Removing sticker residue is one of the banes of everyone’s existence. Why can’t someone invent a sticker glue that works, but that can be peeled off without leaving a sticky mess on the surface it came from? I’m not sure when it happened, or who’s to blame, but at some point in time stickers started appearing everywhere.
Now, every single item purchased: tools, books, wine bottles, furniture, frying pans, appliances, clothing, even your new car, has some sort of decal, label, logo or UPC tag stuck to it. My pet peeve are those huge labels on electrical device cables, which are particularly obnoxious, not only because they’re unsightly, but because the glue they use is designed to get all over your fingers if you try to remove them. Sticker residue heaven. Of course, that may be intentional because some idiot regulated that you are not supposed to remove those labels at all.
Removing all labels is a chore. It’s messy and, in many cases, ruins the surface they come off. Even if you can get the sticker off without taking the paint, or part of the surface, with it, you’re left with a sticker residue that is just as difficult to remove, or even harder, than the label itself.
Fortunately, there are a few DIY tips and tricks, some better than others, for how to remove sticker residue without causing any damage. Please note, not all of these techniques will work on every item or surface, but the following list will offer at least one effective solution to your sticky situation.
The trick is finding the right one before you give up and throw your new purchase away. Not your new car, probably, but certainly one of those electrical wire purchases.
The mechanical solutions for removing sticker residue are the most straightforward approach: use a scraper to simply scrape off the sticker. Obviously this isn’t a great option if the sticker is on a soft, or easily scratched, object like a book cover or wooden picture frame, or your car’s paintwork, but on harder surfaces it might just work.
Plastic Pan Scraper: A plastic pan scraper is very affordable, and it won’t scratch or damage the surface you’re scraping….maybe. On the downside, it might not be sharp or rigid enough to remove some stickers, or sticker residue, but even if it fails on adhesive-backed stickers, it’s useful in the kitchen for scraping pans and plates.
Paint Scraper: Step up from plastic to a metal paint scraper. The stiff blade and handle make it effective at removing stickers and sticker residue over large areas but watch out for those scratches.
Razor Scraper: Razor scrapers have super-sharp, ultra-thin blades that can easily cut through, or under, the most stubborn stickers. Plus, the replaceable blades are flexible, making them good at removing sticker residue or labels from contoured surfaces, like jars and bottles. They work well on glass so sales stickers on your new car will easily fall to the attack of razor scrapers, but don’t try them on the bodywork or chrome.
Many types of sticker residue can be dissolved with an oily substance, such as vegetable oil, peanut butter, or even mayonnaise. Simply slather the sticker with oil and then soak a rag in oil. Lay the oily rag over the sticker, wait an hour or so, then gently wipe or scrape off the sticker and residue. As a warning, this often creates a bigger mess spread over a larger area.
You can also soften sticky messes with WD-40, rubbing alcohol or, in a pinch, vodka. (The latter is a very bad idea…it’s a terrible waste of vodka. Better to drink the vodka, and you’ll forget all about the problem with the sticker). After applying the WD-40 or alcohol, use the same oil-soak procedure as described above, but only wait 10 minutes or so before trying to remove the sticker. Plenty of time to finish that vodka.
Labels stuck to glass containers, like plates, cups, and wine bottles, often have a surprisingly strong sticker residue that’s difficult to scrape off, but you can weaken its grip by applying a little heat. For example, if you’re trying to remove and save a wine label, place the bottle in the oven at low heat for about 30 minutes. Then simply peel off the label.
Caution: Hot glass is more prone to shattering, so handle it with care. You can also try pouring boiling water into the empty bottle and wait for it to soften the label’s adhesive. I would strongly suggest that you only apply this method to empty bottles. Hot wine usually tastes awful and, if the bottle is too hot, you might drop it, which would be a terrible waste.
To get stickers, especially large stickers, off metal surfaces, use an electric heat gun. Select the “low” setting and slowly wave the nozzle of the heat gun back and forth over the sticker. Within a few seconds, the heat will soften the adhesive and you’ll be able to peel off the sticker. (If you don’t own a heat gun, try using a blow dryer, as long as your wife’s not looking.). This might also spread the sticker residue over a larger part of the metal surface.
For stickers larger than, say a legal-size envelope, it’s best to direct the heat at one corner of the sticker, and then peel it away just a bit, being careful not to tear the sticker. Then, aim the heat gun behind the peeled-up corner, wait a few seconds, then gently tug on the sticker using pliers, if necessary, to protect your hands from the hot air. Continue to simultaneously apply heat and pull on the sticker until it peels off in one piece. If there’s any sticker residue left behind, remove it with a white cloth dampened with mineral spirits or acetone.
Now, aren’t you glad you read this blog?
Let’s formalize a campaign to search for a more elegant solution to sticker residue: A label that works and can be easily removed without leaving a sticky mess…..wishful thinking, I’m afraid.
Failing that, you can always leave the damn label where it is, and just ignore it.