Introduction: Unusual Uses for Zip Ties

Picture of Unusual Uses for Zip Ties

Zip ties (also called cable ties) come in every size, color, or length you could ever want. They are inexpensive, versatile, and invaluable for the utility they serve. Even though these plastic wonders have been around a long time, there's still plenty of uses for them besides simply a quick way to secure items together.

Grab ahold of your favorite, because we're going to explore a few unusual uses for zip ties!

Step 1: Secure Hubcaps

Picture of Secure Hubcaps

Although many newer cars have alloy wheel rims with a polished finish that don't require hubcaps, some cars still have plastic or metal hubcaps that cover the industrial wheel rim. These hubcaps are usually attached with a spring clip or interference fit, allowing them to be removed by giving them a sharp tug. However this also means they can come off on their own while driving if the conditions are right, making them high-speed dangers.

Secure car hubcaps to the wheel rims with zip ties, ensuring the zip ties clear the brake rotors and don't get caught up on anything on the inside of the wheel rim (there's usually enough clearance, but always check!)

Step 2: Tamper Detection for Luggage

Picture of Tamper Detection for Luggage

Zip ties are also a quick and easy way to secure your luggage with a visual cue. Serving both as a signal to you to show if your luggage has been opened, and a deterrent to thieves who know that they will leave a trail if they break the zip tie to gain access to your luggage.

Step 3: Wire Management (color Coded)

Picture of Wire Management (color Coded)

Sometimes there's so many electrical cables at my desk it's tough to stay organized and tell the difference between the cord for my laptop and the cord for the printer. Zip ties to the rescue!

Keep your electrical cords organized with colorful zip ties, assigning a color to each device at each end of the cord. You can easily identify which words can be unplugged directly from the outlet instead of following each cable back to the device to discover which one is safe to unplug.

Step 4: Stop Tools Rolling Away

Picture of Stop Tools Rolling Away

Even though I try and stay organized while I work, I still end up with loads of tools on my workbench when I'm fixing things. Most times things stay where I place them, but when I've got screwdrivers and drill bits out sometimes things roll around and eventually off the table.

You could color coordinate the zip ties, if you're feeling extra organized.

For drill bits that have a zip tie on the, the tie could also be positioned to be a depth gauge to make sure you don't drill too far into your workpiece.

Step 5: Drill Depth Gauge

Picture of Drill Depth Gauge

If you're already using zip ties to prevent drill bits from rolling around your workshop then you've got a depth gauge already built in.

Zip ties can be moved along the length of the drill bit to adjust the desired depth.

Step 6: Traction

Picture of Traction

In a pinch, zip ties can be added to bike tires for a little extra traction.

Make sure the nubby latch that cinches the tie tight is facing outwards to get maximum traction. Since the zip tie will go over the entire tire and rim there's no place for the brake pads to engage the rim, unless your bike has disc brakes. To avoid not having any brakes on your bike only try this with the rear wheel so the front wheel can still slow you down. Of course, riding in the snow on your bike is a risky endeavor, so go slow.

Another great option for traction is to add zip ties to your shoes, and with a few hardware nuts for added traction you're sure to not slip the next time it's icy outside. Clever maker firefightermeyer made these no-cost crampons in minutes, and they look to give plenty of traction.

Step 7: Funky Lamp

Picture of Funky Lamp

Zip ties are so versatile they can even be used as a creative lampshade to great effect. I made this lampshade by replacing the existing lampshade with square wire netting and layering with colorful zip ties, and put together an Instructable about this technique.

There's a few other lamps you can make from zip ties, too.

Zip Tie Lamp - AudreyObscura

Zip Tie Spiral Pendant Lamp - Tarun Upadhyaya

Step 8: Fix Wobbly Outlets

Picture of Fix Wobbly Outlets

Electrical outlets can receive a lot of abuse over the years with cords being mercilessly yanks from the socket, causing the receptacle to loosen inside the electrical box inside the wall.

If your electrical outlet is seated too far into the electrical box and the cover doesn't fit, try adding a zip tie behind the outlet on the machine screw to act as a standoff. This will allow you to tighten the screw to the zip tie and give you an additional bit of height to attach the faceplate over and allow it to sit flush.

Step 9: Plant Support

Picture of Plant Support

Zip ties can be a great addition to the garden, too. Tall plants can be trained to stakes to help support them while they grow, just make sure not to tighten the zip tie which could strangle the plant. Leave plenty of slack in the zip tie after the loop has been closed, this will allow the plant to move while it grows but still benefit from the support the tie provides.

The best part about using zip ties is that they come in lots of colors, so it's easy to find one that matches your plants.

Step 10: Trail Marker

Picture of Trail Marker

Zip ties are a very useful item to have when you're camping, so why not take a few with you on your next camp hike to help mark the trail?

Using bright colors that are not often found on hiking trails works best, like orange or yellow. These colors stand out against the foliage and will catch your eye when hiking, guiding you back to your campsite. Zip ties won't rot and fall off wherever they are attached, and are easily removed with a camping knife when no longer needed.

When attaching zip ties to any plants it's important not to tighten, this can strangle the plant and cause harm. The aim with using zip ties in this fashion is a method for visual aid only, so leave plenty of slack in the tie after securing the loop.

Step 11: Pendant Lamp Cord Loop

A great solution to hanging pendant lamps is to use a zip tie to secure a loop in the cord, allowing it to be hung from the ceiling and adjusted to any height. Paige's Pendant Lamp Lesson in the free Lamps Class shows us how

The great thing about using a zip tie is that you can leave it a little bit loose for minor height adjustments and then tighten it all the way up once you have the pendant exactly where you want it!

Make a loose loop in the lamp cord

Secure with a zip tie. Don't over tighten! Leaving it a little loose will allow for easy adjustments later, if you wish.

Hang loop from ceiling hook.

Step 12: Bonus: Undo a Zip Tie

Picture of Bonus: Undo a Zip Tie

Zip ties are great because they are easy to use. But, did you know you can reuse them?

Though you may think these are single-use, you can actually remove zip ties by inserting a pin, fingernail, or dull knife into the ratchet latch and pry it downwards to release the zip tie, then slide out the tail of the tie to remove.

How Have You Used Zip Ties?

Do you have another unusual use for zip ties? I want to see them!

Share a picture of your zip tie unusual use in the comments below and get a free Pro Membership to Instructables! Make sure your use is unusual :)


chasiscorto (author)2017-06-25

Excellent ideas. I learned the hard way that using a flush cut is better when it comes to zip ties, othewise you create a sharp edge every time you cut one.

It worries me a bit the use of zip ties to mark trails tho, even if you leave them loose the trees will catch up eventually; keeping an eye on them over the time is necessary.

The first time I saw zip ties I thought they were just cheap stuff, I have used them in racing cars and wind mills... properly used they can hold a lot!

Good quality ones can be tightened using a cutter, by pulling the flat end out of the lock end by twisting the flat end out, opposite to the little lock tab... It works really good.

Rae1929 (author)chasiscorto2017-09-04

you aren't supposed to leave the tie on the tree. Use them going up the trail, take them off going down. Never leave them on the tree.

chrissysno (author)chasiscorto2017-06-28

I agree. Never attach anything to a young tree that will eventually strangle it. Better to use colorful cut rubber bands that will get brittle and break off over time.--- chasiscorto, Good post!

greepaul (author)chasiscorto2017-06-25

I've never found a solution to the sharp edge problem: and they can be quite nasty! When you sway a flush-cut, are you talking about diagonal pliers (snips)

or do you mean using a flush-cut saw? (I've found the diagonal pliers can still leave a very sharp edge.) Thanks.

kz1 (author)greepaul2017-06-28

Cut them close and then use a soldering gun to melt them smooth. Worked great on the sailboat.

bobrosco (author)greepaul2017-06-25

there are special cut off pliers that are not ground in to a double point like a knife, but only ground to a point from 1 side and the other side is flat. Those are flush cut, because you can put the flat side up to whatever you are cutting and cut flush with that edge. Those cutters also dont pinch the side that remains to a sharp point, they will leave a much flatter edge. But a special warning, you cant use those pliers for cutting metal, if you do they will bend the cutting edge and the pliers are ruined.(we had an inturn who did that to a brand new knipex, instant garbage)

spark master (author)bobrosco2017-06-28

They make flat edged cutters for metal, I had them for electronics years ago. They cut copper soft material, and yes they worked nice in this application as well. You want to get soldered points as flat as possible to help with coronall discharge and possible shorting, and reduction of noise injection.

greepaul (author)bobrosco2017-06-25

Okay: thanks.

txadams (author)greepaul2017-06-25

Hold a lighter to the edge just enough to make it mallable. Smush it down with a knife blade or stright edge screwdriver.

spark master (author)txadams2017-06-28

done right no need to smoosh , thank you
for sanity. If you use them daily or weekly you might buy a cutter, I
just trimmed them with my pocket knife. That is cut first and simple
trim after that. Also sand paper works well too!

but the best always was a trim and "BIC"

greepaul (author)txadams2017-06-25

Okay, thanks.

fred_ (author)greepaul2017-06-25

You can get flush cutters. It helps if you maintain tension on the tail a little when you cut it flush. The cut end will suck back into the head a little.

There are also cheapo devices that tension and cut the end off all in one motion. Maybe google ty-rap or cable tie gun? The pro ones and automatic installation tools are pretty spendy.

mrkilowatt (author)fred_2017-06-25

I use a fingernail clippers which leaves a very smooth end.

Boot2000 (author)mrkilowatt2017-06-26

trim and melt with soldering iron no sharp edge and "secure"

go thee to the $ store and buy toenail cutters.. not the curved cutter ones, the straight ones,, cheap nuff to leave in your zip tie tool box

I just love this one. Thanks!!!

greepaul (author)fred_2017-06-25

Okay, thanks.

Try twisting with the pliers butted up against the twist tie. Hard to explain. Like you're eating a snake from tge tail first. Grab close to the nub and twist like you are winding a clock.

chasiscorto (author)greepaul2017-06-25

I use flush cut pliers everytime for it just like this:

There's also a Zip Tie Tool that you can pick up for a range of prices. They all cut the ties flush. The cheaper ones aren't adjustable but the better ones not only tighten the zip tie they also cut them flush at a tension you can set. Well worth it when I'm putting in dozens or more a day. Saves time and my fingers.

Just type in "zip tie tools" in a Google search and click on the Images tab.

greepaul (author)chasiscorto2017-06-25

Okay, thanks.

greepaul (author)chasiscorto2017-06-25

Okay: thanks.

PeterJ155 (author)greepaul2017-06-25

You can get flush cut pliers. They are used in electronics assembly and jewellery making, but can be had pretty cheaply. Just enter "flush cut pliers" into Amazon's search bar (other web sites are available).

greepaul (author)PeterJ1552017-06-25

Okay, thanks.

Ron DeVous (author)greepaul2017-06-25

Heat your soldering iron for a minute or so, then swipe it across the sharp edge. Inhibits reuse, but deals very effectively with the sharp edge.

greepaul (author)Ron DeVous2017-06-25

Okay, thanks.

heavyweather (author)greepaul2017-06-25

There are pliers that pull them tight and cut them down without leaving a sharp edge.

greepaul (author)heavyweather2017-06-25

Okay: thanks.

chasiscorto (author)heavyweather2017-06-25

Sure, I'm just trying to be cost-effective.

IanN21 (author)chasiscorto2017-06-27

Harbor Freight sells decent flush cutters for $3.99 ($2.99 on sale quite often). They won't last forever but they cut great when new and are so cheap you can buy several pairs at a time. They are much harder to break off than the ones from Home Depot.

DonnH1 (author)chasiscorto2017-06-25

Adding my disdain for using zip ties as trail markers. At one time, while living in a remote isolated location, I decided to mark a trail with "plastic" flagging tape. I came back about 2 weeks later and had difficulty finding any of the tape markers. The critters had chewed them to bits. I agree with others who say if you do use markers to be responsible and remove them afterwards.

ooohlaa (author)DonnH12017-06-26

yes the oceans suffer enough from our obsession with plastic, please don't bring them into our forests; i just read that all plastics give off fumes and they are cumulative in our body systems, think of mercury fillings gas off, and eventually throw off our thyroid, and other hormonal disturbances, even infertility. I have slowly started to eliminate plastics and replace with metal or glass. Just sayin'

Boot2000 (author)ooohlaa2017-06-26

not sure how a glass zip tie would hold up....maybe a titanium one would work but might be cost prohibitive

tkjtkj (author)Boot20002017-06-26

stainless steel zip ties are not overly expensive, for the relatively few times they'd be needed .. See my comment re: bicycle tire pump ... somewhere up above ...

Wayne TheS (author)DonnH12017-06-25

I used zip ties to mark a trail. When I came back to remove them.....the tree had grown so much, I couldn't reach them. :P

DonnH1 (author)Wayne TheS2017-06-25

Wayne, if you hadn't noticed no one is suggesting zip ties be left on vegetation as markers. That would be irresponsible. Right!

SamB188 (author)chasiscorto2017-06-26

I learned working in the electronics field to take a pliers and twist off the tail end. No sharp edges or points!

RonD8 (author)2017-07-10

I have a large steel spider in my yard for decoration. I wanted it to look more realistic, and most spiders are 'hairy'. So I wanted to know how to make a 400 lb steel spider look hairy? Large black zip ties, of course. The spider is named Charlie.

Yonatan24 (author)RonD82017-08-06

Please post an Instructable next time you make something like this!

mikeasaurus (author)RonD82017-07-11

Oh boy, does this ever add a scary dimension to this spider!

Thanks for sharing a picture of a very unusual use for zip ties, enjoy the Pro Membership!

ByronB2 (author)2017-07-09

the electrical outlet tho lmao

RobM215 (author)2017-07-06

Use electronic "side cutters" to cut the tails off zip ties. It results in a blunter tail that is much less likely to cut or scratch than the sharp end you get when cutting the zip tie with ordinary wire cutters as shown above.

computeruser28 (author)2017-07-04

If you need to repeatedly tighten and undo a zip tie, you can insert the tail of the zip tie with its teeth away from the latch (essentially inserting it the other way around than normal). The latch holds onto the tail very well in my experience, and that's what I use when I need to keep unused charging cords organized so I can remove the zip tie easily when I need a particular cord. Maybe that could also be helpful for the plant support and trail markers ideas or when you need a temporary bind on something.

ronald.ferreira.39 (author)2017-07-01

i never was able to unscrew zip ties unless thy have special ones. i used this for my mobilitie scooter cable to hold wires and stuff in place.

dawnw88 (author)2017-06-29

wow,i love this...especially the ties are awesome and I use them all the time...have to take the time to list some of my uses also

jowlmonster (author)2017-06-27

Using ties to lock luggage would be useless. In Kipkay's video "Is Your Luggage Safe from airport security?" he shows how to open the zipper on bags that were secured with zip ties.

gcai_fwb (author)jowlmonster2017-06-28

Kipkay's video forgot to loop the zip tie through a non-moveable part of the luggage (eg. handle or attached D-ring). This would prevent the zipper pulls from being manipulated around as per his video re-closing the zipper - use 2 zip ties if needed. Also it's a good idea use the weirdest colour you have (fluorescent pink is good) - chances are if someone cuts your zip tie they wouldn't have the same colour to replace it (i.e. don't use black or white). Best solution just pack you dirty clothes - thieves generally will not steal those :).

Mhoshovsky made it! (author)2017-06-28

Backcountry ski boot repair. There we were, skiing in the backcountry at 9,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada in midwinter, 7 feet of snow, and over a mile from a plowed road. The sole of my friend's ski boot completely delaminates, leaving the upper boot still on his foot, but the separate sole attached to the ski. Walking out without skis was not really an option. Some duct tape and zip-ties held the separate boot parts all together for the 1-mile trip back to the cars. For those unfamiliar with free-heel backcountry ski bindings, only the toe of the boot is attached to the ski and it needs to flex repeatedly with each forward stride.

AshwinC6 (author)2017-06-28

Very unusual instructable for unusual uses of Zip Ties!

spark master (author)2017-06-28

Every year we would help dad put up a huge canvas awning, held on a metal frame with cord, big brother brought a double handful of ties and stopped using the cord. to unto just clip them off. The sharp edges were not addressed as the thing is way over head, and the time saved was enormous. Well worth the 2 cents per tie, we used good ones.

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