Duct Up

Attention wart sufferers, and duct tape users: According to the October issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, you don't have to go to a doctor and get your warts frozen off. Duct tape will do the job, and do it better.

In a recent study at the Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma, Washington, 26 wart patients wore duct tape over their warts for six days. Then, they removed the tape, soaked their warts in water, and filed their warts with emery boards or pumice stones. They reapplied the duct tape the next morning, then continued the ritual for two months, or until their warts went away. Eighty-five percent of the duct-tape patients ended up wart-free, as opposed to 60 percent of patients whose doctors tried to freeze their warts off with liquid nitrogen.

I call this a real breakthrough, especially for folks like me, who aren't squeamish about taking on a little do-it-yourself minor surgery. When I was about six, I grew a wart on the inside of my knee. I hated that thing, so every day I'd climb about six feet into the backyard chinaberry tree, and slide down the trunk, putting as much friction on the wart as I could stand. Just as I suspected, the nubby little sumbitch couldn't stand up to that kind of abuse, and it popped off after just a few days.

Since then, I've treated a whole bunch of minor skin imperfections myself. On my left thumb, I've got a little raised dot, where wife Brenda's dog T.J. bit me 20 years ago. Every now and then, it raises up a little more than usual. So I take an emery board, and file it down flush, just like the Madigan wart sufferers. I've also trimmed up a whole lot of guitar-player fingertip calluses, and I've snipped off several tiny things that looked like they wouldn't bleed much or come back later. I figure I've saved myself dozens of trips to the doctor, and thousands of dollars. Best of all, though, I experienced the thrill of a job well done.

But enough about me. Back to the duct tape vs. warts study. Dr. Dean Focht III of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center said the researchers didn't test any other kinds of tape, and they don't know what it is about duct tape that gives it wart-removing powers. For all they know, you could get the same result using regular old transparent tape, electrical tape, or the sticky part of a Band-Aid. Given my experience, I don't think you need the tape at all. I say you just need the file, and the courage to use it. Don't go by me, though. Check with your physician.

All this goes to show what I've known for a long time: This world would be much worse off without duct tape. The Apollo 13 astronauts would've smothered to death between here and the moon if not for rigged-up air filters held together with duct tape. My friend Little Bruce would have lost the side panels of his rusted-out pickup if not for duct tape. A few bold high school kids would have gone to the prom naked, if not for the gowns and tuxedos that they made out of duct tape.

But there is one thing duct tape will not do, and that's stick heat-and-air ducts together. Believe me when I tell you, duct-taped ducts come apart, and leak, 100 percent of the time. In a 1998 study at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Max Sherman and Iain Walker tested duct tape, clear plastic tape, foil-backed tape, mastic, injected aerosol sealant, and every other duct sealant they could get their hands on. They found that anything worked better than duct tape. "Of all the things we tested," said Sherman, "only duct tape failed. It failed reliably and often quite catastrophically."

In attics, which in our part of the world can get up to 150 degrees, the glue on duct tape melts at the speed of ice cream. In our little home inspection business, when we open up an attic pull-down stair, we often find it covered with wads of dead duct tape, which fell off the attic ducts.

Loose duct tape means leaky duct joints, and leaky joints mean the efficiency of the heat-and-air system has gone straight to hell. It's not unusual for failed duct joints to leak 50 percent of the conditioned air.

So, when you get your heat-and-air system serviced, make sure the technician checks the ducts. If the ducts are sealed with duct tape, tell the technician to replace it with something that works. The cost of the labor for re-sealing the ducts is sure to be cheaper than blowing half the conditioned air into your attic or crawl space.

If you've got duct tape on hand, use it on your warts, use it to hold you car together, use it to make little kids and compliant pets look like robots for Halloween. Just don't use the stuff on your ducts.