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!
57 Comments on “A (Crazy!) Easy Way to Remove Stubborn Labels from Containers”
That husband of yours is a real keeper!
Does it work on bumper stickers?
I’ve got some other antique labels that nothing has worked on. Going to give this a try. I have several bottles of (gifted) hand sanitizer sitting around, since I tend to prefer soap and water–sanitizers don’t work for C. diff., and I work in healthcare.
Wonder who that first commenter might be…
I can’t wait to try this! I usually use goo gone (which I don’t like the feel of on my fingers) followed by a soapy wash.
“What is this voodoo magic you speak of?” 😂😂😂
Thank you for this tip! Can’t wait to try it! Love that your husband commented, lol!
I never thought of using hand sanitizer to do the job.
I will try very soon.
Have a great week-end.
This timely post came right as I was trying to get a sticker off the windshield of my car. Stupid come get your tires rotated type sticker. Still need to find a minute when I am not driving to get the rest of it off….😁. But thank you for posting this!
I love that story about Greg! It actually made me laugh out loud, which was awkward because I was in the bathroom (#mumlife). I wonder what other chestnuts he’s got up his sleeve?
Thanks, I’ll have to try this. I’m a thrift store shopper and those stickers get the best of me.
Good luck, and I hope it works for you! (By the way, I wrote this post back when Hand Sanitizer wasn’t in super short supply!)
this didnt work for me…..i’ve tried everything to get the glue off plastic containers.
Try some olive oil. It will be slightly oily (don’t use a lot), but you can clean it up with soap and water.
I use a ½ and ½ mixture of vegetable oil and baking soda. I make up a small batch and store it in the refrigerator. I use the hairdryer or really hot water in the container to soften the glue and remove as much of the sticker as I can, then put a thin coat of mixture on the surface, let it soak for about 10 minutes, than use a paper towel to take it off. It will be slightly oily, so wash with dish soap to remove the remaining oil. I find this method works extremely well with prescription labels on pill containers. Caution: be careful with the hair dryer or hot water that you don’t melt the container.
I will try the hand sanitizer the next time I have to remove a prescription label, but I think they are often a plastic label and may require the two step method of heat followed by hand sanitizer.
I was so excited to try this coz I hate the left over residue of Goo Gone. Unfortunately, the hand sanitizer did nothing. I have a bulk store size empty plastic container of nuts that I wanted to repurpose. I first removed the label with a hair dryer then tried the hand sanitizer. I tried 2 different brands, wiped right away, tried again and let it sit and then scraped…nothing. I was so disappointed 🙁. I really wanted it to work. Did I miss a step somewhere? Maybe I did something wrong. Any suggestions would really be appreciated. Thanks!
Shucks! I am so sorry this didn’t work for you. I’ve only come across one label it didn’t work on, and it was a thick plastic label held on by some crazy strong adhesive. I can’t say for sure, but I wonder if it has anything to do with the amount of alcohol content in the sanitizer? Did you try soaking the container for a little while and then using the sanitizer? Otherwise, I am sure you did everything right!
So sorry to get your hopes up!Megan
I’m sold, I’ve spent the better part of the day scrubbing off labels on old prescription bottles. I finally took to Pinterest to find a better way. Your way is awesome, thank you so much.
Omg. I just wanted a super simple way of removing the home edit labels off of the container store product because they are EVIL and stuck so hard. I tried this trick and I literally am in heaven. Thank you!!!
Yay! I’m so glad it worked for you!!! Best trick ever!
Have a great day!Megan
Taking on new hobbies during shutdown and I have decided that wind chimes from the wine bottles was a good way to recycle. Used this on the labels and I giggled through the short process because it was so simple and so easy! Kuddos to your husband for sharing with you and kuddos for sharing on Pinterest!! Thank you!
You are most welcome! I am so glad it worked out for you – magic, isn’t it 😉
Have a great weekend!Megan
Thanks for the tip. I must say this worked but not as quickly as you suggested. It took4 applications of the sanitizer and I finally took my nylon scrubber to get off the final bits. Mine was a large label so that was part of the problem. This tip is a keeper!
Hand sanitizer isn’t so cheap anymore. What do you use now?
We still have huge bottles of it from stocking up earlier in the pandemic. I don’t take labels off of things all the time, but when I do, I still reach for it because it works quicker and easier than almost anything else! We just use the ones with scents we don’t like, lol!
Have a great Tuesday!Megan
We just got two free decent sized bottles from the pharmacy when we got our COVID boosters. There are still places that give it away, but maybe that’s because I’m in Michigan where the pandemic is still going strong. I don’t know.
It works because of the alcohol. You can just use rubbing alcohol or meths as a solvent on anything that you can disolve with hand sanitizer. E.g. oil based paint and stickers.
That’s what I figured…although these days I am much more likely to have hand sanitizer than alcohol on hand, lol!
Thanks for stopping by!Megan
This is exciting!! It might be because of the alcohol. I use alcohol to remove stickers, but this is even better because it stays in place! Thank you!
Yep, I think so too! And these days, I am much more likely to have hand sanitizer around 😂
Thanks for stopping by!Megan
Good ole rubbing alcohol removes most sticky left behind, too. It doesn’t stay in place as well as the hand sanitizer, however. This is a super hack. Also, window cleaner such as Windex will work on the glues that the alcohol won’t work on. Go figure 🤔.
Was so hoping this would work…. back to the drawing board
It worked! I removed a label from a food safe plastic bucket. I used my hair dryer to warm it then applied the hand sanitizer and let it sit for a few minutes. I then used my Cricut scraper to remove the residue. A bonus… it cleaned my scraper too! Thank you. And thank your hubby for his service.
Thank you for sharing this. I have done the soaking, scraping, cooking oil, more scraping, & then as a last resort reached for the chemicals just as you shared. This hack is a game changer!
Windex (has to be the brand) window cleaner works the same way
Thanks for sharing! A few readers have mentioned that, but I haven’t had any luck getting it to work 🤷🏼♀️
Wow!!! Thank you! With all the other “tricks” who would of thought….. I got a plastic organizer for the fridge, and they put the shipping label on the container. You can tell they tried to remove it so it left that residue. I didn’t want to scratch it, and tried all the other tricks….. came across yours and that gummy/dull remnant came right off. Thank you… I’m so happy after about an hour of messin with it.
I’m so glad you shared this! I too use a lot of different containers for my craft room and my pantry and I get so frustrated with trying to remove the labels. I’m going to try this as soon as I get home. I will let you know if it works for me. Thanks again. 😊
I recently used permanent Cricut vinyl for the first time. I’m making my family personalized drinking glasses for Easter dinner, and it’s going okay, but one of them not so great! Too large of a decal on a curved surface, but that’s a story for another day! Anyway, I wanted to remove the decal, but wasn’t sure if I could. I tried your hand sanitizer trick, thinking it wouldn’t work on this material, but decided to try it anyway. Wow! It helped a lot! I still had to scrape, because the vinyl is… well… permanent. However, the hand sanitizer got all of the residue off, and I think it really helped to loosen the the whole thing!! Your blog came at the perfect time for this project!! Thanks, Megan, and thank you to your awesome husband!
I am sorry to say, like others the hand sanitizer didn’t work for me either. I really wanted it to work. I tried two different kinds of sanitizers and it didn’t even make a dent in it. Guess I will have to go back to the Goo Gone. 🤦🏻♀️
A BIG thank you hug to your Greg! I have struggled with this for years…. Sweat…
Tears….and swear words.
Shelley from New Zealand
My favorite so far has been peanut butter (for washable surfaces) but hand sanitizer sounds even better. Thanks for the tip!
I will give this a try. I have had success with surgical spirit, especially with stickers on second hand books.
Oh. My. Goodness!! I had two jars from Classico that I wanted to save because the have measurements on the side and lids. But the labels were impossible to even scratch up the corner. After reading your solution I went right to work. And…voila! Label off. Easy. Thanks for sharing!
I am so glad it worked for you – it’s a handy little trick, for sure!
thank you, it really works. i read this and got right up and tried it. you are a god send. thank you
I’m so glad it worked for you!
Thanks for sharing!