Unlocking the enormous technological potential of carbon nanotubes strongly depends on our ability to specifically produce metallic or semiconducting tubes. While selective etching of both has already been demonstrated, the underlying reasons, however, remain elusive as yet. We here present computational and experimental evidence on the operative mechanisms at the atomic scale. We demonstrate that during the adsorption of H atoms and their coalescence, the adsorbed ortho hydrogen pairs on single-walled carbon nanotubes induce higher shear stresses than axial stresses, leading to the elongation of HC-CH bonds as a function of their alignment with the tube chirality vector, which we denote as the γ-angle. As a result, the C-C cleavage occurs more rapidly in nanotubes containing ortho H-pairs with a small γ-angle. This phenomenon can explain the selective etching of small-diameter semiconductor nanotubes with a similar curvature. Both theoretical and experimental results strongly indicate the important role of the γ-angle in the selective etching mechanisms of carbon nanotubes, in addition to the nanotube curvature and metallicity effects and lead us to clearly understand the onset of selective synthesis/removal of CNT-based materials.