Is Duct Tape Flammable?

This article will enlighten you about the question: “Is duct tape flammable?”. It will discuss the nature of duct tapes, their components, and the risks to be exposed to burnable situations.

Is Duct Tape Flammable? 

Will a piece of duct tape catch up on fire? The quickest answer is: it’s possible. If you are worried that a piece of tape could start a fire in your house the answer is: probably not. Most duct tapes from well-known brands had passed through extensive trials that tested lots of existing scenarios where a person could probably use their product at home, but you still shouldn’t light a fire nearby it.

What is duct tape?

Duct tape is a malleable and versatile tape that can have numerous uses. It’s often made of three layers, consisting of: a plastic layer, usually made of polyethylene, an adhesive paste (rubber-based glue), which is another kind of plastic, and a middle layer made of cloth. 

A duct tape can have a lot of different materials combined, so it’s hard to decipher rather a certain tape can easier ignite or not. If you are facing a specific problem regarding a special kind of tape or condition you may first assess its constituents and then perform specific research.

Even though cotton-based products have good flammability, the cloth (or cloth-alike) part of the duct tape is coated with the rubbery and the plastic part of the tape, which don’t have good flammability and can therefore act as flame retardants. 

Gaffer, a known duct manufacturer, stated on their official website that their product is flammable and shouldn’t be positioned near a source of intense heat. 

Does that mean that everyone that has duct tape at home is in endangering themselves and others? It’s not likely. Many things that you can probably look at right now at home are flammable (a piece of paper, a slice of bread, or a candle have more flammability than the duct tapes commonly found nowadays for example).

What can it be used for?

Duct tape has nearly endless purposes. From common domestic uses to aviation or industries, this tape can help fix minor to major physical flaws, broken things, junctions, cracks, and countless other things. 

For example, in the 3rd season of the American TV show “Naked and Afraid”, two survivalists tried to survive in a Nicaraguan forest using only a machete and a roll of duct tape. They used it to craft a bikini, their shelter, a mug, and a blanket. 

What can’t it be used for?

If there’s already a well-known specific kind of tape that can be used in a certain situation, that should be used. Although, besides out-of-normal situations, there are no pungent problems that could arise from the casual use of duct tape.

How does it stick?

Unlike some other tapes, duct Tape sticks after applying pressure, without the need of applying heat or water for example. It can stick on most rigid surfaces using the same chemistry geckos have in their fingertips: it’s driven by Van der Waals force. 

The force emerges from the interaction between atoms from the surface and what’s been glued. It is not a chemical bond, hence is known as a weak force.

But what is fire?

Everything that exists in this world and that can be weighed in a table balance is made of atoms. One of the most popular atoms is one that composes the structure or body: Carbon. It is one of the two basic ingredients of fire. 

Different arrangements of atoms compose what we call molecules. Any molecule that has carbon on it can react with oxygen and create fire, in the right conditions. 

Lucky for us, the conditions in our home are considered mild so duct tape can’t ignite easily. But it can still heat and melt.

The other indispensable ingredient required to burn things is oxygen. Combined properly, these two can ignite and start a chemical reaction that humanity has mastered at least 7.000 years ago: combustion. 

Every time we glance at a fire we have simply seen the effects of a chemical reaction, which generates heat in a way our eyes can see directly.

It’s important to say that oxygen molecules alone don’t react to produce fire. An O2 molecule first breaks down itself and produces “nascent oxygen”, a very unstable chemical that then reacts with the fuel. Heat, friction, or sparks are normally the key ignitors to such a process. 

The combustion then produces heat, carbon dioxide and water, plus other minor things. The heat produced by the reaction itself can facilitate more oxygen molecules to start tearing themselves apart, which allows initiating a chain reaction. 

Some history of Duct Tape

During World War two, a woman named Vesta Stoudt was working sealing ammunition boxes to be sent for the War. She realized that soldiers may face difficulties in opening the boxes in the heat of a battle. 

She then wrote to President Roosevelt depicting the problems and offering a solution she tested at the work: waterproof sealing the boxes using a tearable cloth. The Military then put Johnson & Johson on the job, which coordinated one of its subordinate companies on the work. 

According to the company, a wide variety of tapes served many purposes during the war. Waterproof tapes were used on tanks, planes, and ammunition. Stoudt is considered to be the person who wide-scaled the adoption of duct tape.

Back to the duct tape problem

We’ve already stated that duct tape can’t easily ignite. But under what conditions?

If you’re facing an industrial problem you should probably seek specific information from an official manufacturer source. Overall, a duct tape has its melting point around -1 to 93°C (30 to 200°F) but starts losing its stickiness at 60°C (140°F). Other physical properties can change in any conditions harsher than usual.

Even though duct tape isn’t much flammable, since one of its layers is made of cloth, it is one of the most burnable tapes, but probably not more than paper-based ones. 

If the cloth was exposed for some reason (e.g the tape is old, was placed outdoors, or was scratched) it could become flammable earlier than anticipated.

Here’s a small overview of other kinds of tapes:

  • Scotch tape: It’s made of lighter glue, attached to a thin paper. It can ignite easier than other tapes.
  • Gorilla tape: Gorilla tape is considered more robust, and can sustain more heat but also can’t be exposed to direct fire.
  • Packing tape: It can’t light up easily because it is made of plastic and glue, but can melt easier.

Physical and Chemical properties

Flammability isn’t a specific measure of burning properties. There are a few examples below of some specific properties a tape can have. The source is an official 3M© website.

  • Ingredients (percentage by weight):
    • Natural Rubber Adhesive: 65 – 75;
    • Polyehtylene Film: 15 – 30;
    • Cloth: 5 – 10.
  • Autoignition temperature: 550 – 600°F
  • Flash Point: 230 – 250°C
  • Melting Point: 98 – 102°C

Vocabulary:

Percentage by weight: how much of a certain constituent is a product made of? Is a division by the mass of the constituent by the total mass of the product’s sample.

Autoignition temperature: the least temperature at which a product can start burning spontaneously.

Flash Point: the least temperature a product requires to start burning if an ignition source is provided.

Conclusion

If you use a duct tape on its regularly working conditions from -1°C to 93°C (30 to 200 °F), away from possible sources of heat, and assuring that mild conditions would be sustained, you should face no trouble. 

Even though duct tape won’t catch fire easily keep in mind not to mix the ingredients required to start a fire, and beware of other comburent things that could be attached to a tape.

Frequently asked questions: Is Duct Tape Flammable?

Can duct tape catch fire?

Yes, but only if specific conditions to start a fire are provided. There are robust duct tapes available in the market that can work out of mild conditions.

Does duct tape burn easily?

No. Duct tapes from well-known manufacturers pass through many standards evaluation, so at least is possible to assume good safety in this matter.

Are gases from burning tapes toxic?

We can’t assume it’s safe at all. Any burning can generate nocive gases that can affect our bodies negatively. We should keep smoke away from our system, especially when plastic is been burned because is hard to discover which secondary metabolites are been formed.

Is duct tape heat resistant?

Yes, but only in mild conditions. Close to the boiling point of water, the tape has already started losing its properties, and the risk of melting is increased. The other constituents of the tape make it more heat resistant.

Citations

https://www.gafferpower.com/pages/faq-duct-tape
https://pro-techelect.com/pdf/Duct-Tape.pdf
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_point

PYNE, Stephen J. Fire: a brief history. University of Washington Press, 2019.

https://www.kilmerhouse.com/2009/08/duct-tape-invented-here/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duct_tape

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