Duct tape is a strong, fabric-based, multi-purpose adhesive tape, usually silver or black in color, although many other colors, as well as transparent, have recently become available. Duct tape is usually 1.88 inches (48 mm) wide. It was originally developed during World War II in 1942 as a waterproof sealing tape for ammunition cases. Permacel, then a division of Johnson & Johnson, used a rubber-based adhesive to help the tape resist water and a fabric backing to facilitate ripping. Because of these properties, it was also used to quickly repair military equipment, including jeeps, guns, and aircraft. Duct tape is also called "100 mph tape" in the military, citing the urban legend that duct tape will maintain its adhesion when subjected to winds traveling at up to 100 miles per hour.
After the war, the housing industry boomed and people started using duct tape for many other purposes. The name "duct tape" came from its use on heating and air conditioning ducts, a purpose for which it, ironically, has been deemed ineffective by the state of California and by building codes in most other places in the U.S. (which means professionals are forbidden to use it in systems they install, but do-it-yourselfers are not). However, metallized and aluminium tapes used by professionals are still often called "duct tapes."
Duct tape is found in many people's tool kits. Its versatility and holding power are evidenced by its humorous nickname in engineering circles: "the ultimate material." Another frequent joke (referenced below) is that a handyman needs only two tools: duct tape for "sticking" and the lubricant WD-40 for "unsticking."
NASA engineers' faith in duct tape as an emergency tool was rewarded in 1970, when the square carbon dioxide filters from Apollo 13's failed command module had to be modified to fit round receptacles in the lunar module, which was being used as a lifeboat after an explosion en route to the moon. Engineers designed a workaround using duct tape and other items on board Apollo 13, relaying directions to the spacecraft's crew. The lunar module CO2 scrubbers started working again, saving the lives of the three astronauts onboard.
Ed Smylie, one of the NASA mission control engineers who designed the scrubber modification in just two days, said later that he knew the problem was solvable when it was confirmed that duct tape was on the spacecraft: "I felt like we were home free" he said in 2005. "One thing a Southern boy will never say is 'I don't think duct tape will fix it.'"
Duct tape is also sometimes used by musicians and on film sets and in theatres, although a more specialised product, commonly known as gaffer tape in entertainment circles, is preferred as it does not leave a sticky residue when removed and is more easily torn into thin strips for precise application.
Duck Products annually sponsors a competition that offers a college scholarship to the person who creates the most stylish prom formalwear made from duct tape. The number of uses to which duct tape can be put is a source of humor (many of these are collected in books by "The Duct Tape Guys"). One of Duck Products previous competitions was for vehicles covered in duct tape called "Stuck in Traffic". Entries included rabbits, a castle, a van decorated as Van Gogh's Starry Night (titled VanGo), and won by a truck called the Dragonracer - a half dragon, half two-toned race car.
Some people enjoy making novelty items out of duct tape or decorating objects with it. Increased interest in creating these novelty and fashion pieces (such as duct tape prom dresses and handbags) has given rise to designer duct tape handbags, wallets, belts and related items. Crafters quickly realized the art, difficulty and time involved in creating the quality pieces they wanted and so began looking for already-made duct tape fashions. Love My Bag, LLC, which is known for retailing major name-brand fashion designers such as Prada and Fendi, began retailing the designer Vanessa Jean in an exclusive line of duct tape handbags.
A medical study announced on major news networks on October 15, 2002, stated that application of duct tape can be used as an effective treatment for warts. This treatment is often called by the name duct tape occlusion therapy.
Duct tape is used extensively in the creation and identification of weaponry used by the Society for Creative Anachronism. The official SCA Weapons Standards is not specific, but duct tape is commonly known as the preferred material.
The epigram "duct tape is like The Force – it has a light side and a dark side, and it binds the Universe together" has been attributed to science fiction fan Carl Zwanzig. Red Green of The Red Green Show refers to duct tape as "the handyman's secret weapon" and says that, "If you have duct tape and you need money, you're better off than if you have money and need duct tape". The fictional television character MacGyver and the various members of the A-Team were also famous for inventive use of duct tape. Duct tape is often referred to as "a musician's best friend" because many musicians, particularly in rock or similar genres, use duct tape to do any number of things, like padding drum heads, securing instrument straps, keeping cords and cables organized, securing microphones to mic stands or taping set lists to stage floors.
Duct tape is sometimes used to wrap around tennis balls to make them behave more like a cricket ball. It is a less common practice to use duct tape as electrical tape, and it is not really suitable for that purpose.
The Duct Tape Guys (Jim Berg and Tim Nyberg) as of 2005 have written seven books about duct tape. Their bestselling books have sold over 1.5 million copies and feature real and wacky uses of duct tape. In 1994 they coined the phrase, "It Ain't Broke, It Just Lacks Duct Tape". Added to that phrase in 1995 with the publication of their WD-40 Book was, "Two rules get you through life: If it's stuck and it's not supposed to be, WD-40 it. If it's not stuck and it's supposed to be, duct tape it". Their website features thousands of duct tape uses from people around the world from fashions to auto repair.
A company called 'Ducti' makes wallets and bags from the tape.
The origins of the name "duct tape" are the subject of some disagreement. One view, popular among many Internet Q&A sites, is that older references to a different fabric product called duck tape, which the OED states perhaps was altered to create the origin of duct tape, in combination with a popular tale about WWII Army soldiers comparing the invention's waterproof qualities to that of a duck, proves that the original name of the product was, coincidentally, duck tape. This view is summarized most notably in a New York Times article by etymologist William Safire in March of 2003.
The other view is a more conservative etymology, noting that documented use of the word "duct" to describe the product in question (because it was used primarily in ductwork at the time) predates any documented use of the word "duck" to describe the same, by many years, and that there is no evidence supporting the WWII story or that the product got its name by altering the name of a different product. This view also accepts the simpler explanation that people have just confused the effectively identical pronunciation of two similar but unrelated products through the process of elision, and the rest of the "duck" etymology is folklore or fabrication. This view was summarized most notably in a Boston Globe article by etymologist Jan Freeman, also in March of 2003.
The name duct tape leads to confusion in conversation between Americans and Australians, since it refers to a completely different type of tape in Australia, as shown right. Duct tape in Australia refers to 2" wide PVC tape (usually silver in color) with no cloth backing and much weaker clear adhesive. Duck brand cloth-backed tape in Australia is labelled as Power Tape, and other cloth-backed tapes are generally labelled as cloth tape or gaffer tape.
Other names for duct tape (including the Scandinavian "Jesus Tape", a name which comes from duct tape's apparent ability to perform miracles) have been documented at length by The Duct Tape Guys.
* Duct tape is currently available in almost any color from many online retailers and a few stores.
* Camouflage duct tape, although hard to find, is available at some hunting and fishing supply stores, and is useful making repairs to hunting equipment and other outdoors materials.
* 3M now sells transparent duct tape. The company claims it lasts longer than regular duct tape while making repairs less obvious.