“Duct tape has hundreds of uses! Just don’t use it to seal ducts. tomczykbartek/Thinkstock/busypix/Getty Images/HowStuffWorks
People often joke that anything can be fixed with a little duct tape. While duct tape can’t fix everything, it’s definitely a versatile product that can be used in innumerable ways.
Duct tape was created during World War II, when factory worker Vesta Stoudt discovered soldiers had a hard time opening the ammunition boxes she and her colleagues were sealing with paper tape, then dipping in wax. Stout penned a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, proposing the war effort employ a cloth-backed, waterproof tape instead. Roosevelt agreed, and soon a Johnson & Johnson operating company was manufacturing the durable, easy-to-remove tape, colored Army green.
The tape was crafted from a thin piece of duck fabric — a heavy, woven canvas — coupled with a plastic coating and rubber-based adhesive. Some say this new sealant had no name during the war, while others assert people began calling it "duck" tape after the duck fabric, or possibly because it resisted water, much like a duck’s body.
When the war ended, the construction industry began using the tape to patch together ventilation ductwork, and it soon became known as "duct tape." Manufacturers quickly swapped out its original green color for silver tape that matched the ductwork.
By the 1980s duct tape had gone mainstream and was found in many, if not most, U.S. households. Today, it’s available in a wide assortment of materials and colors, and consumers have come up with all sorts of creative uses for it. Here are 10 of them.
- Protect blisters. If you develop blisters while walking, running or hiking, don’t cover them with bandages. Those often come loose or fall off. Instead, clean any blisters thoroughly, then place a piece of gauze over them and top with duct tape. Trimming the corners will help ensure the tape stays in place when you pull on your socks.
- Trap bugs. Flies ruining your camping trip? Hang several foot-long strips of duct tape from the trees. The tape will act as flypaper, trapping the insects. This trick also works in your garage or on your patio. One duct tape fan reports catching crickets in his basement by laying strips on the basement floor sticky side up.
- Patch together glasses. Yes, duct taping your glasses together will make you look nerdy. But if your eyeglasses break and you can’t replace them immediately, a little duct tape is all you need. Better to look nerdy than not be able to see.
- Keep snow out of your shoes. On a hike and need to cross a patch of deep snow? Wrap duct tape around the tops of your boots or shoes and the lower ends of your pants, creating faux gaiters that will keep the snow from falling into your footwear. You can employ a similar system if you have to wade through some muck that might pull off your shoes.
- Remove splinters. If you have an exposed wood, fiberglass or metal splinter that’s in a typical, easy-to-reach spot — e.g., your finger versus near your eye — place a piece of duct tape over it and then pull it out. Some recommend a gentle pulling back of the tape, while others say a quick yank is best.
- Help squeeze your toothpaste tube. When your toothpaste is nearly gone, it’s a pain to keep rolling up the bottom of the tube to squeeze the last bits out. Instead, roll it up and hold it in place with some sturdy duct tape.
- Employ as a drink holder. Don’t want your sparkling water or soda to tip over? Then stick it in the center of a roll of duct tape. It’s the perfect width and height to keep many drinks in place.
- Make roses. Duct tape isn’t just for emergency fixes or hacks. It can be used to create artwork and crafts. The Duck Brand, a popular duct tape manufacturer, offers tape in more than 200 different colors, prints and styles. Its website has instructions on crafting everything from daisy pens and notebook covers to a pot of roses, all with duct tape.
- Hem clothing. Not handy with a needle and thread, or in a hurry? Hem those pants or skirts with some duct tape until you can get them properly repaired. Bonus: the duct tape should stay in place through a few washings.
- Remove common warts. An old wives’ tale says you can remove a wart by rubbing it on a church pew. A better idea: put a piece of duct tape over the wart and let sit for several days. Remove the tape, clean the area, then put on another piece. Most common warts will disappear within one month. This duct tape regimen proved significantly more effective at wart-removal than cryotherapy, according to a study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
Bonus use: Help out on a lunar mission: One of the more impressive uses of duct tape came in 1970, during the famous Apollo 13 lunar mission that went awry. During the mission, two oxygen tanks exploded. The explosion forced the astronauts to move into the spacecraft’s lunar module, where carbon dioxide levels rose precipitously. The crew used duct tape (among other items) to patch together a CO2 filtering system featuring an incompatible round hole and square filter.
NOW THAT’S INTERESTING
Despite duct tape’s versatility, there are some things it can’t do. Duct tape doesn’t work as painting tape, for example. And despite its name and early usage, duct tape isn’t great at sealing the ductwork in heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems — at least not permanently. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted a study of various duct sealants and only one failed: duct tape. The testers think the heat in HVAC systems degraded the tape glue.