Duct tape enjoys such wide usage that it is often a standing gag to mention making or repairing odd things with it. But the truth is, for emergency repairs, duct tape is hard to beat. Its only down side is that on many materials, especially fabrics, the sticky part of the tape stays behind when the tape is removed, making an unattractive mess. No worries though -- this is actually an easy stain to remove from most fabrics.
Natural fabrics, like cotton, silk or wool, generally require different solvents and methods than those used for synthetics. According to the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, this is due primarily to the capacity of those materials for absorbing water-based liquids. However, because tape leaves an oil-based (rather than water-based) stain, the same products best suited to stain removal for synthetic fabrics also apply to most natural fabrics as well. Avoid chlorine bleach on silk and wool, as it can seriously damage those materials. It will also cause cotton to yellow. Hydrogen peroxide-based products are safer for bleaching natural fibers.
Synthetic fabrics, like polyester, acrylic or nylon, are less absorbent, but more susceptible to oily stains than natural fabrics. Be wary of acetone -- including nail polish remover -- as it can dissolve or damage some synthetics. Read fabric labels for specific warnings.
Removing Stains From Clothing
Place the stained area of the fabric on an absorbent towel above a clean, nonporous, nonmetallic work surface such as a glass-topped table or Formica countertop. Work in a well-ventilated room if using any chemical solvent.
Choose one of the listed solvents and apply it to the tape residue using a white cloth, cotton swab or cotton ball. Work it into the fabric gently and allow it to set for a few minutes to soften the adhesive residue.
Use a dull knife -- or the back side of a knife -- or another scraper, such as an old credit card, to gently scrape away as much of the residue as possible. An old toothbrush may work for this as well.
Repeat these steps with the same solvent until no tape residue remains. There will still be a spot of oily residue from vegetable oil, peanut butter and some solvents.
Apply laundry detergent as a pre-wash, or spray a commercial pre-wash stain remover -- according to product directions -- over any oily spot remaining from the solvent, then launder as usual with ordinary laundry detergent.
Examine the spot before drying and repeat the process with the same or a different solvent if any residue remains.
Removing Stains From Upholstery
Scrape off as much of the tape residue as possible using the method described for clothing above.
Use a clean, white cloth to apply dry-cleaning solvent, according to product directions, over the remaining tape residue and gently blot -- do not rub -- until the solvent evaporates.
Repeat as necessary.