The scoop on duct, or more properly, duck tape

A very serviceable DIY kit consists of WD-40 and duct tape. This post is all about the latter half of that dynamic duo. When it moves and shouldn't reach for the duct tape.

Three rolls of duct tape, silver, black and clear.
3M and Gorilla Duct Tape

The history of duck tape

Duct tape has a longer history than most folks suspect.  While it's true that the product we recognize as the iconic product appeared during WWII, the term first appeared in 1899.

The interchangeability of duck and duct can be attributed to the use of a fabric mesh or scrim to reinforce the tape called duck. So, to be absolutely accurate, today's product should be called duck tape. However, marketing campaigns and product applications eventually genericized the name to duct tape.  Pick your poison because both are correct. For my sanity, I am calling it duct tape so the software editors don't drive me crazy telling me "duck" is incorrect.

Born of global conflict

During WWII, ammunition boxes were sealed with wax and paper tape for moisture protection. Unfortunately, the tape could be hard to remove, not something you want in the heat of combat. Aware of the issue, Vesta Stoudt wrote to President Roosevelt, encouraging him to look into the precursor of duct tape. Things moved quickly (surprising for a bureaucracy), and a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson started pumping out an olive drab tape for sealing ammo boxes. Human ingenuity took over from there, and the troops used the tape for anything requiring reinforcement.

Following the war, the silver version became the defacto standard because it matched duct work well. At least, that's what I think happened. It was also at this time the name duct tape began to take hold.

Wikipedia has an excellent history, and you can find even more sources with the search string "history of duct tape."

Duct tape uses

​The original toolless home repair kit contains two things, WD-40 and duct tape. User instructions are equally simple, "If it moves and shouldn't, use the duct tape. If it doesn't move and should, use the WD-40."

Duct tape has as many different uses as WD-40, and some it doesn't have.  Don't believe me? Just type "uses for duct tape lists" in your favorite browser and dive in! So, rather than going crazy with lists, here are a few of my favorites.


The iconic series devoted several programs to duct tape. You can start your bingeing with their Duct Tape Hour.

Medical uses

  • Remove warts
  • Cover blisters
  • Remove ticks
  • Make your own Steri-Strips wound closures
  • Treat bug bites

Around the home

  • Fix a toothpaste tube
  • Fix a broken tree branch
  • Start a fire in your fire pit or fireplace
  • Temporarily patch holes in your shoe soles
  • Hold pieces of your vehicle together
  • Remove pet hair from fabrics
  • Patch torn screens
  • Find 1001 more uses on Pinterest

Out of-this-world uses

Starting with the Gemini program, NASA has sent its spacecraft into space with duct tape.  It's credited with saving Apollo 13 when the crew used duct tape to create air filters. The Apollo 17 crew created make-shift fenders for the lunar buggy with duct tape to keep the moon dust down.

Apollo 13 improvised air filter held together with duct tape
Apollo 13 improvised air filter held together with duct tape
Apollo 17 Moon buggy with makeshift fender assembled with duct tape
Apollo 17 Moon buggy with makeshift fender assembled with duct tape

What duct tape isn't good for

The versatility of duct tape cannot be disputed. Even so, there are limits to what you can use it for. Here are a couple of my favorites.

It is awful at sealing ductwork!

Now, who'd thought duct tape fails miserably in performing its namesake purpose? Turns out the adhesive dries out over time, basically unsealing itself and leaving you with leaky ductwork and higher energy bills.

Completely sealing vehicle radiator hoses.

Heat, liquid and pressure are more than duct tape can handle for long. In an absolute emergency, using it to patch a coolant leak might help, but it won't completely stop the leak.

Completely sealing garden hoses

Similar to the radiator hose limitation, duct tape won't seal a garden hose completely for long. And who enjoys working with a leaky hose?

Patching your vehicle's exhaust system

In this application, rust and heat are the enemies of duct tape. It will fail quickly, smell awful and perhaps even catch fire (see fire starter use above).

Which company sells the best duct tape?

Now there's a loaded question if I ever heard one. As with most tools and DIY products, personal preferences generally rule the day, as they should. But are all duct tapes created equal? Not by a long shot. Let's explore a bit, and I'll share my preferred manufacturers.

The original silver tape

Generic silver tape serves my purposes fine, when I use it. You can get several rolls for a few bucks at big box stores and Amazon. These days, I only use the silver tape for projects that are out of sight or that are temporary in nature. For example, patching the inside of a trash can that's cracked. No one will see it unless they empty the trash can.

My preferred manufacturers

When the quality of the tape matters, I reach for Gorilla Tape (GT) or anything by 3M. I like GT because it sticks like a leech, making it difficult to remove, a great trait when you're trying to hold something together for the long run. As I type, some black GT is holding one of the casters on my task chair in place.

As the picture shows, I have a regular width roll of GT (1  7/8") in black and clear and a regular width roll of silver 3M tape. I came across the clear GT a few years back, and it is mighty handy when you are fixing something where clear tape works better than solid colors. I've used it in glass jars with crack, cracked Plexiglas and other such applications.

Add some duct tape to your kit

That's the long and short of duct tape. If you do not have a roll or two already, sally forth to your favorite DIY supply place and pick some up. Or, order it in from Amazon. With the price of gas these days, the latter is making more sense (and cents) every day.

Hold it fast with a splash of color

Surprisingly enough, duct tape comes in a wide range of colors and patterns. I have a medium blue roll with tiny pieces of bacon all over it. I'd share a photo, but it has mysteriously gone missing. Once it turns up again, I'll update this post.