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Six unusual uses for duct tape

Carlton Boyce / 06 June 2016 ( 31 August 2018 )

Most people have a roll of duct tape lurking somewhere but you'd be surprised at some of the ways this versatile tape can be used.

Could duct tape save your life?
Could duct tape save your life?

If it moves and it shouldn’t, use duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD40.

Wikipedia defines duct tape as a: “cloth- or scrim-backed pressure-sensitive tape – often coated with polyethylene.” 

Except it isn’t. It’s magic on a roll, which explains why every single NASA space flight has packed a couple of rolls after it helped save the lives of the astronauts on board the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission - and it's a good job too. In August 2018 the International Space Station was hit by a micrometeorite and sprang a leak. A quick thinking astronaut stuck his finger in the hole to prevent more air escaping, and then - you guessed it - duct taped over the hole until a more long-term solution could be found. 

Originally called ‘duck’ tape (the origins are unknown but might refer to its ability to shed water as if “off a duck’s back”), the name changed to ‘duct’ tape in the 1950s as it was increasingly used to seal the joints on metal ducting, which is why the most common colour is silver, as that was the colour that best blended with the colour of the ducting itself.

If NASA, the nuclear energy industry and The A-Team trust it, then so can you. After all, it isn’t just used to mend and make stuff; it can even save your life. 

How? Read on…

1. To make stuff

Duct tape is incredibly strong, making it the perfect material to make dozens of handy household items like wallets, fancy dress costumes, and even a pair of flip-flops.

Perfect for a rainy day when the grandchildren are visiting and their imaginations are running riot. For inspiration YouTube is unbeatable.

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2. To repair stuff

Duct tape can be used to repair just about anything if you apply it with lashings of ingenuity and a devil-may-care attitude. 

So, if a roof tile cracks, a radiator hose splits or the webbing on a deckchair perishes, duct tape can step in the save the day – and as it can be easily torn across its width, you don’t even need to pack a pair of scissors or a penknife.

In fact, duct tape’s only limitation is your imagination – and if anyone sniggers at your resourcefulness remind them of Apollo 13 in an American accent: “thanks to duct tape we no longer have a problem…”

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3. To protect stuff

Duct tape is the Jack Bauer of the DIY world, switching instantly from reactive to proactive. 

So while it is unbeatable as an interim fix, why not use it on the bottom of your chair legs to stop them marking the floor or to tape up windows a la World War 2 to prevent them blowing in during a storm?

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4. As a battlefield dressing

Special Forces around the world pack a roll or two of duct tape in their rucksack, knowing that it can be used to effect an emergency repair that might just save their life.

In fact, if it all goes horribly wrong duct tape can be used as a battlefield dressing to hold your innards in and your outers out because it’s a surgical tape par excellence. It can also be used to fashion a sling, make tiny butterfly stitches, or bind a broken limb as a splint.

While I wouldn’t want to see my local doctor wielding it in the surgery, I pack a small roll in my hiking first aid kit because it could save someone’s life if disaster were to strike.

In a slightly less dramatic role, some people have reported success in using duct tape to get rid of warts. Duct Tape Occlusion Therapy, as the medics call it, has received mixed reviews from the professionals but it certainly isn’t going to make a bad situation any worse. (I know that an anecdote is “an uncontrolled observational study involving an intervention and outcome for a single person” as the Cochrane Collaboration puts it but it did work for my wife, which is why I’m including it.)

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5. When travelling

A small roll of duct tape should also form part of your travelling kit as it can be used to make a fly-strip if you’re being bugged by flying insects, to repair clothes and luggage, to secure a flapping sole on your shoe, and to stop doors and windows rattling in a cheap hotel room.   

6. Miscellaneous

Here are some of the uses that don’t fit into any particular category but are too clever to miss out!

  • Wrap presents for the DIYer in your life;
  • Waterproof shoes when the weather takes an unexpected turn for the worse;
  • Tape electrical cables to the floor to prevent a trip hazard;
  • Remove pet hairs from clothes and furniture by wrapping a length around your hand with the sticky side out;
  • Repair a damaged tent or sleeping bag.

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Duct tape or duck tape?

While duct tape is the generic name for this kind of tape, Duck Tape is a brand and there is a website full of hints and tips run by the folk who make it.

You might also like to take a look at The Duct Tape Guys who devote more of their lives than they should to exploring it. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.