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Is Duct Tape Waterproof? Complete Technical Guide

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Is Duct Tape Waterproof? Complete Technical Guide

Duct tape is an effective temporary solution for many kayak repairs and boat fixes, but is duct tape waterproof? We’ll explore that question, and everything else you need to know about using duct tape for various applications, in this complete technical guide to duct tape.

There are benefits to using duct tape versus Gorilla Tape for some simple repairs, but there are also times when a heavy-duty tape would be more appropriate. Plus, there are still other times when you’ll be best suited using one of the best glues for kayak outfitting.

Whether you’re into kayaking, boating, or other adventure sports, keeping a roll of duct tape handy is always a good idea. You never know when you might find yourself in a survival situation where duct tape becomes a lifesaver.

So let’s talk about everything you need to know about duct tape today!

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Is Duct Tape Waterproof?

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The answer to this question is yes…to a degree. I wouldn’t rely on duct tape to keep the hull of my kayak sealed for a multi-day kayak camping trip, but it might do the trick for patching small holes or tears that largely remain above the water’s surface while you are paddling.

Duct tape is made with a polyurethane coating that makes it water-resistant, but water resistance should not be mistaken for being waterproof. So, there is some truth to the statement that, “the more you use, the more water resistance duct tape will provide.”

It is not going to saturate and disintegrate as quickly as some other types of tape and, in fact, it is even employed in the creation of many cardboard boats for teambuilding initiatives every year.

That said, if the area you are patching is going to be underwater or maintaining consistent contact with water, you’re better off using Gorilla Tape or some sort of waterproof glue that sets up quickly.

A Complete Technical Guide to Duct Tape

Using duct tape isn’t as simple as peel-and-stick applications So here’s our complete technical guide to duct tape and its various applications.

A Brief History of Duct Tape

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Duct tape is often mistaken as duck tape due to the thin duck cotton fabric used to make it. It was originally developed during World War II and it was primarily used for emergency tool and vehicle repairs during the war, as well as for sealing ammunition boxes.

Johnson & Johnson is credited with developing the first duct tape for the war effort and, despite popular belief, there is no evidence that the tape was actually called duck tape for its duck-like waterproof qualities during the war.

More evidence suggests that the tape simply had no direct name during the war, but after the armed conflict subsided, Johnson & Johnson turned its marketing efforts towards sharing the many household applications for duct tape with the American public.

In the 1950s, the booming construction sector began consuming vast amounts of duct tape to seal air ducts inside residential homes. The first grey-colored tapes were manufactured at this time in order to match the exterior color of the tin ducts being produced at the time and, as a result, the name duct tape was adopted and, as you can tell, it stuck.

Since then, duct tape has been used worldwide for everything from fixing tears in inflatable kayaks to repairing critical components on NASA missions. Most famously, it gets credited for saving the lives of the astronauts on the infamous Apollo 13 space mission in 1970.

How is Duct Tape Made?

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Duct tape actually has three distinct layers that are merged to give the final product its adhesive and water-resistant qualities. The outermost layer is responsible for its water resistance and it’s made with a thin film of polyethylene, which is one of the most popularly-used plastics in the world.

If you look around, you can probably see a handful of items around your home made out of polyethylene. Examples include water bottles, grocery bags, children’s toys, and, of course, some of the best plastic kayaks on the market today.

This material is also what gives duct tape its sleek, silvery finish, but it’s the second layer that is responsible for the tape’s strength. The middle layer is made with a cloth mesh that is interwoven to provide strength while still being easy to tear.

Much like bedsheets, you can find duct tape in different thicknesses or “thread counts.” Gorilla tape, for example, has a higher thread count than standard duct tape and, as a result, it is stronger and provides a higher degree of water resistance.

The innermost layer of duct tape is the rubber-based adhesive that allows it to stick to nearly any surface. This is the most expensive layer to produce because they largely use natural rubber in the process.

In contrast to synthetic rubber, natural rubber maintains better stickiness and a stronger bond to the surface it is applied to. The three layers of duct tape are bonded together in one of two ways.

The traditional method involves laminating the three layers together using several thousand pounds of pressure. The newer method starts with injecting pellets of polyethylene material into a thin film and then blending that film with the middle cloth mesh material while it is still hot.

The final step requires spreading the adhesive onto the resulting film and this method is generally believed to produce a more consistent product that is less likely to degrade when exposed to the elements.

Whichever method is used up to this point, the final step is to roll the tape around a cardboard barrel and cut it to the widths that you will eventually pick up in the store. The rest is up to you!

The Various Types of Duct Tape

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As you might imagine, there has been a lot of innovation to duct tape since it was originally created in the 1940s. So here are the seven main types of duct tape and their primary uses:

General Purpose Duct Tape

The thinnest type of duct tape has the lowest fabric thread count, a thin polyethylene film, and a low-weight adhesive. It might be one of the most affordable types of duct tape, but it’s really only best for short-term applications with minimal exposure to the elements.

Industrial Grade Duct Tape

Industrial grade duct tape is an upgrade on general-purpose tape with a higher fabric thread count, a thicker exterior film, and additional adhesive coating weight. This is usually what you’ll find in multiple color variations for applications where the tape must be removed cleanly without leaving any sticky residue behind.

Professional Grade Duct Tape

Also known as “contractor’s grade” duct tape, this variety is arguably the strongest and most durable type for construction applications. It’s basically just a beefed-up version of industrial-grade duct tape.

Stucco Duct Tape

This duct tape variation is used for exterior stucco applications on residential and commercial buildings. It is a thin polyethylene film that is designed to be placed over doors and windows to protect them for several days at a time without degrading from ultraviolet exposure.

Gaffer’s Duct Tape

This type of duct tape is typically a matte black color because it must absorb light instead of reflecting it. That’s because it is often used on movie and television sets, as well as in photography studios.

It is primarily used for temporary fixtures and it must be able to be removed easily without leaving a sticky residue behind.

Coated Cloth Tape

Also known as “mission tape,” this is the type of duct tape that was used to create the carbon dioxide absorbers that eventually saved the lives of the astronauts on that Apollo 13 space mission. There are many variations to choose from that differ in adhesive thickness, tensile strength, and adhesion level.

True Duct Tape

This is the type of duct tape that is actually designed for sealing air ducts in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. It is robust, able to withstand the high temperatures and air pressures that the ducts are designed to handle over their lifetimes, and, in some places, true duct tape may even need to be flame retardant.

What Can You Use Duct Tape For?

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There are so many uses for duct tape and there’s a good chance that new applications are found on a regular basis. For our purposes, however, we are going to focus on how you might apply duct tape if you’re into kayaking, boating, and other watersports and forms of winter recreation.

For kayakers, here are some common uses for duct tape:

For boaters, here are some ideas for how you might apply duct tape to your boat:

  • Temporarily patching torn seat cushions
  • Repairing your boat cover
  • Wrapping a tow rope handle to provide more grip
  • Temporarily patching hoses or water lines
  • Protecting your feet from wood or fiberglass splinters
  • Wrapping cords or other boat accessories
  • Fixing water skiing equipment
  • Patching punctured buoys

Additionally, here are a few more general uses for duct tape that we haven’t covered so far:

  • Removing pet hair from furniture
  • Catching flies and other pesky flying insects
  • Creating a temporary hem to resize clothing
  • Patching a punctured inflatable paddleboard
  • Protecting your knuckles from blisters while rock climbing
  • Backcountry wound care
  • Temporarily fixing broken tent poles
  • Adding insulation to the insoles in your shoes to keep your feet warmer
  • Re-waterproofing torn winter skiing accessories
  • Creating your own belt for gear that’s too large

As you can see, there are many great uses for duct tape. Be aware, however, that this is by no means a comprehensive list and if you can imagine a use, duct tape will probably help you out of a jam.

What Can’t You Use Duct Tape For?

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Now, there are some applications for which duct tape should be avoided. Here is a quick list of scenarios in which you should look for a different type of tape (i.e. painter’s tape, electrical tape, etc.):

  • Wrapping electrical wires
  • Taping off interior walls before repainting your home
  • Covering windows in an attempt to prevent breakage
  • In extreme weather or inhospitable environments
  • Securing large items in an open or enclosed trailer

How to Use Duct Tape

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Unfortunately, using duct tape isn’t as simple as peeling it off the cardboard roll and sticking it in place. While it is largely a durable and versatile tape, there are some things you should consider to get the most out of your duct tape.

For starters, you should take the time to clean the surface before applying duct tape. While duct tape works on a wide variety of surfaces, it will bond best if the surface is clean, dry, and free of any dust or oils.

Next, duct tape doesn’t bond well with wet surfaces. While it is a water-resistant tape once it bonds to the surface, it can’t be applied while the surface is wet like you would be able to do with Flex Tape.

You should also avoid extremely hot or cold surfaces when applying duct tape. The acceptable range for duct tape applications is roughly from 30℉ to 120℉ and using it when temperatures fall outside of that range will dramatically reduce its effectiveness.

Too much heat will soften duct tape’s adhesive and it will be more likely to fail in its attachment to whatever surface you apply it to. Cold temperatures actually harden the adhesive, which has a similar effect of reducing its effectiveness.

Duct tape also doesn’t bond very well with rough or uneven surfaces. Surfaces like concrete, asphalt, and even unfinished wood will be tough for duct tape to bond to because it tends to stick to only the high points of the surface instead of the entire thing.

Additionally, duct tape isn’t a great choice for sealing corrugated cardboard boxes because cardboard is a very porous material. The small fibers on the surface of a cardboard box will peel away from the rest of the box and render duct tape ineffective.

You should also avoid leaving duct tape in the sun for prolonged periods of time. Whether it’s still on the roll or already applied to your sit-inside kayak, UV exposure will reduce the tape’s adhesive bond if you leave it exposed for too long.

Finally, duct tape has a hard time sticking to painted surfaces and materials with low surface energy. Painted surfaces give duct tape trouble because the tape will only adhere to the paint or sealant instead of actually bonding with the substrate below.

Materials with low surface energy, such as Teflon and EVA, make it harder for duct tape’s adhesive to form a strong bond. While it might seem like it sticks well enough at first, it is unlikely to bond as long as it might on materials with high surface energy, such as copper and aluminum.

What’s The Difference Between Duct Tape and Gorilla Tape?

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Well, if we get technical about it, Gorilla Tape is actually just a type of duct tape. It is thicker and made with a more powerful adhesive so that it bonds to more surfaces and is able to stay there longer, which means it would either fall in the category of “industrial grade” or “professional grade” duct tape.

Generally speaking, Gorilla Tape is a better choice for longer-term applications where you know the surface is going to be more regularly exposed to the elements. This is why many kayakers and outdoor enthusiasts opt for Gorilla Tape over general-purpose duct tape.

Still, there are certain applications for which duct tape would be a better choice than Gorilla Tape, and vice versa. For a more complete comparison of these two cloth tapes, check out our full guide to duct tape versus Gorilla Tape.

Final Thoughts

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It is hard to predict just when your stash of duct tape is going to come in handy. Many outdoor enthusiasts have taken up the practice of wrapping their lighters in duct tape so that they have a compact supply ready and accessible whenever they need it.

That’s much better than carrying a large, bulky roll of tape around with you everywhere and while it might not be able to fix major rips or tears, it provides a great temporary solution until you can get to a location where a more permanent fix is much easier.

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Is Duct Tape Waterproof Complete Technical Guide

Author: Peter SalisburyPete is the Owner of KayakHelp.com. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of KayakHelp.com. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.