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Duct Tales

Is there anything duct tape can’t do? It’s probably easier to list the things it can’t do.

Rob Harmon
Sarah Eliza Roberts
October 28, 2018

The origin of duct tape, like any legend, is a bit fuzzy and maybe a tad controversial. Some say it was the heating and cooling industry in the 1940s that came up with what people now consider the most versatile tool for fixing things. They used it to patch up connections between ductwork, hence the term “duct tape” and the silver color. Others claim that what became known as “duct” or “duck” tape was around long before the 1940s, when long strips of cotton material called “duck cloth” were used to make shoes stronger in the early 1900s.

Perhaps the most interesting story involves a worried mother of two Navy sailors during World War II. Vesta Stoudt, concerned about her sons’ safety, wrote a letter to President Roosevelt asking him to employ something she discovered in her factory that she called “adhesive fabric tape.” After Stoudt explained how it would keep ammunition from getting wet, the president ordered  Johnson & Johnson’s Permacel division to mass produce it. The fact that it helped objects become waterproof is supposedly where soldiers came up with the name “duck tape.”

Whatever the real story is, one thing we do know for sure is that we’ve been using the stuff nonstop ever since. The racing industry’s been using it to repair the fiberglass bodies of race cars for over 40 years. NASA has stored it on every space mission since the Gemini missions of the 1960s. And, yes, we know it’s supposed to be a guy thing but women, men and children alike have discovered many uses for it, especially since it now comes in all kinds of colors. Here’s some uses you may not have thought of.

Gadget pouch
In an age of the Nintendo 3DS, the Switch or the Sony PlayStation Vita, a gamer has got to have a place to put handheld game consoles. Using Velcro and the duct tape color design of your choice, keep all your games together with a handy gadget pouch. Customize the size to match the number of game gadgets you have, or make it a bit bigger so your next Christmas present fits in as well.

Hair and lint removal
Pet hair and other dust particles floating throughout the house or apartment always settle somewhere. The chairs, the couch or the clothes laid out for Saturday night seem to be easy targets. Duct tape is an excellent tool for removing all those clingers-on. Either roll up a ball of tape or put a couple pieces back to back and begin the extraction.

Hanging Christmas lights
The Christmas season will be here before you know it and duct tape can be a big part of it. Perhaps taping presents with duct tape is a little too much, but a more subtle and effective use could be to hang the holiday house lights. Using red and green tape can add some Christmas cheer to any set of lights where the old hooks or clips are simply nondescript.

Repair a windshield
This isn’t a permanent fix, but sticking duct tape to the inside of a broken windshield can keep the shattered glass in place long enough to drive the vehicle to an auto repair shop — as long as the tape and damage doesn’t compromise your ability to see.

Hiding extra keys
Spare keys can be hidden and secured with a good piece of duct tape. If you’re likely to lose your keys somewhere, having an extra set is always smart. But where do you keep them? A good place to keep an extra car key is the driver’s side undercarriage. Duct tape is waterproof and heatproof and can be peeled back and reapplied fairly easily. Find a spot outside your home and tape an extra house key for the occasion you lock yourself out. It’s much cheaper than a locksmith.

Use duct tape as a cheap, easy electrical outlet cover. Stick a small section over each outlet to keep little fingers out. The tape is sticky enough that a toddler shouldn’t be able to remove it.

Open a jar
Stick one end of a section of duct tape to the top and side of a hard-to-open lid. Pull the loose hanging bit to the right, and the lid should open.

Pants repair
Holes in jeans have been a “thing” for a long time, but sometimes rain, wind and the elements floating around make you wish your favorite pairs of jeans didn’t have so many holes. Good thing we have duct tape. Depending on the style and color of the jeans, the old-fashioned silver duct tape is just fine. However, with all the new colors and patterns of tape you can find out there, choosing the right design to patch your jeans can make a fashion statement.

Pest control
Hang a few foot-long strips of duct tape to catch pesky flies and mosquitoes midair. Then roll up the tape and toss it in the trash for chemical-free pest control. Duct tape also can be laid out on the ground to catch mice, crickets or even small snakes.

Home décor
Gather free carpet samples from vendors or home improvement stores, then duct tape the undersides together to make an inexpensive, funky area rug.

Removing splinters
Whether you’re a woodworker or you do a lot of work outdoors, splinters happen. One thing duct tape is useful for is removing small splinters. If you don’t have any tweezers readily available, duct tape is so sticky, it actually can pull out that little speck of wood that hurts like the dickens. Tape a small piece over the area where the splinter is, then slowly peel it off.

Slap bracelets
Take a visit to the hardware store and purchase a measuring tape along with whatever fun, funky color or design of duct tape you can find, and you’ll be on your way to making slap bracelets. Depending on the style of tape, anyone can enjoy wearing these. Take the measuring tape and remove the metal at the end with a screwdriver. Cut a 6-inch piece of the measuring tape, rounding the ends. Cover it with your choice of duct tape, and you’ll be ready to slap that bracelet on.

Sunglasses case
These days, a lot of sunglasses are cheap, breakable and easy to lose. But whether you choose to buy disposable shades or you splurge on the $200 designer eyewear, a case is a good way to keep track of them. Find a color of duct tape you like and cut it to fit a bit larger than the measurements of your glasses. Add some Velcro for a cover flap and felt on the inside for a nice soft surface, and you’ve got your sunglasses case.

Fix a water bottle
A strip of duct tape can permanently seal a cracked water bottle or pierced hydration bladder. Just be sure to dry the surface before taping your patch. You also can wrap plastic water bottles with duct tape before using them to prevent cracking and leaking.

Wallets and belts
Wallets and belts are easy to make and can match the rest of your clothes if you pick the right color of duct tape. For the belt, purchase a set of belt rings from your local fabric store, loop the duct tape through and cut to fit. Wallets in the classic silver or gray are the best. They’re flashy and make a statement when it comes time to pull out the credit card to pick up the check with buddies or on a first date.  

Closing chip bags
Chip clips are all right, but sometimes hard to find. Having a roll of duct tape is like having unlimited chip clips. It’s simple, we know, but the smallest piece of duct tape can keep an opened bag of chips fresh and tasty until the next time you need a midnight snack.

Other Clever Ideas

  • Hanging posters
  • Decorative book cover
  • Repairing tail lights
  • Twist a long piece into rope
  • Tape cords down on the floor
  • Tape wires together after splicing
  • Reattach rear view mirror
  • Patch ripped jackets
  • Hide wallpaper seams
  • Fix hoses
  • Fix fan belts
  • Use as art
  • Fix old book bindings
  • Bandage for deep cuts
  • Attach leg splint to broken leg
  • Wallpaper a room (expensive, but makes an interesting look)
  • Reinforce three-ring binder pages
  • Cover up empty drive bays
  • Fold in half and use as bookmark
  • Insulate ventilated biking shoes during cold weather
  • Set drinks in a roll.
  • Mend broken branches of plants and trees