). When not in use, put the roll on a stable surface to act as a bump-proof drink protector for a paper coffee cup or soda can.

Feeling Craftsy

Craft options are only limited by one’s imagination. Duct tape has been successfully utilized in creating everything from backyard hammocks that can hold an adult to belts, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, hair bows, incredibly durable tote bags, and even party décor (table runners, napkin rings, no-sew holiday bunting, and holiday wreaths). Use it to create an emergency dog bowl; Fido will thank you.

If all this wasn’t enough, popular manufacturer Duck Brand has tape available in more than 200 colors, prints, and styles and offers instructions on how to make a duct tape rose—yes, a rose—on its website.

Sandy Lindsey is an award-winning writer who covers home, gardening, DIY projects, pets, and boating. She has two books with McGraw-Hill.
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