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Glass jars or bottles provide a great base material for many crafts, but the least expensive option (reusing food jars or wine bottles that would otherwise be discarded) require me to do some surface preparation. Specifically, I need to get the labels off.

Right now, I'm just peeling and scraping the labels with a crappy old kitchen knife. But many labels are extremely well attached and there is a lot of glue and paper left. It seems like I can spend hours scraping and still have a sticky, dull, unappealing surface, which doesn't lend itself well to (e.g.) a clean, clear candle holder. Do I just need more elbow grease, or is there a method which helps remove labels and glue more quickly and cleanly?

  • Do you need them done quickly or with less work on your part? The method we use for beer bottles is slow but usually effective... though the type of glue used can greatly affect the outcome. – Catija May 26 '16 at 14:56
  • I'm totally fine with slow (my current method isn't fast!) -- I can definitely find other things to do if it needs to soak for hours, for example. The goal is really less hands-on time, not just less time in general. – Erica May 26 '16 at 14:58
  • to help the soap/water or goo gone penetrate a label, i sometimes scrape across it with a serrated knife to give it places to soak in. – user360 May 26 '16 at 21:56
  • Pop them in the dishwasher. If they're not already at the bottom of the dishwasher by the end of the cycle, they'll peel off really easily if you act quickly. – spender May 27 '16 at 14:57

12 Answers 12

14

There usually two different kinds of glue you commonly find.

One will come off if you just soak the label under water over night. Doesn't have to be soapy. It helps to score the surface of the label with a cross hatching with a razor. Some labels are waterproof. You need the water to get through to the glue.

The other kind of glue will come off with VM&P Naphtha (common solvent at a hardware store) You can also use Ronsonol Lighter Fluid, which is basically the same thing, but a little bit more refined and clean. Both are far superior and cheaper than "Goo Gone" or "Goof Off". With Naphtha you pour a liberal amount at the edge of a sticker. Use a plastic scraper to get under the edge of the label. As you lift the Naphtha will be able to get under the label and loosen more of the glue. Keep adding more Naphtha. Peel slowly. Let the solvent glide the sticker off. Don't force it. Naphtha has a strong smell, but it evaporates quickly leaving no odor. It can be used to remove stickers from paper.

If you are removing a sticker from something valuable then I would use the Ronsonol Lighter Fluid. It almost exactly the same stuff as VM&P Naphtha but it's refined to be a little cleaner and less smelly (after all, it's designed to sit in a wick lighter in your pocket). Some people blanch at the idea of dumping lighter fluid on a book to remove a sticker, but after a few minutes the fluid will be gone. Test first. Only very rarely have I found that the lighter fluid will dissolve ink or paint. It's actually pretty neat how well it targets sticker glue without harming anything else.

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  • You can even use lighter fuel on books, either to clean them or to remove labels of different sorts. It rarely matters what type of cover or whether the paper is matt or not. The lighter fluid will evaporate off leaving the cover on pages as new. If you can't get hold of lighter fluid, nailpolish remover also works well. – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 27 '16 at 14:20
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There are 2 kinds of glue used in bottles (as far as I'm aware):

  1. Water based glue;
  2. Oil based glue;

To remove

  1. For water based Leave the bottle soaking overnight and scrub it next day.
  2. For oil based As oil is more expensive than water and soaking in oil would take up a lot of it, I just put oil in my hands and spread the oil on the label. Make sure the label is soaked with the oil. It can be any general cooking oil.

After the label has soaked for some hours, try scrubbing it under running water. Sometimes with the oil ones I have to soak it again if the whole thing didn't soak enough.

Finding out glue type

Just try the water method. If it doesn't work, go with the oil.

This has worked for every label I tried (and managed) to remove.

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5

If you have particularly tough to remove labels, I have found Goo Gone to be very effective. Apply a bit to the label and let it sit for a couple of minutes. The label should come off really easily. Apply a little more to a paper towel and rub off the remaining adhesive left on the bottle. Then wash with hot water and soap.

Goo Gone isn't very expensive and is really useful for cleaning other household messes.

enter image description here

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  • Ah, good suggestion. I'd considered getting it to remove the residue, but I didn't realize it could also go on top of a label. – Erica May 26 '16 at 17:51
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    @Erica putting it on top of the label is only necessary if you cant remove the paper part of the label. If the paper part comes off then its only necessary to put it directly on the stuck on adhesive bits. – Jay May 26 '16 at 17:53
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Method for effortless removing labels and glue:

Fill the bottle with boiling water and wait a few minutes. High temperature should weaken the adhesive, so the labels can be peeled in one piece. Use a kitchen funnel and baking glove to avoid hand burns.

The adhesive will remain on the bottle. To wash it of use kitchen steel wool and ordinary vegetable cooking oil, then wash the oil from the bottle with warm soapy water or in the dishwasher.

TIPS: 1.) If the temperature of the bottle with boiling water is not enough to peel off the labels (to thick glass), you can put a few bottles already filled with hot water to a large pot. Then boil them for a while in it (thus you sterilize them inside for future drinking reuse)

Vegetable oil should work for most of the typical labels adhesives, but if not, you can use stronger solvent - acetone (or acetone based nail polish remover). Keep in mind that acetone fumes emit a strong, unpleasant odor and is highly flammable.

Another solution is soaking the labeled bottles (about one hour) in a mixture of water with baking soda. Then scrubbing with steel wool, and washing.

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  • Not that the author here is suggesting it but: Be careful not to change the temperature of the glass too drastically. You can weaken and even fracture and break the glass – Matt May 27 '16 at 14:38
5

There are specialised chemical sprays, available reasonably cheaply, for doing exactly this:

enter image description here enter image description here

I've always used the Maplins one. It comes in an aerosol spray bottle and with a long thin tube to attach to the aerosol so as to direct the spray very precisely if required. I've found it fast and effective at removing labels from not only glass but also plastic and metal.

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5

For labels not affected by the dishwasher I found that WD-40 removes most glues, and it has the advantage that it is easily absorbed by paper labels so just spraying it on the label and waiting is usually enough.

Plastic labels are easier to peel off, a cloth or paper towel with WD-40 is usually enough to clean the remaining glue

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  • Just to add to this. In a pinch you'll generally find that almost any aerosol will remove the glue. I'm guessing it is the propellant that actually does the trick. – elmato May 27 '16 at 10:18
  • I wanted to try this before commenting. I had problems with "Goof Off", "Goo Gone", and other various products/ideas just smearing the adhesive around rather than removing it. I just tested WD-40 and it worked very well for the label adhesive I was trying to remove. Most of the WD-40 wiped off the surface with a paper towel taking along the (now non-sticky) adhesive. A light soapy water wash cleaned up the rest. – Kellerra May 28 '16 at 23:32
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Ours is the low-tech, slow method.

An overnight soak in soapy water (start it out hot) usually helps the glue release pretty nicely and softens the paper so that it's easy to scrape. If the first soak doesn't do the job a second shorter soak without the paper usually will.

We use the plastic scraper (from our juicer) to scrape the surface of the bottles.

Breville Juicer cleaner

We actually use this thing more often than we use the juicer... it's that useful. The scrubby end is great for cleaning our garlic press and the scraping end is great for removing labels from bottles.

Note, some bottles have the horridly thick blobby glue and we haven't found an efficient way to clean this off... but it's not as common for us as the thin layer of glues on glass bottles/jars.

This method is also less effective for jars with plastic labels, which aren't susceptible to the soaking.

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4

I homebrew, so on occasion end up removing labels from previously-enjoyed beer bottles before reusing for bottling my own beer.

I've found that soaking overnight in a water solution of sodium percarbonate releases the majority of labels/glues. A couple of scoops (each about a cup) in a 5 gallon bucket of water seems to be a good dilution.

Sodium percarbonate is the main active ingredient in many non-chlorine bleach laundry products such as OxyBoost and OxiClean.

Note that some of the more expensive brands advertised on TV tend to have scents added. If you are using your de-labeled jars for food, I would recommend finding an off-brand equivalent which is likely to be cheaper and not scented. If you use a scented one, you'll need to be far more thorough about rinsing (in warm/hot water) after label removal.


Its also worth noting that some labels have a plasticy sheen to them. This can simply be peeled off before soaking so the solution can more easily soak into the paper part of the label.

However if the label is all-plastic, it will likely have a much gooey-er glue (not water soluble) which will likely need much harsher removal treatments. I typically discard these ones in favour of the paper-based labels.

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    Hey Digital Trauma. Welcome to A&C. – Matt May 26 '16 at 20:25
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Vinegar

I had never found just water alone to work. I usually felt the need to remove most of the label before I recycled it. But now I have tried vinegar to much success. Here is the bottle I tested with before:

Ugly label bottle

Since it has not been mentioned, I thought I would go into a little detail by doing an experiment. After removing what I could of the label and adhesive by hand, I placed the label in a shallow pool of vinegar. I had read that you can simply brush it on, so the amount I used might have been overkill. I left it for just under an hour.

Once I picked it up, I was able to peel off the label and nearly all the adhesive. I used a scrub cloth to remove what little remained. While there does appear to be some residual adhesive, the glass is no longer tacky.

Near labelless bottle

But, Matt, vinegar smells! If that is the case, then you can mix in some lemon juice. The smell will work itself out regardless in short time.

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  • white vinegar is much less smelly and just as acid. Chances are any acid based product would work - eg lemon juice. – gbjbaanb May 27 '16 at 23:26
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Many labels that won't just soak off can be removed with a heat gun or hair dryer. Just heat up the label, starting with the corner you want to start at, and they'll usually peel off nicely.

You don't have to get it REALLY hot, just really warm it up. If I don't have a heat gun or hair dryer handy, or don't want to bother with it, I'll hold it over the flame on a gas stove, sometimes even slightly in the flame, rotating it. After 5 or 10 seconds, it starts to peel off easily.

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You know, depending on the type of label, there's nothing wrong with letting the bottles sit in hot soapy water for awhile (half an hour or so), which will soften up the label and glue, and you should be able to remove most of it pretty easily after that. Whatever remains will come off with a soapy sponge and hot water. Simple, really.

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    Most of the the current top rated answers already talk about using just water and the optional addition of soap. Do you have anything to add to this process else this has already been answered? – Matt May 27 '16 at 14:37
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Putting glasses or bottles in a dishwasher usually removes most labels. If it doesn't work the first time, simply repeat.

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  • I have glasses I've had for years that still have their barcode sticker on them, albeit worn, despite going through the wash over and over. Is something about this wine bottles different? Different glue? – user24 May 29 '16 at 21:12
  • Dishwashers somehow also affect the glass itself. Could be an unwanted side effect. – Ji Ugug Jul 10 '16 at 19:55

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