Sticky tape

Or, in this case, not.

In general, the flexible LED tapes come with a self-adhesive backing tape. You remove the backing from that, and stick the tape to whatever you want. It (apparently) works a treat. However, the LED tape suppliers also want their tape to be used in harsher environments like bathrooms, kitchens, or outside, where there may be more ambient water around. So they’ve taken to encapsulating their LED tape in silicone. This provides both protection from splashes and dampness, and also a degree of physical protection too, without compromising the flexibility or the light output.

My test purchase was of the latter type. And the problem with this stuff is that the silicone both adds weight, and is a devil to adhere to.

To resolve the first issue, the backing tape really needs to be lot stronger than that on the normal tape. In my case it’s apparently branded 3M adhesive tape, but it’s clearly only just borderline strong enough to hold the LED tape in place when it’s stuck upside down without support. The LED tape and adhesive backing tape are pulling away from the cupboard in places. But worse, in other places the LED tape is pulling away from the adhesive backing tape, leaving just that stuck to the cupboard. Silicone is difficult stuff to stick to, and clearly this 3M tape is struggling.

Now, admittedly it’s hot weather at the moment – pushing 30c in my study – but these adhesive tapes are normally rated to 100+c, so I don’t think that’s the root issue here. It’s the weight and the silicone encapsulation that are causing the problems. So, what options do I have?

When I come to do the kitchen I could switch to un-encapsulated LED tape. That would solve the problem. But it’s not going to be as easy to keep clean, and it’s going to be exposed to steam etc. That doesn’t seem like a good solution. So I really need a better approach to mounting the silicone encapsulated LED tape.

My first thought was “better adhesive tape”. There are structural adhesive tapes around (usually called Very High Bond tapes) that can even be used as alternatives to spot welding. They’re not cheap, but I hoped that they might do the job. And there are some mid-range very high strength “professional” double-sided adhesive tapes that are used to make things like advertising signs that might be OK too. So I called a specialist adhesive tape supplier, Tapes Direct, and asked for some technical help. I ended up talking to the owner, and he wasn’t convinced that any of the normal tapes on the market will work well with silicone – not even the VHB stuff at £50 a roll. Kudos to him for not trying to sell me something that wouldn’t work too – proper customer service – I’ll definitely be using him next time I need some specialist tape. But for now it sounds as though adhesive tape is not the answer.

So the other thought is to stick it in place with Silicone sealant. I suspect this is one of those situations where it will be worth paying for a good quality sealant from someone like Dow Corning or Unibond. But the problem with this is that the good quality silicones all cure slowly, developing maximum strength over about 3 days. Which isn’t going to work upside down on a kitchen cupboard.

So the solution is to get some cheap angle or channel, and mount the LED tape onto that, using the silicone, and then mount that onto the kitchen cabinet (with something like screws) once the silicone has cured. You might be able to get away with plastic channel, but my preference is for some aluminium angle; it’s more rigid, so will mount more easily, and isn’t expensive from a wholesaler, even when bought in small quantities.

So later this week I’ll demount the LED tape in my study and build it up into what amounts to a custom light fitting. The trial continues. But of course, this is going to add to the cost. By self-building, I’m currently looking at about £20 a meter for this LED lighting. Adding aluminium angle & quality silicone sealant is going to raise that, perhaps to nearer £30 a meter. It’s still cost-effective, but the differential to something like these, at about £65/m is falling.

On the positive side though, as well as being cheaper, mine are still both brighter and easier to dim!

22 thoughts on “Sticky tape

  1. Richard, you could try fixing the tape direct to the underside of the cupboard using the sealant by holding it in place with a plank pushed up by springy sticks. It’s an old trick used by plasterers repairing a saggy ceiling and would save a bit. All the best, Graham

    • Yes, I’ve used that trick myself in the past, and it works well, if you can arrange enough even pressure for it to work at all!. I also suspect that in this case it could be difficult with such a thin fitting to prevent the plank from also ending up stuck to the sealant.

      I think bonding the LED tape to the aluminium angle, and then screwing that to the cupboard will be the easiest solution, albeit at a price!

      • Richard, my application is on the underside of patio paver stones with the LED light strip pointing down. So I based on what I read on your Blog, I was going to first use a good silicone sealant to seal the LED strip into the LED aluminum U channel strip. Then I was going to seal (silicone or epoxy) the aluminum channel to the underside of the patio paver stones.
        My question is did you remove the self-stick paper and put silicone directly on the sticky tape on your LED lights or did you remove the entire self-stick strip and put silicone directly on the silicone encasing sleeve?

        • I removed all the self-adhesive tape (both the removable paper, and the underlying adhesive layer) from the LED tape, before embedding the LED tape into silicone sealant that I laid into the channel. Getting all the adhesive tape off the LED tape isn’t easy, and I ended up using a solvent (isopropyl alcohol) to help. It’s still a messy task 😦

    • Tape doesn’t work. I used flat cable clips, removed the nail and replaced with a screw. Pre-drilled where the clips were to be screwed and attached the strip lights. Viola! Those critters will not be going anywhere until I want to move them.

  2. Or if you’re already resigned to adding in some aluminium angle, you may as well just stick it to that with the supplied tape and support it with the occasional screw/nut’n’bolt which will be enough to let the tape do most of the job.

    • Well, yes. Except that the adhesive tape doesn’t seem to want to stay stuck to the actual silicone encapsulation of the LED strip anyway. I think the best answer is to try bonding it with silicone sealant instead, but that raises the problems of how to support it in place while everything cures. The advantage of using the angle is that I can trivially support the LED strip in the silicone (clothes pegs!) until it’s all cured, and then screw that to the cupboard as a unit.

      I’ve picked up 2m of 1″ x 1/2″ x 1/16″ aluminium angle. It’s perfect for mounting this LED tape; plenty of room for the tape and some screw fixings on the 1″ side, leaving the 1/2″ side to act as a “shade” to prevent the LED tape from being visible from the side. I suspect it might help to dissipate the heat from the LEDs too.

      Hopefully I’ll have it all mounted up in the next day or two, and will report back.

      • Just a quick update on the under-cupboard LED lighting: I stuck the LED strip down onto some 16th inch aluminium angle with some Dow Corning silicone sealant, and left it to cure for a day. I then screwed the 2m length of angle to the bottom of the cupboard with 5 screws, and neither it nor the LED tape mounted on it show any sign of ever coming loose.

        In short, a fine result, and it also looks infinitely neater than just sticking the LED tape to the bottom of the cupboard directly. So, it adds about £10/m to the cost, but I think it’s well worth it.

        The only issue with this approach is that you really want to remove the substandard adhesive tape from the LED strip first, and that’s not as simple as it sounds. I used White Spirits, but it was still hard work. A supplier that does the silicone encapsulated LED strip without the self-adhesive backing would be a good find.

          • I doubt very much that Araldite would bond to the silicone encapsulation on the LED tape – pretty much the only thing that will is more silicone. You’re right about the original sticky tape though – it really has to be removed before trying to bond the LED tape with anything else.

  3. I attached my led strip with tape to, bad idea. I have a new led strip now, I can attach the led strip to a aluminium angle. But the place I want my led strip is very small, so I don’t have enough space to make holes for the screws in the wall. What is te best thing to do in my place? Attaching the led strip to the aluminium angle and attach that to the wall with silicone sealant or strong double sided tape or a other solution?

    • I’ve noticed that you can now get silicone clips, designed to hold LED Strip in place. Maybe that might work? See
      Otherwise, perhaps you can use some two-part mechanical fixings to attach the angle/LED Strip to the wall. Apply one part of the fixing to the wall, the other part to the aluminium angle with the attached LED strip, and clip them together? Maybe even strong magnets & stainless steel angle? I think you’ll need to be ingenious and search for something special that is suitable for your specific space though.
      Sorry not to help more.

  4. I had this problem with under cupboard applications and I ended up sticking the tape where I wanted it then using a staple gun with 5mm stainless steel staples spaced at about 50mm along the tape between the LED units. The staples span the tape quite generously but I practised a few times on my workbench to get the correct positioning of the staple gun on the tape.
    It works perfectly, is quick, cheap, neat, easy and simple to correct or change/remove.

  5. So what’s the solution? I just installed some LED strips to wood and they fall off. I was going to hot glue or super glue but was worried hot glue might damage them, and well I hate super glue.

    Someone suggested some 3M automotive bonding tape (but they say only use if you will never remove)

    It’s stressing me out, I hate unfinished projects, any ideas? 🙂

    • These days, the solution are some nice fixings that didn’t exist back when I originally did this. I’ve not tried them, but for any sort of concealed lighting I think they’d be fine aesthetically, as well as being trivial to use. If the LED strip and its fixing are going to be exposed, then you may notice where the fittings are, but I suspect its still going to look a lot tidier than my DIY approach. You might want to check to see if there are different variants of fixing available for the encapsulated vs non-encapsulated tapes, but if the worst comes to pass I suspect you could make these work with either. If I were doing it again now I’d go with either these, or perhaps (carefully!) try Richard Hazzard’s approach with a large staple gun! See a couple of comments back for more information on that.

      • I’m thinking the long side of a disposable clear plastic container could be cut into 1″ x 1.75″ strips, drill a small hole in each long end and screw it overtop the LED strip into the underside of the counter with very short screws (pre drilled of course with a dab of carpenters glue) that way the light is not shadowed by the anchoring system and we eliminate potential for cracking in the plastic or cabinet.

        What do you think?

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