Updated: Sep 28, 2022
Duct tape’s initial design was simple but effective: a strong fabric bonded to polyethylene film for sealing/waterproofing, silver-gray coloring to match metal ductwork, and a thick coating of adhesive to seal the joints and make them airtight.
But people quickly determined that this specialty tape could be used for a variety of other purposes, and the boom was on. Many new versions were manufactured – each with different qualities of fabric, polyethylene, and adhesive – for many different end-uses. As a result, manufacturers now offer a wide range of grades of polyethylene / fabric types and in a wide variety of colors.
1. General Purpose
With a low fabric count, a thin polyethylene film, and a low weight adhesive, general-purpose tapes work well enough for odd jobs where long service life isn’t necessary.
2. Industrial Grade
With industrial-grade tapes, the fabric and polyethylene are upgraded, so the tape becomes more of a “workhorse” with added adhesive coating weight. One popular variation is multi-colored industrial tape that is used to seam and hold carpets at exhibitions, where the adhesive must be removed cleanly.
3. Professional Grade
Sometimes called “contractors’ grade” these tapes offer more of an upgrade to the components of the industrial-grade tape for added strength, adhesion, and durability.
4. Gaffer’s Tape
Typically, gaffer’s tape is a matte black for minimal light reflection and is used in movies, television, and photo studios to temporarily tape cables to the floor or light fixtures to vertical posts. This type of tape needs to be able to be easily torn by hand and remove cleanly.
5. True Duct Tape
This one lives up to its name – duct tape is truly intended for sealing air ducts. Duct tape must be permanent and able to withstand the prolonged heat and air pressure for the lifetime of the duct. It may even need to be flame retardant to meet some building codes. Duct tape is the true top of the line, a high tensile, hardworking tape.
6. Coated Cloth Tape
A roll of coated cloth tape has gone with every U.S. manned space launch, and is also commonly known as “Mission Tape.” This tape played an essential role in the construction of the carbon dioxide absorbers which saved the lives of the three astronauts in the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.
With such a wide variety to choose from, start by considering exactly what you expect your tape to do. Then, evaluate the right polyethylene/fabric backing judged by tensile strength, as well as the right adhesive coating thickness, judged by adhesion level, for the best performance with the lowest cost.
Common Adhesive Problems
Believe it or not, standard-issue duct tape is not as versatile as you think. It has its uses—making permanent repairs on the spot —but the following is a list of surfaces that are problems for duct tape.
Wet surfaces: While duct tape is water-resistant, it should only be used for emergency leak repairs. Prolonged submersion in water will cause the adhesion to peel away.
Hot surfaces: Surfaces that reach temperatures over 140°F cause the adhesive to soften, lose its strength, and slip from the attachment.
Cold surfaces: Similarly, duct tape does not work well in extreme cold. Freezing temperatures cause the adhesive to harden which diminishes its sticking power.
Surfaces with Prolonged Exposure to UV Light: UV light can break down the tape’s adhesive bond over time. If you need the tape to remain exposed to direct sunlight, it’s best to use a product that’s been specially treated for UV protection.
Uneven Surfaces: Duct tape has trouble sticking to rough surfaces such as concrete. Because it has a thin adhesive layer, this specialty tape is only able to make contact with the high points of a surface, which produces a weaker bond.
Dirty Surfaces: In order to achieve maximum adhesion, surfaces must be clean, dry, and dust or oil-free.
Corrugated Cardboard: Don’t use duct tape to seal cardboard boxes. These porous surfaces contain many small fibers on the surface that break away and cause the adhesive bond to fail.
Materials with Low Surface Energy: Materials, like Teflon, have low surface energy, which means it prevents the adhesive from “wetting out” or spreading out to form a strong bond.
Painted Surfaces: Applying duct tape to a surface that’s been painted or treated with another sealant means that the tape is only adhering to the surface layer and not the actual substrate.
WHEN DUCT TAPE FAILS: 6 REASONS TO CHOOSE A DIFFERENT TAPE
Duct tape is often cited as being the top go-to, all-purpose repair tape. It can do anything from patching to joint sealing to bundling lumber. However, this versatile tape does have its limits. Here are the top six conditions where duct tape falls short and what you should be using instead.
1. Heat Despite its name, regular off-the-shelf duct tape is not a good choice for sealing or repairing heating and ventilation ducts. The heat softens the adhesive, causes it to lose its strength and slip from the attachment. It also carries no safety certification, which means it may burn and produce toxic smoke. As an alternative, consider All Purpose Aluminum Foil Tape, which works up to 248° F and is fire-retardant.
2. Water Duct tape is water resistant, not waterproof. It will work in a pinch until a more permanent solution can be applied, but over time the adhesion will peel away when completely submerged in water. Consider STIX FIX tape instead; a permanent adhesive that forms a watertight seal and works in both extreme heat and cold.
3. Temporary Repairs Think twice about using duct tape for temporary uses such as sealing a windowpane or hanging plastic sheeting. In certain situations, it makes an excellent stopgap until a more permanent solution can be applied. But this type of adhesive will leave behind a sticky residue when removed. A better option would be All Purpose Masking Tape, or iWars tape which maintains a strong grip while removing cleanly from any surface.
4. Uneven Surfaces Standard duct tape has a thin layer of adhesive so it adheres best to smooth, even surfaces. Applying it to rough or irregular surfaces means the tape will only make contact with the high points thereby lessening the strength of its bond. Consider I STIX Flashing Butyl Tape; a thicker layer of adhesive means it’s able to connect with more surface area and maintain a stronger hold.
5. Cold If you’re working in cold conditions, repairing vinyl siding or refrigeration hoses, duct tape is not the answer. Extreme cold hardens the adhesive and diminishes sticking power of existing duct tape. And if you are applying the tape under cold conditions, it may not stick at all. We have a number of cold-weather solutions, but FSK Aluminum Tape lasts in temperatures as low as -30°F!
6. UV Light Over time exposure to sunlight will cause duct tape’s adhesive to dry out and become brittle or delaminate. For outdoor projects that require tape, it’s best to choose one that’s been treated to resist the effects of ultraviolet light, like Premium Grade Aluminum Foil Tape.
Contact us today for help in selecting the right tape for your next job.