For the past 19 years, I have trained buyers, engineers, product managers, salespeople, among others, on choosing the most appropriate adhesive tape for the job. Whether it’s to hang objects on a wall, holding a display stand together, or assembling a cell phone, one of the most difficult tasks is to find a tape that will hold an object in place while, a day in the future, being able to remove the adhesive from one or both surfaces without causing damage. Making a removable adhesive is much more challenging than making a permanent adhesive. The reason for this is that you can’t make a removable adhesive too strong or too weak, and with a permanent adhesive, your concern is just not making it too weak.

A permanent adhesive will work on many more surfaces than one that is designed to be removable. Like Little Red Riding Hood, it has to be just right.

The adhesive tapes we use to hang object on our walls or hold two surfaces together are called pressure sensitive adhesives (PSA).

Here are the things that make PSAs work:

1. Sufficient pressure to cause the adhesive to spread across the surface (“wet-out”)

2. A clean, dust-free, surface.

3. Applied at room temperature

4. A surface that is not “slippery,” which is called surface tension. Low surface tension is not good, while high surface tension is very good.

clean the surface
appling surface pressure
room temp
high surface energy

While my technical presentations could be 40 slides long, from here I’m going to discuss considerations for attaching objects to surfaces that you want to remove later without causing damage.

The most popular removable tape on the market is Command Strips by 3M (full disclosure: I trained at their facility in Minnesota). There are many reviews on Amazon for Command Strips, receiving an average of 84% positive reviews, and 16% giving one and two stars ratings. When consumers are unhappy, here is a typical complaint: “THEY ARE HORRIBLE!!!! [Command 17024VP]  Every single one of my pictures has fallen off the wall tearing off strip. All lightweight but slowly but surely each one has failed……worst product ever…..and yes i read and followed directions.”

3m command strips picture
3m tape lock

OK, so this user followed directions and we could check-off on our list of what makes a PSA work: applied pressure,checkmark. Clean surface,checkmark. Applied at room temperature,checkmark(I’m assuming used indoors). The unknown here is the surface tension, of the wall and picture frame. Since the pictures were lightweight, I suspect surface tension was the culprit. There might be another reason, which I’ll discuss soon. I have tools to check the surface tension of objects, but since you don’t have that luxury, I’ll provide some hacks.

surface energy levels

Here’s one way I checked surface tension at home. We had three hooks of the same size attached in a vertical line to our laminated cabinet. They had been attached with permanent adhesive, which I removed with orange oil solvent. I replaced with Command Strip hooks and attached our three colanders. About a week later, the middle hook began to slip then fell down. I wiped the surface clean again, applied pressure, and attached a new Command Strip. Same thing again, and again. The weird thing is that only the middle hook was failing. I’m the tape expert, so I was a little embarrassed. It was my job to find out what was wrong. It had to be surface tension because everything else was checked, but why just this spot where the second hook sat? I took a spray bottle of water and sprayed the cabinet. With my magnifying glass, I clearly saw what was happening. In the area where the second hook was attached, the water beaded up instead of a puddle, or spreading. This meant that I had low surface tension there. Apparently, the orange oil cleaner I used went into the micro pores of the old laminate and was making the surface “slippery”

How to test if your surface will be “nice” to your removable tape.

1. Spray water on the surface. Do you see only beading water? Sign of hard to stick surface (low surface tension). You’ll see more flat water on high tension surfaces. Color might make it difficult to see.

2. So that you will know what hard-to-stick to surface feels like, take regular packaging tape (the type that seals packages), apply it to a plastic zip lock bag and peel it away. Bags are made from polyethylene and have low surface tension. If your wall feels the same way when you apply packaging tape, removable tape may not work.

surface tension

So what do you do if you have low surface energy wall, and you want to use a double-sided tape?

1. “Overload” the area with removable adhesive tape. The more area you could cover the more secure it will hold.

2. Apply 2” packaging tape to the surface. Then apply permanent tape to the packaging tape. The packaging tape isn’t stronger than the permanent double tape, but because it’s covering a larger area, it will hold more securely and remove more cleanly (although may mark surface).

3. Use permanent adhesive. Although it may mark the surface when removed, it won’t be as bad because it’s a low energy surface. Use a strong orange oil cleaner and coconut oil to remove.

extra taped frame

Another consideration I have not mentioned but may have a significant effect on holding your art against your wall, is a textured surface. Generally, I’ll take a rough surface with high energy than a smooth surface with low energy, with rough surfaces you just need to use a thicker tape. With rough surfaces, don’t use a thin film tape. Instead use a foam tape so the adhesive can make its way into the valleys of the surface.

adhesive contact

Below are some tests with different removable tapes and surfaces. I used three tape brands

1. Command Strips by 3M. These work in pairs and are joined with micro plastic mushroom heads that lock in place when pressed together. When you want to remove the adhesive, you pull down on the tabs to stretch the tape

2. Hyper Tough removable adhesive. The concept is similar to Command Strips but instead of plastic mushroom heads for joining the two pieces together, they use a hook and loop system, commonly known as “Velcro”

3. Apartment Tape. These have removable adhesive on one side and permanent adhesive on the other. The remover side goes against the wall.

TEST 1: hooks placed on dry wall that has some textured surface. I initiated the test with 1.1 pounds of weight, as the 3M Command strip hook is rated for 1 pound.

I placed Apartment tape on one hook, as not available with a hook option.

All tapes held up well after 24 hours of hold.

tape wall test

I then increased weight to 2.5 pounds. After 24 hours, all hooks were still in place.  Conclusion: The test was ended and all tapes held more than double their rated weight. The dry wall has medium surface tensions. There was no tape residue from any tapes when removed.

3 tape test

TEST 2”:  placing 11 x 17 inched stretched canvas frames on a highly textured stucco surface. I used Command Picture Hanging Strips, Hyper Tough Strips, and Apartment Tape 1/32” and 1/8” thick. Each pair of command strips for picture hanging is rated at 3 pounds per pair.  I placed 3 strips on stretched canvas frames, so the 3M Command should hold 9 pounds of weight.

I placed 10 pound weight on each stretched canvas frames, 1 pound over the 3M Command rating. From experience, the weight ratings on tapes run on the conservative side, so Command Strips should do ok.

The Command Strips immediately fell to the ground within seconds of applying. The Command tape did not do well with the highly textured surface. The tape was too stiff and the adhesive did not get into the valleys of the wall’s texture. The 1/32” Apartment Tape was too thin and also fell within seconds of being applied to wall. The 1/8” thick Apartment tape was able to hold 10 pounds for over 24 hours, demonstrating the importance of having a thick enough tape to fill the wall’s gaps.

3m fail
tape test

The 3M Command Strips could not hold the 10 pound weight due to the hills and valleys of the wall. The wall is highly textured plaster wall. 1/32" thick Apartment Tape also fell within seconds of being attached to wall. Applying 1/8" thick Apartment Tape allowed the adhesive to flow into the plaster valleys and was able to hold the weight.

wall rough

The Hyper Tuff strips held the weighted frames well. The hook and loop construction helped the tape to hold the weight. The “Velcro” slightly separated but held when the weight was applied, so it allowed the tape to be more flexible. The reason the Command Strips failed, for the most part, was that the mushroom fastening system held together so tightly, it did not allow the adhesive some flexibility, which is needed when you have highly textured surface.

tape compare

Conclusion, be aware of the surface you’re attaching your object to. Does tape stick easily to it (high surface energy) or does tape peel away easily (low surface energy). Use permanent rated tapes on low energy surfaces. Use thicker foam tape on highly textured surfaces.


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