A (Crazy!) Easy Way to Remove Stubborn Labels from Containers
I’ve been knee-deep in organizing our newest pantry, and have been using the most brilliant hack to remove glue from labels and stickers on our containers. This quick tip is something I would typically include in my Sunday Short newsletter…but it’s too crazy good that I want to make sure everyone gets to see it! Forget the GuGone and hours of soaking and scrubbing, my friends! Did you know hand sanitizer can quickly and easily clean off icky sticky adhesive?!? Let me show you!
A few years ago, our two young boys had doctor’s appointments. Upon leaving, one was given a handful of stickers as a reward for doing so well. We then went out to lunch in a restaurant, where he proceeded to stick all the stickers right to the table.
“No big deal,” I thought. “He’s content, and I’m sure they will come right off.”
Famous last words, right?
After paying our bill, I went to remove the stickers from the table only to learn that they were the yucky kind. You know…the kind of stickers that are impossible to remove and instead leave behind tons of paper shreds and glue.
Greg came back from the bathroom to see me vigorously scratching up layer after layer off the table and said, “Don’t you have any hand sanitizer with you?”
“Ummm…yes I do. Why?”
“Use it on the stickers.”
“Hand sanitizer will take the paper and glue right off the table.”
“What is this voodoo magic you speak of?”
“We do it in the field all the time. To clean laminated maps and such.”
Full of 1000% skepticism, I put some hand sanitizer on the stickers and within seconds…the stickers peeled right off. No scrubbing. No cursing. No adhesives left behind. I was eventually able to wipe down the table, as if our sticker fiasco never happened!
“Why don’t people know this!?!” I said.
With a sly grin, he said “Marines do.”
Greg was very proud that he knew something I didn’t…and I was just over-the-moon to have a much easier way to remove pesky labels, stickers, and glues from surfaces, jars, and other containers.
I have spent many a minute scraping residue off a variety of things and usually resort to a combination of soaking in a sink of warm soapy water, plastic scrapers, and GuGone (my least favorite because it leaves everything so oily). I have since used this trick over and over with great success and want you to know about it too!
How to Remove Sticker Residue From Containers with Hand Sanitizer
Below is Exhibit A: one of my pantry containers with all sorts of labels stuck to it. You can even see where…years ago…I attempted to remove the price tag and gave up.
I really wanted to clean up my containers as part of my upcoming pantry makeover since they have so many different labels stuck to them (from years and years of demo-ing various labeling techniques here on the blog!) So I grabbed my bottle of hand sanitizer and got to work.
Literally, all you have to do is pour some hand sanitizer on the paper label, rub it around, and after just a few seconds, scrape the label clean off with your finger nail.
Every now and then, if there’s some super glue residue really stuck on, you’ll need to repeat the process or use a straight edge like a plastic scraper, credit card, or razor blade to get off the remaining residue. But most times, it cleans up perfectly on the first try!
Why It Works
The general consensus is that this particular “hack” works because of the rubbing alcohol in the hand sanitizer. That said, I find hand sanitizer tends to work better than just straight rubbing alcohol, so I suspect the gel helps saturate and ultimately loosen the sticker paper too.
What Kind of Labels Can You Use Hand Sanitizer On?
In general, I find that hand sanitizer works best on paper labels and stickers. And you don’t even need to remove them before dealing with the adhesive. Just dump the hand sanitizer directly on the paper label and scratch away.
If you have a thick plastic label (like the white one shown on the middle of the container above), I recommend removing the label first (see how below), and then use hand sanitizer to get rid of the residual glue.
What Kind of Containers Can You Use Hand Sanitizer On?
In my personal experience, you can use hand sanitizer to remove stickers and labels on anything plastic (including laminate countertops) and glass (including candle jars, condiment jars, glass cleaning bottles, windows, etc). That said, I suspect it will also work on other hard, non-porous surfaces such as metal, granite, marble, porcelain, tile, painted walls/doors, etc.
My OTHER Favorite Way to Remove Sticky Labels (& Their Glue)
If you have thick, plastic laminated labels, the hand sanitizer may not penetrate the surface in order to loosen the adhesive.
In this situation, I recommend using my other favorite trick to remove stubborn labels: a hair dryer!
Simply apply direct heat with a hair dryer to the label for a full 1-2 minutes. This will soften the adhesive so that you can easily peel up the label.
Most often, the entire label will come right up (without even tearing) and leave zero residue behind. If necessary, follow-up with hand sanitizer to get rid of any remaining adhesive!
Did you stick something to your walls, doors, or tile using “permanent” adhesive stickers (such as hooks, hangers, latches, a stubborn Command strip, etc?) This hair dryer trick works on those things too!
Do not just pull off the hook…because the permanent sticker will peel up the paint. Instead, heat the adhesive…significantly…with a hot hair dryer.
Then gently pry your hook away from the surface as the adhesive softens.
In most instances, you will get your hook off without peeling the paint, but you will likely be left with some permanent residue behind.
Continue to heat the glue area, scrape off what you can and then finish with the hand sanitizer to completely remove the “permanent” sticker glue!
Other Effective Methods to Remove Glue From Surfaces
If you search for ways to remove adhesive, you’ll find all sorts of similar hacks. Although I haven’t personally tried any of the ones listed below, if the hand sanitizer doesn’t work on your sticky residue, perhaps give one of these a try next. Simply soak a cotton ball, paper towel, or clean cloth in one of the following and then rub all over your sticker or glue:
- Acetone (nail polish remover)
- Peanut Butter
- Essential Oils
- Vegetable Oil
- Coconut Oil
- White Vinegar
- Dish Soap
- Baking Soda
- Adhesive Remover such as Goo Gone
- Rubber Eraser
No soaking. No scrubbing. No oily, gross, expensive GuGone. Not only do I usually always have hand sanitizer around, but it’s pretty inexpensive and leaves your surfaces squeaky clean and smelling nice too. I’ve used hand sanitizer to remove stickers and labels on all sorts of surfaces (e.g., tables, laminated paper, candle jars, pantry containers, plastic boxes, curtain rods, shelf brackets, and more!) And when it appears like it won’t get the job done, I reach for my hair dryer too!
Next time you have a label or sticker gunk left on a plastic surface, be sure to give these handy tricks a try!