Stop Goo Fail: Clean Stickers, Tape and Glue Off Glass

By: Laurie L. Dove

Keeping glue on the mended item and off your hands is often not easy.
Keeping glue on the mended item and off your hands is often not easy.

Sometimes it feels like a conspiracy. Why else would a manufacturer or retailer affix stickers to a clear surface that's meant to be viewed through? Perhaps they're in cahoots with the manicure industry, because after scraping tape and glue residue off a glass photo frame, that's exactly what we'll need.

Why is it so hard to get goo off glass? There are different types of adhesive, but most of the pressure-sensitive stickers and labels in the $26 billion global tape industry are made from super-sticky petrochemicals designed to have varying degrees of adhesion.


Most crafting stickers, for example, are backed with adhesive that's meant to be repositioned. However, the type of adhesive you'll find on health alert or home alarm stickers, is of the permanent variety. Weather-resistant and tamper proof, permanent adhesives are the bane of those who later wish for their removal.

Somehow, we always end up unwittingly buying the picture frames with price stickers melded to the glass with gusto. Or, we've failed to confiscate our children's sticker collection -- which they thoughtfully displayed on their bedroom windows when their teenage babysitter's attentions were otherwise occupied. The good news? We've uncovered a mix of products and efforts (some of them surprisingly simple) that successfully separate adhesive from its smooth-surface muse. We'll share what works -- on glass, at least -- on the next page.


What Takes Adhesives Off Glass?

Scraping stickers or pulling tape off glass can leave sticky residue that becomes a dirt magnet. You may think the little bit of goo left behind isn't a big deal, but you'll change your tune when it's been colonized by dust bunnies. So, what's a resourceful person to do? Clean the glass with any run-of-the-mill glass cleaner and let it dry. Then search your cabinets for a few innocuous helpers: vinegar, rubbing alcohol, or soap and hot water. These products act as mild solvents; any will help separate a sticky substance from glass. Just wet the adhesive with your weapon of choice, then scrub, scrub, scrub.

If the adhesive's still stubborn, bring out the big gun: acetone nail polish remover. The same stuff that strips the polish off fingernails will remove residual adhesive, but you'll still need a fair amount of elbow grease. If you're into more effortless home care, opt for plastic wrap. Just wet the sticker, label or tape (or what's left of it) with warm water, top it with plastic wrap and let it soak. Odds are, the sticker will slide off after a few hours and you can rub off any remaining glue.


When it comes to goo removal, simpler is usually better -- but not always. Our next advice may sound like an old wives' tale, but the concoction's surprisingly effective. For stickers that just won't budge, try a multi-layered approach. Soak the sticker in hot water, cover it with a layer of orange oil (you can find this in the furniture polish aisle), baby oil or vegetable oil. For good measure, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest overnight.

Speaking of veggies, researchers recently discovered a promising new type of adhesive made from vegetable oil. The environmentally friendly cocktail offers a sticky alternative that can be used for everything from postage stamps to price labels. The best part, say developers, is that it can be made from inexpensive renewable sources -- namely crops such as corn or soybeans. We're just hoping it will come off glass a little easier than its predecessors.

Tips for Getting Stickers, Tape and Glue Off Glass

Lubricants like WD-40 are excellent at getting glue off glass.
Lubricants like WD-40 are excellent at getting glue off glass.

If you're ready for a serious adhesive battle, then head to the auto store. There are plenty of commercial products, such as Fast Orange or Goo Gone, that can give you a leg up. Designed for cleaning motor oil and grease from hands, they work just as well for sticker, tape and glue residue. Why? They contain a degreasing agent. In the case of citrus cleaners like Fast Orange, the degreasing agent is usually d-Limonene. Others rely on heptanes, a powerful solvent. To be safe, both types of products should be used in small measure in a well-ventilated area.

WD-40 is a standby in many households because a shot of this lubricant can fix everything from squeaky hinges to frozen door locks. Although the product's 1950s origins were in rust prevention, we like WD-40 for its ability to cut through sticky residue on glass. Spray it on, let it sit and use a clean cloth to remove. And, if you'd like to impress your friends not only with your adhesive removing skills, but also with your trivia knowledge, try this on for size: WD-40 is short for Water Displacement, 40th Attempt -- the name a chemist gave it during development.


Why do these oily products work so well on sticky goo? If you hearken back to chemistry 101, you'll recall most adhesives -- at least the kind we've got gumming up our glass -- are oil-soluble. So it only makes sense a bit of greasy fluid will shorten their life spans. And if you need to remove adhesive from other colored glass items, such as beer bottles or bud vases, it will work just as well.

Of course, you could go an entirely different direction by using lighter fluid. Its active ingredient, naptha, will make short work of any stickiness. For an equally serious approach, soak a cloth in denatured alcohol and apply it to the adhesive. Just be sure you have plenty of ventilation and aren't near an open flame.

Adhesives Without Residue

With all this scrubbing and cursing of gooey residue, it only makes sense to avoid it in the first place. So, are there tapes that won't leave adhesive behind on glass surfaces?

Gaffer tape, also known as cloth tape, typically leaves no residue. The product is similar in appearance to duct tape and comes in varying widths and colors. A relatively recent entry into the marketplace is no-residue duct tape. Its manufacturer claims it won't leave any residue behind, as long as the tape is removed within six months of application.


If you'd really like to go the extra mile, make your own sticker glue. This homemade adhesive can be used to make nearly any paper product into a sticker. We especially like it for scrapbooking our children's art projects (let's face it, all those finger-painting papers take a lot of adhesive to add to their portfolios).

Boil three tablespoons water, one packet unflavored gelatin, one-half teaspoon white corn syrup, then make it smell nice with just a dash of extract (we like vanilla or almond). After the mixture cools slightly, brush it on paper and then stick it to the surface of choice. Of course, you don't have to adhere it right away. Even if you brush the homemade adhesive on and let it dry, you can always remoisten it later. It will be like an envelope, with its adhesive just waiting for a little moisture to become gummy again. Best of all, you can wipe it clean off any surface with some hot water.

This homemade glue works well if you have children who don't like the concept of one-time-use stickers. If you tire of the wailing that reverberates off the rafters after stickers lose their "stick," slather some of this homemade adhesive on and watch the magic unfold. Now if only we could discover a proverbial glue that would help them bond with a new babysitter. That's something we'd never complain about.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Bemmels, C. W., "Adhesive Tapes: Handbook of Adhesives." 1962. (Nov. 4, 2010) Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company.
  • Cameo Chemicals. "Denatured Alcohol." (Nov. 5, 2010)
  • Chevron Cars. "How to Make Your Own Stickers." (Nov. 4, 2010)
  • Do It Yourself. "Sticky Label, Tape, Decal, Applique and Adhesive Residue Removal FAQ." (Nov. 5, 2010)
  • Good Housekeeping. "Removing Stickers from Glass." (Nov. 4, 2010)
  • LPS. "Material Safety Data Sheet." (Nov. 4, 2010)
  • Nyberg, Tim. "Duct Tape 101." (Nov. 4, 2010)
  • Nyberg, Tim. "The WD-40 Book." (Nov. 4, 2010)
  • Reader's Digest. "How to Really Use Nail Polish Remover." (Nov. 4, 2010)
  • Science Daily. "New Adhesive for Tape, Label Industry Developed." July 7, 2010. (Nov. 5, 2010)
  • Scotch Duct Tape. "Scotch Tough Duct Tape: No Residue." (Nov. 4, 2010)
  • Thrifty Fun. "Removing Stickers from Windows and Mirrors." (Nov. 4, 2010)
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Fast Orange Smooth Lotion Hand Cleaner." (Nov. 4, 2010)
  • WD-40. "Frequently Asked Questions." (Nov. 4, 2010)
  • World of Molecules. "Heptane Molecular Structure." (Nov. 4, 2010)