• April 22, 2024, 4:42 pm

How to remove sticker residue SoftAIT

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Update : Sunday, November 5, 2023

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If you’re reading this, you’ve either encountered several pages claiming they know exactly how to remove sticker residue, or this is your first one. Either way, we don’t think you’ll have to look further. 

There are a lot of options for getting sticker residue off of surfaces, but all of them fall under one of three types of approaches: mechanical, chemical, or thermal. Understanding how each of these works will provide you with the best chance at vanquishing your sticky enemy.

A warning before we begin: there’s no one type of adhesive you’ll find behind a sticker, so results may vary. Also, all of the following methods have caveats, and you may risk damaging the surface underneath the sticker. Use your judgment to determine the best approach in your specific case, and always do a small test in an inconspicuous area to make sure you’re not damaging the underlying material.

Pure force: the mechanical approach

What it’s good for

  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Ceramics
  • Stoneware

Examples

  • Dull plastic knife
  • Hard plastic spatula
  • Rubber eraser

Avoid using on 

  • Painted, coated, or enameled surfaces
  • Wood

You can’t always apply brute force to scratch off tacky adhesive, but sometimes you can. This is the mechanical approach. All you’ll need is elbow grease and a tool you can use to literally scrape off the sticker and most of the residue it leaves behind.

You might be tempted to use your nails, but we advise against it, as they might break or get pulled back, and you definitely don’t want that. You also shouldn’t use a tool made out of metal, like a sharp kitchen knife. Not only is it dangerous, but you could damage the surface under the sticker.

[Related: The five smells Americans hate most (and how to get rid of them)]

Instead, opt for a less abrasive tool like a dull plastic knife or a hard plastic spatula. If your sticker is paper, a rubber eraser can be incredibly useful. And before you go to town with it, try your scraper in a small, inconspicuous area. Start gently and use incremental force to see if there’s any damage to the surface beneath. The moment you notice you’re scratching more than you’d like, stop and try another approach.

Scratching is a good idea if you’re trying to get sticker residue off glass, metal, or another hard, sturdy surface. But continue to be careful, as you always risk removing way more than adhesive gunk: paint, enamel, or even a functional coating like Teflon may go with it. 

This approach is usually a great place to start, but it often won’t be enough to complete the job—especially if you reach a point where you’re not able to push that stickiness away. 

Try some molecular action: the chemical approach

When you’re dealing with a more delicate surface, you don’t want to risk damaging it. This is when you might consider the chemical approach, where you neutralize the gunky glue with a solvent—an adhesive remover. The good news is that you likely have a bunch of those in your home right now. 

Oil

What it’s good for
  • Plastic
  • Metal
  • Treated wood
  • Ceramic
  • Glass
  • Stoneware
Examples
  • Peanut butter
  • Mayonnaise
  • Cooking oil
  • WD-40
Avoid using on
  • Textiles
  • Porous materials

The first type of solvent you can try is oil. Water is a common enemy of paper and stickers, so manufacturers often use water-resistant adhesives to make sure stickers actually, well, stick to a given surface. Compounds and materials with water-resistant or hydrophobic characteristics are usually also lipophilic, which means that they are attracted to fats and combine with them beautifully. That means oily substances like peanut butter, mayonnaise, and cooking oils like canola, olive, or coconut, can act as solvents and neutralize the sticker glue. 

To use oil to remove sticker residue, choose one of the substances mentioned above and soak the surface in it, if possible. Peanut butter and mayonnaise have the added benefit of being able to hold their shape, so a dollop of either will be able to stay in place for longer, giving you more control over the affected area. If you don’t have any of these foods at home, you can also use WD-40. It’s not an oil, but the product specializes in water displacement (that’s what the “WD” is for!), so it’ll dissolve water-repellent adhesives. If gravity is working against you, use a rag or sponge to dab some oil on the sticker residue until it’s saturated. Let it sit for a couple of minutes, then use a clean rag, paper towel, or sponge with some water and dish soap to rub the residue off. The detergent will trap the fatty gunk, and the area will become squeaky clean as you rinse. 

Oils work better on non-porous surfaces because there’s nothing to absorb them, and you should absolutely not use them if you want to get sticker residue off clothes—they will definitely leave a stain. 

Alcohol, acetone, and nail polish remover

What it’s good for
  • Plastic
  • Untreated wood
  • Metal
  • Ceramic
  • Glass
  • Some textiles
Examples
  • Alcohol
  • Non-acetone-based nail polish remover
  • Acetone-based nail polish remover
  • Pure acetone
Avoid using on
  • Acetate fabrics 
  • Treated wood
  • Delicate plastics
  • Screens

But fatty substances are not the only household solvents—you might also have alcohol, non-acetone nail polish remover, or pure acetone. You can even use spirits with high alcohol percentages, like vodka or gin, though you’ll risk the area smelling like a distillery for a while. These compounds will all be able to dissolve adhesives manufacturers commonly apply to the backside of stickers. To use them to remove sticker residue, dab the area to saturate it, let it sit for a couple of minutes, and then start scrubbing. Depending on the surface, you could also use a scraping tool, should you need it. 

A word of warning though: alcohol (no matter its concentration) and acetone are powerful solvents and can be corrosive, especially on plastics and treated woods. There’s a reason specialists don’t recommend using alcohol to clean your gadgets’ screens, and if acetone can help remove an ever-resistant gel manicure, you can be sure it’ll remove a whole lot of other things, too. Finally, be careful when removing stickers from electronics, as rubbing alcohol has water in it. 

If you want to make sure you won’t destroy the surface you’ll be working on, make sure you do a patch test in an inconspicuous place. Apply the liquid you’re using with a cotton swab and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Look at the surface and touch it with your fingers to make sure there’s no noticeable damage. Keep in mind there can always be damage you can’t see or feel, so if you’re dealing with a delicate material or something that might be expensive to fix, it’s better to abstain.  

White vinegar

What it’s good for
  • Plastic
  • Ceramic
  • Glass
  • Textiles
Examples
Avoid using on
  • Cast iron
  • Waxed wood
  • Aluminum
  • Stoneware
  • Marble

A gentler option in your pantry is white vinegar. Around 5 percent of this kitchen staple is acetic acid (incredibly corrosive in its pure form) and with a pH level of 2 to 3, it is a natural solvent able to dissolve a wide range of substances and materials. This is what makes it a great cleaner. Again, using vinegar to remove sticker residue uses more or less the same mechanism as the solvents above: soak a rag or paper towel with white vinegar, apply it to the sticky area, let it sit for 5 minutes or more depending on the amount of residue, and scrape off. 

But the fact that vinegar is natural doesn’t mean there are no caveats. Acetic acid is perfectly capable of damaging surfaces, so avoid using it on cast iron, waxed wood, aluminum, stoneware, or marble. That being said, if you’re working with ceramic or glass surfaces, white vinegar may be all you need to say goodbye to sticker gunk.

Vinegar is also the best way to remove sticker residue from clothes and other textiles: Saturate the area and let it sit for a few minutes, then use a toothbrush or a scraping tool to get rid of the loose adhesive. Repeat the process as necessary. If that doesn’t work, you can also try this technique with nail polish remover. Don’t use acetone, though: this strong chemical won’t just stain your clothes, it might burn a hole through them, depending on the fabric they’re made of. Some nail polish removers can stain and bleach fabrics, but it’ll depend on which one you use and the type of textile you’re dealing with. To be safe, do a patch test to make sure the solution is not worse than the problem. 

You can always burn it: the thermal approach

What it’s good for

  • Some plastics
  • Treated wood
  • Metal
  • Heat-resistant ceramics
  • Heat-resistant glass

Examples

Avoid using on

  • Electronics
  • Delicate plastics
  • Untreated wood

The thermal approach, which uses heat to neutralize sticker adhesive, is not necessarily the last option you have when everything else has failed. Instead, consider it an alternative to using solvents. Depending on the glue, heat can make an adhesive bond more prone to sliding or breaking. It can also make it weaker and easily removable by triggering a crystallization process.

When it comes to removing sticker residue, you can use temperature to your favor by submerging or carefully exposing the material to boiled water for a few minutes. Protect your hands to prevent burning them, remove the item from the water, and use the scratchy side of a sponge with some dish soap to remove the remnants. Repeat the process if necessary. 

You can also use a hair dryer: Set it to high, keep it 2 inches away, and aim it directly at the affected area for 30 seconds. Turn off the appliance and carefully try removing the remaining gunk—it’ll be hot. If you can safely touch it, use your fingers, or grab a scraping tool if it won’t damage the underlying surface. If the sticker residue won’t budge or if there’s still some left, repeat the process. 

[Related: Use citric acid to clean your dishwasher and other gross household items]

As with all the approaches mentioned above, heat has its caveats, too. For example, if you’re removing sticker residue from a metal surface, make sure to protect yourself and handle the item carefully, as it might get dangerously hot during the process. If you’re lifting adhesive gunk from glass or ceramics, make sure they’re heat-resistant, as pouring hot water on them might break them. Needless to say, hot water is not the best approach when dealing with electronics, but then again, neither is dry heat. Normally, hair dryers shouldn’t produce enough heat at a 2-inch distance to damage hard plastic surfaces, but that will depend on which one you have. To be on the safe side, keep an eye on your work and stop immediately if you see any lifting, warping, or bubbling.



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