How to remove labels from vitamin bottles?
March 8, 2007 3:00 AM   Subscribe

I have good uses for white plastic (HDPE, recycling code 2) vitamin/supplement bottles, but the labels are hard to get off. Most solvents don't seem to work. Submersing in hot water for a bit and then scraping with a dull knife while glue is still hot works, but getting off all the glue residue this way is very tedious at best. Better ideas?
posted by jbotz to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Try some of these unconventional methods. And there is always Goo Gone or Un-Du adhesive removing products at your local store.
posted by plokent at 3:34 AM on March 8, 2007

You've hit on the right strategy.. HEAT. No water, ok?

All those label glues will come off if warmed.. gentle heat. if you put the bottles in a fairly heavy plastic bag, and immerse the whole thing in a pan of hot water for 10 minutes, the label will peel right off.

Heat works for all those labels that are stuck to products. I use a heated spoon or table knife to warm labels, so I can get them off without leaving sticky residues.
posted by reflecked at 4:01 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Rubbing alcohol didn't work?

Can you leave the labels on and cover them with your own labels?
posted by DU at 4:31 AM on March 8, 2007

In my limited experience, different kinds of glue work with different solvents. If it doesn't work with nail polish remover, try white spirit. If it doesn't work with white spirit, try turpentine. If that doesn't work, try lemon juice. Etc...
posted by lodev at 4:50 AM on March 8, 2007

Best answer: If they're the gummy labels, I use plain old cooking oil. Just a few drops rubbed on label residue, leave it overnight, then use newspaper to scrub it off. Warm water and dish soap get what's left. No toxic chemistry involved.
posted by theora55 at 5:49 AM on March 8, 2007

HDPE is a very tough plastic. It will stand up to a wide array of solvents. Goo-gone (and similar) works extremely well on gums and soft glue residues. It is essentially a safe version of gasoline (removed the carcinogens present in regular gas) with a little bit of soap. Alcohols (mineral spirits, rubbing alcohol, etc..), acetone (nail polish remover) and weak soaps (dish soap, etc...) work poorly on glues.

If you have Goo-gone, white naptha or WD-40 try that first. Kerosene, gasoline or diesel fuel will also work very well, but avoid skin contact and do it in a ventiallted area (they are all mild carcinogens and cause nasty skin rashes). "Green" degreasers like Simple Green are the next best choice and much safer to handle (look for anything with limonene or "citrus" on the label).
posted by bonehead at 6:13 AM on March 8, 2007

I'm a big fan of citrus based solvent for removing sticky labels, or indeed most things gummy. No doubt there are other brands/products but the one under our sink at the momment is called 'De-Solv-It'.
posted by adamt at 6:17 AM on March 8, 2007

Soak in hot water to get the paper and most of the glue off. Peel off paper and most glue. Without the paper, the glue is now exposed, soak in Alcohol or turpentine or cooking oil and peel away the remaining glue.

Another way I've found is to soak in hot water then scrub the label with a scrubby-paddy sponge thing, on the scrubby side. This worked for those cheap plastic dishes that go on sale at Target every three months and have three or four price tags on them.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 9:28 AM on March 8, 2007

Or run them through the dishwasher with the dry cycle off, then pull them out still wet and scrubby-sponge them.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 9:29 AM on March 8, 2007

Response by poster: Awesome responses. What I've found to work best so far is a combination of two approaches, slightly modified.

1) Dry heat: the idea is to use dry heat to soften the glue without getting the label wet so it'll come off in one piece rather than dissolving. That works great, but the blowdryer was cumbersome. So what I did was to pour boiling hot water INTO the vitamin bottles (do that with HDPE, recycling code 2, only! others will melt). Wait 3 seconds and then easily peel off the entire label in one piece!

2) Oil: With most labels the above does leave some amount of glue residue behind. So I spread some cooking oil over the outside of the bottle, let it sit for a bit, and was able to easily wipe it off with newspaper. WD-40 also works well for this.
posted by jbotz at 9:33 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my experience most labels are stuck on with an oil soluble glue. This means if you scrub with oil, it will come off. You can use cooking oil, but I like to use food grade mineral oil.
posted by jefftang at 9:35 AM on March 8, 2007

Response by poster: Regarding citrus-based solvents: I didn't have any available (nor Goo-gone, nor "Simple Green"... I'm familiar with those, but I'm not in the US these days) but I'm interested in their applications and how they are made... anyone know more? Could I make a usable citrus-based solvent at home from lemons or something? I have apparatus for distilling if necessary...
posted by jbotz at 9:38 AM on March 8, 2007

Can you get camp gas/white gas/naptha? WD-40 or similar degreasing agent? Either of those should work in a single step if the labels are oil-permeable. Spay, soak for a minute or two, and the label should come off in a single piece. I've done this many times.

Because you asked: here's how to extract limonene from citrus rinds. More FYI than practical, I imagine. Most of the stuff used in commercial cleaners is made, not extracted from oranges.
posted by bonehead at 10:32 AM on March 8, 2007

The best thing I've ever found for removing labels from bottles / jars / etc. is the lighter fluid they sell for charcoal grills. Just soak it, let it sit for a few minutes, and the label comes off with not much effort at all.

Of course, the product is flammable, so I wouldn't do it with a lit cigar dangling from my mouth or in front of a roaring fireplace, if I were you.
posted by illflux at 1:23 PM on March 8, 2007

(lighter fluid is the same as white gas is the same as naptha)
posted by bonehead at 1:54 PM on March 8, 2007

As usual I will chime in here to recommend Bestine for all your adhesive removal needs. It's labeled rubber-cement solvent but I find it dissolves almost any adhesive, even those which are crusty, many years old. You can find it in artist supply stores.
posted by Rash at 11:51 AM on March 9, 2007

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