Stickers, labels, and tapes with pressure-sensitive adhesive (those that are peeled from a backing or roll, then pressed in place) can often be peeled off. The remaining adhesive can then be rubbed off with your fingers similar to the way you "thumb-roll" rubber cement into small balls.
But what about the pieces of sticker that tear and get stuck? Leaving tape or decals on an item can be seen as tacky or unattractive, but not ripping a sticker all the way off and getting stuck with a patchy scab of adhesive residue is downright ugly and embarrassing.
If leftover label backing is still visible after scratching with your fingernail or the dull edge of a knife, try the following tips for different surfaces.
Cover the label with a cloth or sponge saturated with warm vinegar and saturate the label. This should allow it to peel off without scraping or causing damage. Rinse the area with water after the adhesive residue has fully come off to remove any latent vinegar that may damage the actual surface.
NOTE: Use this method only on washable surfaces and washable paint.
If the label on the plastic has gotten wet from spills, or the article has been stored in a highly humid area, it will be more difficult to remove.
Dampen a small piece of cloth or cotton swab. Saturate the cloth in any generic dry cleaning liquid. Apply the fluid over the area where the sticker is, but only allow the fluid to remain on the label long enough for the adhesive label and residue to be rubbed off. Wipe away excess fluid immediately, wash article in sudsy water, and dry the item.
Another option for taking adhesive residue off plastic surfaces that doesn't require such precision is hair conditioner. Just apply it, let it soak in, and rub it until the adhesive film builds up into removable beads. These can be wiped away with a damp cloth and don't pose the same danger to plastic finish as dry cleaning materials do.
WARNING: Do not let dry cleaning liquid remain on the plastic surface for too long. The chemicals will dull the finish of the plastic.
One kind of stickable adhesive that you may want to remove and won’t anticipate difficulty from is non slip appliques and strips from bathtubs. If they won’t come up with elbow grease alone, saturate a cloth or sponge and squeeze hot vinegar over any decals.
Another method is to use a hand cleaner like Fast Orange, GoJo, or Goop, usually found in an auto dept. Spread them on, and anything that doesn't come off can be easily scraped with a flat wood or hard plastic scraper.
Glass or Metal (except Aluminum)
Whatever method you use, first test the cleaning removal material in an inconspicuous part of the surface the label is stuck on to be sure it will not damage that surface.
Fold a paper towel or cloth into a pad that is thicker than a single layer and as large as the surface area of the label. Dampen pad with household ammonia and saturate the label. Leave the saturated pad in place and wait 30 minutes to 2 hours. If your decal or sticker residue is on a vertical surface, use masking tape to press and hold the ammonia soaked cloth in place. Re-dampen the pad during this period if you notice it drying out. When adequately saturated in the ammonia, the label will slide off - no rubbing, scraping, or abrasion necessary.
WARNING: Never use ammonia of plastic surfaces or aluminum.
Another method is to use a hand cleaner like Fast Orange, GoJo, or Goop. Cleaners of this type are usually in the automotive care aisle at stores. Spread your cleaner over the decal and wait. Any residue that doesn't come off from the hand cleaner alone can be easily scraped with a flat wood or hard plastic scraper.
Miscellaneous Surfaces and Adhesive Items
Vinegar also removes stick-on hooks from painted walls. Saturate a cloth or sponge with vinegar and squeeze the liquid behind the hook so that the vinegar comes in contact with the adhesive.
White vinegar can be used to remove price labels and other decals from glass, wood, and china. Paint the label or decal with several coats of white vinegar. Give the vinegar time to soak in and after several minutes the decal can be rubbed off
Heavy Duty Options
If you are having an extreme amount of grief trying to remove adhesive labels or the sticker glue they leave behind, there are a few extreme methods you can resort to.
Soak a rag in Naptha, or cigarette lighter fluid. When wiped on the surface this may break the glue bond. If it does not, try denatured alcohol, as it works on some adhesives that Naptha misses.
There is also a commercial product available called Goof Off that is effective. However, this product is flammable and dissolves latex paints and plastics, handle with care. If you have trouble removing other kinds of adhesive, check out our guides for removing spray adhesive, cyanoacrylate or epoxy.