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What is Duct Tape?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 16, 2024
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Duct tape is a cloth-backed adhesive tape that is more easily ripped than cut. The three layers that make up the tape are polyethylene, fabric mesh, and adhesive. The most common width is 1.88 inches (~48 mm), but depending on application, it is available in widths from 0.7 inches to 2.83 inches (~18 mm to ~7.2 cm). Originally called duck tape because it was green and waterproof, shedding liquid like the proverbial duck’s back, it became known as duct tape and colored silver because of its applicability in heating and air conditioning duct work. There are four basic grades, known as utility, all-purpose, professional, and industrial, but there are also specialty tapes that don’t fit within this grading scheme.

Today, still marketed as Duck® tape by one company of the same name, this tape is an entire line of adhesive products, not just a single type. Specialized forms are available for exterior use and professional repair work, with attention to heavy-duty thickness and moisture resistance. Industrial duct tape is a separate category, featuring thicker, heavier tape suited for specialized manufacturing purposes. There is also a special fire safety tape that is rated for flame spread.

The varieties of duct tape have multiplied through the years, and both transparent and double-sided options are available. In addition, colored tape is available in many different hues, similar to the 8-pack box of crayons used by youngsters, and it has been specially designed both for general use, being less obvious in repair work, and craft applications. Shoppers can also find it in camouflage, fluorescent colors, and in flattened rolls without the core for compact storage.

In addition to home repair and improvement, construction, and industrial applications, duct tape has been used for to make clothing, including period clothing like armor; Halloween costumes; prom wear; and wedding gowns and tuxes. Accessories such as purses, hats, wallets, corsages, and jewelry are popular, but there are also adventurous folks who make furniture and footwear from tape. In fact, it is an adhesive of such wide and varied use that some people include it in “three things I’d take to a desert island.” Not only was it used on Apollo space flights, but it is now required cargo on space shuttle missions. A wide variety of medical applications, from wart removal to reinforcing casts and beyond, have also been recorded.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth , Writer
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for HomeQuestionsAnswered, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.

Discussion Comments

By SteamLouis — On Sep 15, 2012

We have a leaking pipe in the basement, can I use duct tape for it?

What kind of duct tape is best?

By literally45 — On Sep 14, 2012

My daughter has just started preschool and she can't say "duct." She always calls duct tape "duck tape." I think it's sweet but I always correct her- "No honey, it's not duck tape, it's duct tape."

Do I feel like a fool now! I can't believe that duct tape was originally called "duck tape." I'm going to stop correcting my daughter! She can continue to say "duck tape." It's a lot cuter anyway!

By fify — On Sep 13, 2012

@orangey03-- Yea, people do actually use duct tape on warts but it's not to tape them off like you're thinking. Usually what they do is they cut duct tape the size of the wart and apply it directly on it. They keep it on for a week, renewing the tape every day or two.

I think what duct tape does is it helps kill the virus that causes warts. And some people will apply home remedies on the wart (like tea tree oil) before putting duct tape on it.

I've never had warts so I never tried it but I have family members who successfully treated their warts with this method.

By Perdido — On Aug 29, 2012

For years, I thought that black duct tape was the only color available. Then, I saw my friend using a pink and black zebra patterned duct tape, and I became aware of all the different colors and patterns out there.

She was lining wooden photo frames with the colored duct tape to make them decorative, and she was selling them for $5. Since she only paid $2 for the old wooden frames themselves, she made a profit.

By DylanB — On Aug 29, 2012

I had no idea that it really was originally called “duck tape.” That's kind of funny.

I have seen the Duck tape brand in stores, but I thought it was just named this because it sounded so much like “duct.” It's pretty cool that the brand pays homage to the original name of the product.

By orangey03 — On Aug 28, 2012

People actually use duct tape on warts? That sounds incredibly painful!

I wonder if it would work for removing skin tags. It might hurt, but nothing could be as painful as cutting them off with scissors, which is what my mother has done to me before.

By OeKc05 — On Aug 28, 2012

I've seen some pretty amazing photos of duct tape prom dresses. I don't know if the people started with a regular dress and added tape to it or if they made the whole thing from duct tape, but either way, they were very impressive.

Since duct tape comes in so many colors, you can really get creative with designs. I have seen prom dresses made with tape in butterfly patterns, floral patterns, and a variety of stripes and shapes.

I do wonder how comfortable these are, though. If the tape touches your skin, it can't be that comfortable.

By anon285276 — On Aug 14, 2012

Do you know anything about the re-purpose of duct tape after World War II?

By anon115137 — On Sep 30, 2010

Thanks. This helped me with my science project on duct tape.

By anon29134 — On Mar 27, 2009

My father worked for many years as a sheet metal worker who made duct work. In the sheet metal industry, Duck tape is not used for duct work. Why? Because it's breathable, and degrades over time, and hence would not be a good choice for sealing cracks in the corners of duct work to make them airtight.

On an entirely separate note, there *is* a tape that sheet metal workers use to seal air ducts, and it is both reflective and extremely sticky, but does not resemble Duck tape. It's actually more like foil, and has a peel off backing. When I asked my dad what foil tape was 'officially' called, he said it was called "muffler tape". Go figure.

Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth


Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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