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What is Electrical Tape?

Some people have used electrical tape to cover the stickers on their Rubik's Cubes.
Cricket players wrap tennis balls with electrical tape when real cricket balls aren't available.
Rugby players sometimes tape their ears back with electrical tape.
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  • Written By: A. B. Kelsey
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Oona Räisänen, Fotopak, n/a
  • Last Modified Date: 20 December 2014
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Invented by 3M in 1946, electrical tape is a pressure-sensitive adhesive used to insulate electrical wires and other materials that conduct electricity. This tape is made in a variety of plastics, but vinyl is the most common because it has the best stretching ability, making it more effective to create long lasting insulation. True electrical tape must be certified to not catch fire or burn when overheated.

Although electrical tape comes in a variety of colors, electricians use basic black the most often. Black is an all-purpose color that doesn't indicate anything special about wires. It is also the most resistant to ultraviolet (UV) radiation damage, so this color is usually used on wires that will be exposed to direct sunlight.

Professional electricians use other colors to indicate the phase of the wire, the voltage level, and the purpose of the wire. Neutral wires are marked with light grey or white tape. Ground wires are indicated by using tape that is green or green with yellow stripes. Colored tape is also used to label the phases on a three-phase system, note the start of a wire in a conduit so the other end is easy to find, and mark cables that need to be unhooked so they can be easily hooked back up later.

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Electrical tape is usually applied to exposed wires by spinning the roll around the wire in the direction that the tape comes off the roll. This applies light tension, which keeps the tape tight on the wires. The tape needs to be wrapped tightly so there are no gaps where moisture can seep in. If there is too much tension, however, it will be stretched too far and will loosen as it pulls back to its normal state.

Most brands of electrical tape can be torn by hand, although some brands have a dispenser with a built-in cutter. Still others require the use of scissors or a knife.

Because this tape is stretchy and comes in a variety of colors, people have found a wide variety of non-electrical uses for the tape. Stagehands, for example, often use electrical tape to secure stage lighting cables, and actors use it to mark their positions on the stage during rehearsals.

Electrical tape is also used by athletes. Players on rugby teams have been known to tape their ears back to prevent cuts and abrasians. Cricket players will wrap it around tennis balls to create makeshift cricket balls. Some athletes have even used this type of tape to keep their shinguards from slipping.

Musicians have their own uses for the tape. Drummers in marching bands use colored tape to wrap their drum sticks, which not only makes the sticks more durable, but also makes them look flashy and cool when they play. Many musicians also wrap their fingers before a long jam session or performance so they don’t get blisters.

Electrical tape can be used in the home as well. Organized people often use the tape for color coding and labeling purposes. Artistic folks have been known to use it to create unconventional yet aesthetically pleasing wall art and sculptures. Some people even use the tape to replace the stickers on their Rubik's Cube®. As a quick fix, it can even be used as a temporary bandage.

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