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.
The stain-removal products mentioned here are ordered by most environmentally friendly to most potentially dangerous or toxic. When dealing with stains for which there are several potential removal solutions, start with the safest, most environmentally friendly possibility first, and go on to more toxic solvents only if safer solvents do not work well.
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.
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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.
Things You'll Need
Vegetable oil or peanut butter
Environmentally safe commercial stain remover such as American Sealants, Inc. Adhesive Cleaner and Remover or De-Solv-It: Organic, Biodegradable, Citrus-Based Cleaning Products
Goo Gone -- not for silk, leather or suede; avoid ingestion or skin/eye contact -- contains PPG-3 Methyl Ether
Dry-cleaning solvent -- some products may contain perchloroethylene (perc) or trichloroethylene
Clean, hard nonmetallic, nonporous work surface such as glass or Formica
Absorbent white towels
Clean, white applicator cloths, cotton swabs or cotton balls
Dull, non-serrated blade or other scraper
Old, clean toothbrush
Pre-wash stain remover
With any solvent, always test an inconspicuous spot on the fabric for color fastness or other damage before cleaning the entire garment. In addition to fabric type, dyes and surface treatments, such as waterproofing or permanent press agents, may also affect the choice of solvents, processes and stain-removal outcomes. Know your fabric before choosing a solvent.
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.
- How To Clean Stuff: How To Remove Sticker Residue From Clothing
- Good Housekeeping: Stain Buster — Tape Residue
- Remove Stains: Guides and Tips: How To Remove Tape Residue
- University of Illinois Extension: Stain Solutions: Tape Residue
- Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute: Stain Removal
- De-Sov-It: Organic, Biodegradable, Citrus-Based Cleaning Products
- American Sealants, Inc.: Adhesive Cleaner and Remover
- Environmental Working Group: Goo Gone Stain Remover
- Environmental Protection Agency: Fact Sheeton Perchloroethylene, also known as Tetrachloroethylene
Deborah Stephenson is a homesteader, lifelong organic gardener, former zookeeper, naturalist, artist and anthropologist who brings an eclectic range of experience to her writings. When not writing she can usually be found puttering in her extensive gardens or exploring the national forest next door with her dogs.