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In the "old days" wine labels used to soak off in warm water, presumably because they used plain paper and a water-based glue. Nowadays 99.34% of labels are of the self-adhesive variety, laser-cut with embossings, metallic and plastic finishings and coatings and seemed to be designed to military specifications NOT to be removed.

I am a home-brewer and need a supply of clean re-usable wine bottles, and removing these modern labels is a chore.

I have tried the following but I may have missed some good ideas:

  1. soaking in water... this sometimes sort of works - it seems to depend on the quality of the paper versus the power of the glue. Fails often on coated labels. Resort to scraping with a potato peeler. If that fails bin it. ~ 5% chance of success

  2. VERY carefully pick up a corner and peel it off by hand. When it rips, try a different corner. Again this depends on the paper quality vs glue and seems to critically depend on the angle of peel. Good approach for coated labels. Often you can succeed in doing this on the front label then fail totally on the 2 back labels which have an entirely different constituency. ~ 5% chance again

  3. Lighter fluid. from an old trick in removing floppy disk labels - tiddle lighter fluid liberally over the entire surface of the label (only works on non-coated labels) so that it soaks thru the paper into the backing glue. I use my fingers to spread it. Wait until it just appears to have dried - then peel as for 2. If it rips - you can try repeating the whole process. Often leaves gluey residue. Use a paper towel and more lighter fluid to remove it, and polish it off. ~ 70% chance.

  4. heat bottle in slow oven oven at ~100C. use gloves and try and peel label with other hand. Some skill/risk required ~ 40% chance

Ok what methods have I missed? and what are the estimated chances of success?

P.S. you will need to successfully remove labels to try the bottle-chopping hack What is the best method for cutting the top off a wine bottle?

  • Dave tell us how the baking soda worked. – Mayo Jan 19 '15 at 19:55
  • This very much makes me think of Rudy Kurniawan. – user22124 Sep 13 '17 at 9:09
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According to Popular Mechanics the most effective method was using baking soda and water:

Baking Soda and Water

Directions: Three bottles, 16 tablespoons of baking soda and 32 cups of water, soak for 30 minutes.

Results: After 30 minutes, the bucket had two full labels floating on the top—a very good sign. One bottle required a peel of the main label, which came off cleanly—and another bottle was good to go with a simple wipe of the rag. The third bottle, however, proved more difficult. Although the top label floated away during the soak, the main label required fingernail peeling and steel wool (although it was a clean swipe with the steel wool, unlike with the soap-and-water method).

Score: 8 out of 10

  • Can't really see how this might work (what does the baking soda do? how does it interact with the glue? are all glues the same? etc etc) - but it could be worth a try – Dave45 Jan 18 '15 at 23:27
  • 1
    Did the experiment today, as I'd found a pot of date-expired baking soda in the cupboard - I tipped half the pot into a washing up bowl, filled it with cold water and mixed it in then dunked the bottle of Sicilian red from last night. I'd tried peeling it by hand and it was pretty stuck. Left it an hour. No labels floated off and I wasn't expecting much... However all three labels peeled off pretty easily leaving no residue. Result ! – Dave45 Jan 25 '15 at 17:46
  • @Dave45 It's mostly a pH adjustment. You can use baking soda, sodium carbonate, borax, ammonia, lye, or caustic cleaner. In short: any base. – piojo Oct 22 '18 at 12:11
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you can also boil the bottles in a large pot of water for a few minutes, provided your pot is big enough. When my friends and I reclaim used beer bottles to bottle our homemade brew, this is always how we remove the labels. The heat dissolves the glue and the paper and the labels literally just fall off. After you are done, let the bottle gradually cool either by leaving them in the pot with the heat off or by placing them in a bucket with faucet-warm water, this is to make sure they don't crack from changing temperature too quickly

  • A scouring sponge or plastic putty knife is helpful for removing glue residue. After it all cools of course. – Bob Stein Feb 5 '15 at 18:51
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I fill a large bucket with water and a small amount of bleach (I've never been overly particular about the quantity). Soak a batch of bottles for a few hours, then, wearing rubber gloves, the labels should just slip off.

I've found this approach works for about 80% of beer bottles (used for homebrew). If the labels don't come off with this method, I dump the bottles as I've found nothing that can get these 20% of labels off efficiently.

  • sterilises them too I guess ! – Dave45 Mar 16 '15 at 16:40
  • Yes, indeed. Especially useful if the bottles came from a local pub or something where you don't know about the hygiene of the last user! – pa1983 Jan 12 '17 at 9:24
  • I suspect the active ingredient in this trick is the minute amount of sodium hydroxide that commercial bleach contains. – piojo Oct 22 '18 at 12:12
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At least where I live (Germany) most of the labels are glued with a fat-solvable glue. So, you cover the whole label in a thin layer of butter or margarine (or other, non-liquid fat), let it sit for a while (I wait a day, but that's most likely overkill) then peel the label off.

Wipe the bottle afterwards with a kitchen paper (remember not to wash fat down the drain) and you're done.

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We reuse glass bottles for storing herbs from the garden. To remove the label, I take a razor blade and run it at about a 30-0 degree angle to the glass. It doesn't scratch the glass, but it lifts the label. There is occasionally a little bit of the glue left, but I just use 90% rubbing alcohol. Finally, I was the container in hot water next time I do dishes which gets the rest of the residue off.

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I have used acetone and it works very well. If one of the other methods works better for you, acetone will do a great job removing any leftover residue. It is a polar organic solvent so it should dissolve just about any adhesive used for labels so you will come away with a super clean bottle.

1

I recently 'de-labeled' some bottles and the trick that worked on some was to fill the bottle with warm water, so the glue became warm but the paper of the label did not tear.
This will not work on all labels, but it did on the bottles I tried.

1

Amazed at the trouble people are going to in order to accomplish this. By all means, soak the bottle in hot water for a minute or two, maybe score the label first to allow water penetration, and then peel the paper off. If the whole label and glue detaches, great. If not, scrub with only moderate pressure with an S.O.S. pad. Takes about a minute. Bicarb? Oil? Fat? Acetone? Vinegar? Messy and unnecessary in my experience.

  • I do not agree, there are many kinds of label glue that do not react well on getting wet but where a wet label makes removing the label harder. – Willeke Oct 17 '18 at 18:19
  • At a minute or more per bottle, that is a pretty costly technique! – piojo Oct 22 '18 at 12:14
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Use a glass scraper (ideally of the narrow type, ca. 4-5 cm wide, and as sturdy as you can find).

Scrape from top to bottom in a small angle to the glass, while holding the bottle at the neck to not hurt yourself. The tool will remove stripes of 5-10 mm with each scraping movement.

Some tiny specks of glue may remain, but can be removed by wiping with your favorite solvent. The solvent can get to the glue very easily now, as it is no longer protected by the label.

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