Updated: 3 days ago
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 adhe