LED strip lights are typically a very flexible form of lighting a space.
I don’t mean the fact that the strips themselves can bend – in terms of application, they are a good choice for lighting all kinds of different locations around your home (and elsewhere).
But not all surfaces in these locations will have a solid, rigid material to stick the strip light to.
If you want to add a glow to the base of your sofa or parts of your car, then you might be dealing with fabrics instead.
Can you put LED strips on fabrics, and is it safe?
LED strips can be placed on the fabric, but the self-adhesive tape they typically come with is not strong enough to stick. Special adhesive tape, fabric glue, or even stitching the strips into place will all work better. They can overheat – cheap strips should always be installed with an aluminum channel.
In this guide, I’ll explain:
- Why LED strips need a special adhesive
- Potential ways you can attach an LED strip to fabric
- How fabrics don’t dissipate heat, and how to counter that
Do LED Strips Require Special Fabric Adhesive?
When you buy an LED strip light, they will almost always come with adhesive tape attached to the rear to make installing them easy.
All you need to do is peel the backing off the tape and then push the strip into place so the adhesive can bond with the surface.
Except, these tapes are not always the strongest – especially when you buy a cheap LED strip.
They generally work OK for flat surfaces, provided you ensure you don’t put any strain on them. So if they have a controller box attached along the power cable, this shouldn’t dangle freely as a weight pulling down on the strip.
But the fabric is different.
Fabrics are not flat surfaces, and they tend to have different properties. Obviously, it depends on the fabric in question, but the problem lies in the fabric structure.
Fabrics are uneven, so it isn’t easy to get flat tape to stick to them. Also, fabrics are not ‘one solid item’ but are made of various strands.
If the strip applies any weight, the strands will separate.
So you’ll end up with a lot of the fabric stuck to the strip…but the strip will fall away from the upholstered item as the fabric pulls apart.
This means that, yes, usually you will need a special adhesive if you want to attach a strip light to fabric – or you’ll have to get creative to do it in other ways.
How To Attach LED Strip To Fabric?
We’ve established that the essential adhesive tape which comes with most LED strips isn’t going to work on most fabric surfaces. So what can you do?
You have three main options.
Some adhesive strips do work quite well on fabric.
These tend to be the command strips which are thicker and can be pushed into a fabric and hold more of a grip.
You might be familiar with command strips – they usually come in small strips to work as temporary hooks. But it is also available as a double-sided tape.
This tape, being made from foam, will bond much more successfully with fabrics. So you can measure the amount of tape you need and then stick this to the fabric.
Then, stick the LED strip to the tape.
You’ll get a much stronger bond if you use the adhesive tape on the back of the LED strip in conjunction with the command tape.
So peel back the tape on the LED strip, and stick that to the sticky side of the command tape on the fabric.
This is a good option because the command tape, while strong, is removable and won’t severely damage the fabric.
The downside is that being foam, it’s a little thicker, so your LED strips will extrude slightly from the surface.
Not really an issue where the strip is hidden – behind a bed headboard or the back of a sofa – but if it’s visible, it will look less neat.
If you want a completely flat bond, you can use special fabric adhesive.
This is strong stuff and is much harder to remove – you’d need to use rubbing alcohol, and it may discolor the fabric.
Only use fabric glue if you never intend to remove the LEDs and don’t plan on re-selling the item they’re glued to.
Finally, you could stitch or staple the strip lights into position – something you can’t easily do on a flat plastered or metal surface.
You need to use strong staples or stitching material – the fishing line works well since it is durable but also invisible and more resistant to heat.
Do Fabrics Dissipate Heat?
Something you need to be very careful with is the heat management of your strip lights.
Most fabrics you’ll want to attach your strip lights to are great insulators – which is bad in this case.
LED strip lights get hot, and if that heat can’t dissipate effectively, they will get damaged.
There is a fire risk, too, although it’s typically low due to the voltage of most strips.
Still, you need to be careful, especially if you plan on buying cheap strip lights, which don’t usually have the best dissipation built in.
The best thing to do is to use an aluminum channel for your strip lights and then stick that channel to the fabric.
It might not work for all scenarios, but for flat fabric surfaces, a channel will help move heat away from the lights and keep them safer.
It is possible to stick LED strip lights to fabrics, which can get you some great results when you want to back-light a bed or couch or add funky lighting around your car seats.
But you will need to think carefully about the solution you use for attaching them.
Don’t buy the cheapest brand; aim for something reliable to minimize the risk of overheating, burning out, and even potential fires.
Have you had success attaching strip lights to fabric surfaces? What solution did you go for?