Duct tape is the universal, go-to “patch it up” tool for millions of people around the world. The waterproof, sticky, flexible, and strong adhesive tape makes it the ideal choice for just about anything. Most people wouldn’t think twice about grabbing the roll to seal a package.
However, these people might find out the very inconvenient way that shipping companies are not fans of the miracle tape.
UPS and FedEx both state in their packaging guidelines not to use duct tape to seal packages. The tape does not adhere well to the rough surface of cardboard, and the moisture that the package might be exposed to during shipping could further weaken the seal.
Can You Use Duct Tape to Ship UPS?
They clearly don’t want you to use duct tape, but why?
Duct tape is not the best tape to use on cardboard as, believe it or not, it does not adhere very well to the cardboard. I’ll discuss this in more detail further down.
UPS will also not accept any packages sealed with masking tape, cellophane tape, or water-activated paper tape.
- Masking tape is weak and can easily break. It also does not bond well to cardboard.
- Cellophane tape is not allowed as UPS requires the tape to be at least two inches wide, and it does not bond well to cardboard.
- Water-activated paper tape (WAT) is good for sealing small boxes. However, it’s not meant for heavy-duty boxes or shipping. It ensures a tight seal on cardboard, but it’s a lot less durable than water-activated reinforced tape, so it tears more easily. (If you are using water-activated tape, make sure it is reinforced.)
What Tape Can You Use?
The only tape UPS will accept on packages is a strong tape specifically designed for shipping.
Shipping or packing tapes are typically strong polypropylene tape with a strong adhesive backing that sticks well to cardboard.
During transit, boxes are under constant stress. Continuously being handled, exposed to a vast range of climates and temperatures, from overheating in a delivery van to very cold conditions in the cargo hold of an airplane.
The smooth polypropylene backing of shipping tape can resist moisture and can withstand high and low temperatures, while the adhesive backing sticks very well to the rough, porous surface of cardboard, making it the ideal choice for shipping.
You can easily find shipping or packing tapes online, for example, the Scotch Box Lock Packaging Tape (amazon link).
Unlike duct tape, shipping tape often comes with a dispenser (amazon link), making packaging boxes effortless.
It’s also a real time-saver (who has ever packaged boxes without a time constraint!). Not only can you tape those boxes like an elite athlete, but you also don’t need to spend hours looking for the end of the tape, and there is no chance of the tape sticking to itself while you try to align it to the flaps of the box.
Can You Use Duct Tape on FedEx Packages
FedEx, as with UPS, does not allow duct tape to be used to seal packages. This is also clearly stated in their Packaging Tips section on the website, as well as on Page 6 of the Packaging Guidelines document.
Again they make it very clear they do not want packages sealed with duct tape.
FedEx will also not accept any boxes sealed with masking tape or cellophane tape. Like UPS, FedEx requires tape to be a minimum of two inches. However, FedEx go further and state that they prefer you to use tape that is three inches wide.
FedEx also state that you may not use any kraft paper tape. This is essentially a water-activated paper tape. So, same as with UPS, they will not allow the weaker WAT to seal packaging.
What Tape Can You Use?
Both UPS and FedEx state you need to use pressure-sensitive packing tape. To ensure you can’t go wrong with either company when shipping packages, it is best to use shipping or packing polypropylene tape.
FedEx specifies that they will allow you to use a water-activated paper tape as long as it is a minimum 60 lb grade or is reinforced and is at least two inches wide. Reinforced water-activated tape is strengthened by fiberglass fibers, making it strong and very durable.
The downside to using water-activated reinforced tape is that you need a special dispenser to apply it. These range between $25 to $1000, depending on your need.
If you don’t send many packages, you may want to consider a more basic manual dispenser, such as the Qilima Water Activated Tape Dispenser (amazon link).
If, however, you will be sending a lot of packages for a small business, for instance, you may want to invest in something a bit more efficient that can cut the tape to size, like the IDL Packaging Electronic Kraft Tape Dispenser (amazon link).
Why Duct Tape Is Not Allowed
As mentioned, although it sticks well to most things, duct tape does not stick very well to cardboard.
Cardboard is a porous material made up of tiny fibers, which can break apart. If duct tape is used on the cardboard and the fibers break apart (which they readily do), the glue fails, and the duct tape comes away from the cardboard.
During transit, packages are often mishandled, tossed, shaken, pulled, and pushed around. This constant motion puts added pressure on the joins and the tape sealing them.
Duct tape, due to its ineffective “stickiness” to cardboard, is more than likely to pull apart and become “unstuck” under these conditions.
Because of the constant pressures of transit, you need a strong tape that will stay “stuck” to your package.
In addition, when heated (for example, in a sealed transit van traveling cross-country), duct tape’s adhesive surface starts to soften, diminishing the effectiveness of its bond, and causing it to come loose.
Similarly, when it’s cold (like in an airplane cargo hold), duct tape starts to harden, which also diminishes its adhesive bond.
Duct tape has a cloth backing, which makes it easy to tear by hand. This poses two additional possible reasons why it is not allowed:
- UPS and FedEx sometimes need to check the contents of a package for security reasons; peeling off the duct tape may prove difficult, especially if it breaks easily and does not come off in one piece.
- Because it can be torn easily, using it to close your parcel may not be the most secure option. Tension on the duct tape may cause it to break apart during transit.
What if You Try to Ship a Duct Tape-Wrapped Item?
UPS and FedEx can turn you away if your package is sealed with duct tape.
If your package does somehow slip through the checks and gets accepted to go out for shipping, you run the risk of your package opening and the contents spilling out.
If your duct-taped package comes undone, the shipping companies will attempt to return it to you. You will be responsible for all costs and fees connected to the return.
If they cannot return your package, you will be held liable for any damages as well as any costs from spillage or the need to dispose of your package.
If you send a parcel sealed with duct tape and it opens, you will be unable to claim from UPS’s or FedEx’s insurance, even if you took out insurance. The duct tape will void any insurance claims.