What are Zip Ties?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Zip ties are plastic fasteners which have a wide range of uses, from wiring to law enforcement. Many hardware stores sell zip ties, which may also be labeled as rat or cable ties, and they can be a very useful tool to have around. The basic design of a zip tie is fairly straightforward, but they come in a range of sizes and colors for various applications.

Law enforcement can use zip ties in lieu of handcuffs, especially for a large group of people being arrested all at once.
Law enforcement can use zip ties in lieu of handcuffs, especially for a large group of people being arrested all at once.

A basic zip tie is simply a small strip of plastic with a row of teeth. At one end, the plastic has been molded into a point, and at the other end, a small square case holds a lip which is designed to catch the teeth. To use a zip tie, the pointed end is threaded into the casing and then pulled; when released, the lip holds the zip tie in place. The design is set up so that it is very easy to fasten, but usually hard to release, although some zip ties have special tabs which can be held down to release the teeth.

The original zip tie came out in 1958, and the design hasn't changed much since. The ties were originally designed for the purpose of organizing electrical wiring, since they are ideally suited to bundling cables and other clusters of wires. Multicolored zip ties can even be used to create color coded cabling, which can be very useful. Once zip ties hit the market, people came up with plenty of other uses for them.

The design of a zip tie allows people to easily and quickly fasten things to a high degree of tightness. As a result, zip ties are used in product packaging, gardening, and even automotive repair. Once famous use of zip ties is as plastic handcuffs; law enforcement can quickly handcuff a group with zip ties. Law enforcement zip ties carry the advantage of being single use, eliminating the risk of disease transmission, although they can also cut off a suspect's circulation if they are too tight, which is a serious danger.

To release a zip tie, a knife or scissors is needed. One tool which works very well for removing small zip ties is nail clippers; they are usually the perfect width to grab the zip tie and cut through it without risking damage to the object that the zip tie is holding. You can also purchase releasable zip ties, although they tend to be more expensive than the conventional style.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@sunnySkys - Interesting. For me personally, zip ties are the bane of my existence. They are used to package practically every product and I fee like it's usually extremely difficult to cut through them. I think next time I'm going to take a hint from the article and use nail clippers, because normally when I use scissors I spend more than a few minutes struggling with the zip ties!


Zip ties are quite versatile. A friend of mine has two chinchillas and she built them a cage held together with, you guessed it, zip ties. Chinchillas try to chew through everything but so far the zip ties have held up beautifully.

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