Getting the label off jars
March 3, 2010 5:53 AM   Subscribe

I like to take label off of glass jars so I can reuse them. What's your preferred method or product for getting the label off?

I've been using Goo Gone, which works, but some of the jars I'm running into have a lot of adhesive under the label, and it's taking more and more work to get them clean.

(Remember years ago when you could just soak a jar in water and the label would come right off? That was great, wasn't it. Still happens, once in a while.)
posted by gimonca to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I usually remove the paper, then scrape the glue off with a butter knife - seems to work pretty well. Once I've gotten 90% of it off, usually I can get the rest with a soapy scrubber sponge.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:01 AM on March 3, 2010

I've generally soaked a cellulose sponge with hot water and laid it on top of the label. That gets most of the label and glue off; goo gone finishes the job.

For really stubborn glue, regular lighter fluid (i.e., not butane) works wonders.
posted by DrGail at 6:04 AM on March 3, 2010

I pretty much use Goo Gone, but I have a *technique*. I get as much of the label off as I can quickly, which usually means the colored/printed surface is mostly gone leaving a lot of white paper showing. This is helpful, because the solvent can get through that easier than the top inky layer.

Then I saturate that with Goo Gone, and I get a piece of paper towel or newspaper, saturate that, and set it on top of the label on the jar glass. Leave it a while (15 minutes? an hour?), and it usually gets the label off pretty well. There may be a little scraping, but not as much.

Another technique: standing the jar on the counter while filled with hot water, and letting the adhesive warm up that way.
posted by amtho at 6:05 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a two-step process. First, I use a razorblade to slice most of the glue off, which goes really quickly. The remainder comes off easily with citrus-based cleaner and a scotch pad.

If I don't plan to use them for food, I use Brakleen brake cleaner on them. Stuff is amazing, melts any paint or goo away.
posted by fake at 6:06 AM on March 3, 2010

This was just on Lifehacker yesterday: seems a hair dryer applied to the surface for 45 seconds usually does the job.
posted by moviehawk at 6:06 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lighter fluid.
posted by bondcliff at 6:07 AM on March 3, 2010

WD-40 works as well.
posted by nineRED at 6:09 AM on March 3, 2010

I just soak them in soapy dish water. 100% of the "goo" might not come off, but once you use and then wash the jar a couple of times it will go away.
posted by jckll at 6:11 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

You might have good luck using a trick from wine fans: baking the labels off.
All you have to do is put the jar in a 200 degree oven for about 30 minutes (set a timer and don't forget to check it!). The jar will be hot when you take it out, so wear oven mitts. Once the jar is out of the oven, a knife or fingernail under the edge of the label will peel it right off. Let the jar cool, then wash with dish soap to remove any residue.
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos at 6:15 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I start by filling the container with water and microwaving until it's nearly boiling. Many labels peel off easily with that treatment. If that doesn't work, soak. If the label is glossy and needs soaking, then scratch up the surface with a serrated knife to allow water to penetrate.
posted by jon1270 at 6:17 AM on March 3, 2010

Soak in HOT water for a while to melt (by heat, or dissolution, or both) the adhesive, then elbow grease and a rag to rub it into crumbs. A little bit of rubbing alcohol to get the last tarry smudges.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:17 AM on March 3, 2010

Ammonia. I remove labels from beer bottles for bottling homebrew by soaking the bottles overnight in a tub of water with a cup or so of ammonia, and the labels just slide right off. Any stubborn goo comes off really easy with some steel wool.
posted by duckstab at 6:18 AM on March 3, 2010

To get labels off beer bottles, we run them through the dishwasher. Sometimes they come off on the first try, sometimes it takes an additional one or two times.
posted by teragram at 6:33 AM on March 3, 2010

A trip through the dishwasher does the trick, and if it's still there afterward it's normally brittle enough to pop off with a butter knife or a paint spatula. Little nubs of residue can be dealt with by minimal Goo Gone application.
posted by Mizu at 7:00 AM on March 3, 2010

I've heard that it's best to soak the jars in cold water first - I've found that 9 times out of 10 the label comes off completely after a soak in cold water. Something about heat activating the glue so it gets stickier...
posted by Theresa at 7:00 AM on March 3, 2010

For beer bottles I soak them in some hot water and then take steel wool to them, usually goes pretty easy.
posted by ghharr at 7:08 AM on March 3, 2010

Least effort for me: I pop the jar into the dishwater left from doing my dishes, and leave the jar in the water overnight. The label is off and the jar clean with minimal effort and product.
posted by effluvia at 7:26 AM on March 3, 2010

I bottle my own beer, so I pull a lot of labels from bottles. I take a bucket and soak them in water and oxyclean for 24 hours. Labels slough right off, and a little bit of rubbing with a soft cloth takes off the rest of the glue residue.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:48 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Saturate the label with mineral oil (do a quickie peeloff job first so the papery layer of the label is exposed), let sit (usually a few mins is enough), rub off the oily adhesive mess, clean residue with rubbing alcohol.

Goo Gone gives the general component names and ratios on their materials data sheet if you want to make your own.
posted by variella at 8:41 AM on March 3, 2010

I just stick them in the dishwasher (regular wash cycle). The labels never fail to wash off. If you do that, make sure to check the filter afterward for any big paper pieces.
posted by halogen at 8:43 AM on March 3, 2010

If the soak / peel / hot-soapy-water-and-scrub sequence doesn't do the trick, I usually resort to either acetone or isopropanol, both of which are conveniently available in the bathroom. My SO goes for either isopropanol or (naphtha) lighter fluid. Runniing it through the dishwasher etc. doesn't really help at that point— the residue is usually slightly gummy and persistently sticky.

I'll have to try that baking trick next time I need to remove a label.
posted by hattifattener at 8:50 AM on March 3, 2010

Saturate label in olive oil. Wait. Peel. Dishwasher.
posted by jrichards at 9:12 AM on March 3, 2010

Many labels slide off after a soak in warm soapy water. The gooey type are more of a pain. I smear on some cooking oil, wait overnight, and wipe off lots of stickygoo with a paper towel, repeating if needed.
posted by theora55 at 9:19 AM on March 3, 2010

I boil a bunch at a time in a 4 gallon stock pot with a tablespoon of dishwasher (not hand dishwashing) detergent.
posted by jamjam at 9:25 AM on March 3, 2010

Dishwashing detergent, nail polish remover or baking soda - one of these three usually works...
posted by The Toad at 9:57 AM on March 3, 2010

Seconding olive oil or some other cooking oil. This was just a tip in Cook's Country magazine too.
posted by freezer cake at 10:01 AM on March 3, 2010

I peel off the main part, whatever comes easily, then apply peanut butter for a few hours. Comes right off.
posted by Vaike at 10:05 AM on March 3, 2010

Goo Gone and lighter fluid are very similar chemically. Goo Gone is mostly heptane; lighter fluid is lighter fractions, usually mixed pentanes. In terms of what they'll dissolve, they're very similar solvents. White spirits/varsol/white gas are similar.

Vegetable oils, like vegetable oil or olive oil or peanut butter are slightly more polar and are a bit more polarizable. They work very much the same as the petroleum.

Soap, water, small alcohols, acetone (nail polish remover), attack the paper very effectively but leave an insoluble glue residue to scrub off later. The non-polars (Goo gone, lighter fluid, etc...) are the solvents you want for the label glue.

Moderate heat can soften many glues, which is why hot water works. Some labels don't use this sort of glue though, so it's not always dependable.
posted by bonehead at 10:19 AM on March 3, 2010

A note on lighter fluid, Goo Gone, white gas, and other nonpolar solvents: they're really, really inflammable. Which you probably guessed from the way it's called "lighter fluid", but better safe than sorry.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:49 AM on March 3, 2010

When I remove labels from beer bottles for homebrewing, I fill up the sink with warm water and let a batch of them soak for 10 minutes or so. Then I go to town peeling off labels. The glue usually comes off when I attack it with a magic eraser style sponge.
posted by o0dano0o at 1:08 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, folks.
posted by gimonca at 6:41 AM on March 4, 2010

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