What Is Hook and Loop?

What Is Hook and Loop?

Posted on 18, August, 2016

Last Modified on 22, August, 2016

Though you may not recognize the name, hook and loop is one of the most popular fastening systems in the world today. Sometimes, it's referred to as a hook and pile or touch fastener. Most recognize it as Velcro®, the most well-known brand name of hook and loop tape. How did hook and loop fasteners come to be? Why is it so popular? And, why do we call it Velcro®?

What Does Hook and Loop Mean?

Close-Up of Hook and Loop
Microscopic view of hooks (left) and loops (right).
Credit: Hadley Paul Garland

Hook and loop systems are essentially comprised of two components: a "hook" side and a "loop" side. The hook side is rougher and filled with very tiny hooks. The loop side is less coarse with clusters of hairy loops. When these two components are pressed together, the hooks catch the loops and bind the strips together. The strips are easily separated by pulling or peeling them apart, which creates that distinct ripping noise synonymous with touch fasteners.

Where Did It Come From?

The inspiration for hook and loop fasteners came from an unlikely source: seeds and dog hair. Back in 1941, Swedish electrical engineer by the name of George de Mestral went on a hunting trip with his dog. Throughout their outing, De Mestral was constantly yanking cockleburs seeds off of his clothing and his dog's fur. Like any good scientist, De Mestral put the seeds under a microscope and saw that the seeds were covered with hundreds of spiny hooks that attached to anything with a loop.

Literature Pocket with Hook and Loop Strips

De Mestral took his hook and loop discovery and began to develop it into a man-made product. After nearly a decade of research and development, he patented the first hook and loop fastener in 1955. He named the invention and the company Velcro® - a blend of the French words velour ("velvet") and crochet ("hook").

What Is the Difference Between Hook and Loop and Velcro®?

Many use Velcro® incorrectly to identify all hook and loop fasteners. It has become a proprietary eponym, much like what Kleenex is to facial tissues, Chapstick is to lip balm, and Band Aid is to bandages. Velcro® is often mistaken as the actual name of all hook and pile systems. In reality, it's just one of many brands that manufacture and sell hook and loop tape, fasteners, and strips.

Why Are the Advantages of Hook and Loop?

Literature Pocket with Hook and Loop strips
  • Easy & Safe to Use: With touch fasteners, you don't have to battle with buttons or struggle with a jammed zipper.
  • Low Maintenance: They require little to no upkeep and last a very long time. Performance and effectiveness only drops after a significant amount of uses.
  • Strong: Some hook and loop fasteners are so well engineered that a 2-inch square can hold up to 175 lbs.
  • Variety of Applications: It's been used for everything from hanging wall art to holding down turf at NFL stadiums. It was even used during the first artificial heart surgery.

Hook and loop fasteners have become an integral part of our everyday life. Initially, the public wasn't sold on this kooky new invention that would replace zippers and buttons. It wasn't until NASA began using hook and pile tape in its space flights during the 1960s that people recognized its benefits. Now it's used everywhere, from school display boards to trade show exhibits to sandpaper to kids' shoes.