All right, prepare to have your entire home-improvement world shattered. Ready?

Duct tape isn’t for everything.

In fact, duct tape isn’t even particularly good for sealing ducts. However, its use for repairs and other home-improvement projects has reached almost mythical proportions, to the point that many things are being fixed and sealed with duct tape that really shouldn’t be. There are lots of other tapes on the market that work much better for specific applications, and it pays to know which one is which.

  • Duct Tape: This is a cloth-backed tape with a rubber-type adhesive originated during World War II, and was used by the military for emergency repairs of many different types. The movie industry uses it for just about everything as well, where it goes by the name of “gaffer’s tape.”

    In use on ductwork, however, the heat from the ducts appears to affect the adhesive over time, causing it to lose its grip. It’s also not particularly good for securing things in long-term storage–wrapped around a rug or a bundle of stakes, for example–since it breaks down over time and can also leave some really ugly residue behind. So, don’t use it for ducts, don’t use it for masking, and don’t use it for wrapping. Around the house, duct tape should be used for its original purpose only–temporary, emergency repairs. Duct tape is most commonly seen in silver/gray, but is also available in black and a wide variety of other colors, including clear. And yes –you do get what you pay for, with the least expensive tapes also being the least effective.

  • Gorilla Tape: Gorilla Tape was recently introduced to do what people wanted duct tape to do, which is to stick to just about anything–concrete, lumber, metal, stucco, brick, and many other common construction materials–and hang on tight. Gorilla Tape has an abrasion-resistant, all-weather outer shell that stays resilient in harsh weather conditions, a reinforced backing, and a double-thick adhesive layer that is designed to fill gaps and irregularities in the material it’s applied to, making it especially good for porous materials such as brick and concrete.

  • Foil HVAC Tape: For sealing ductwork, the proper tape to use is a foil HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) tape. These tapes have a tough silver aluminum face and an aggressive, heat- and water-resistant adhesive that’s designed for long life. Different foil HVAC tapes are available for galvanized ducts, fiberglass duct board, and flex ducts, as well as general-purpose tapes that will work with all of them. They are typically available in both 2- and 3-inch widths.

  • Electrical Tape: Unlike duct tape, which is not for ducts, electrical tape is actually designed for electrical uses. Typically made from vinyl, which provides stretching and waterproofing qualities, electrical tape is non-conductive and is used to cover and insulate electrical splices and for other electrical uses. Electrical tape is most commonly found in black, but is also available in several other colors if needed for identification purposes. Colored marking tapes–used for a variety of identification purposes–are not specifically designed for electrical use unless they are labeled as such.

  • Masking Tape: Masking tape has a very specific purpose, which is to mask off areas that you want to protect from getting paint on them. The tape is designed with a paper backing that is easy to tear and is relatively moisture-resistant, and a weak adhesive that allows the tape to be removed easily with no damage to the underlying surface. You’ll find masking tape in several different widths, depending on the size of the surface you want to cover.

    Masking tapes are also available with a number of different adhesive strengths and formulations. The lightest adhesives are designed for use in areas where a stronger adhesive might damage the underlying surface, such as applying the tape over wallpaper. Long-mask formulas are intended for use where the tape will be in place for longer periods of time –some are rated for as much as 60 days–and can still be removed without leaving adhesive residue behind.

  • Carpet Tape: Carpet tapes are vinyl double-sided tapes that are designed to hold carpet, pad, rugs and other materials firmly in place over wood, vinyl, tile and other materials, while still providing some resiliency and flexibility underfoot. Carpet tapes are typically labeled as indoor, which hold well while not being completely permanent, and outdoor, which are water-resistant and essentially permanent. There are also single-sided carpet tapes available, for use in making carpet repairs where you want the tape to stick to the underside of the carpet but not to the pad of floor below.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at

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