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This is the worst nightmare of every man in the supermarket: opening a plastic grocery bag when you're in a hurry at the self service checkout and there are no helpful cashiers around to help you. And usually the standard "rub the bag" method never works.

What method can I use to open them quickly and efficiently?

  • 4
    by rub the bag, do you mean between thumb and for finger? have worked for several years at a supermarket, i can vouche for thumb/forfinger pinch/rub – Lyndon White Feb 4 '15 at 0:51

14 Answers 14

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Breathe on your finger tips (not blow; breathe. like breathing on a cold window to fog it up.) before using them to pull at the plastic bag. Slightly moistening your fingertips provides greater friction and therefore a better chance of success.

You can also attempt to dig in to the bag with your fingernails if they are sufficiently sharp.

  • 1
    This sounds the same as my "lick the fingers" method but considerably less horrifying (especially when I'm trying to separate plastic bags for bulk shopping and am going to go put my hands on bins and utensils that will be touching other people's food). – octern Mar 15 '15 at 18:11
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Same answer, different version - stick the tip of your tongue out, touch it between index finger and thumb, then separate the bags. Works every time, so long as you're not too worried about what bacteria or virus particles might be present on your fingers at the time... I don't do this any more, I always re-use the more expensive, bag for life, plastic bags, always got one folded up in a pocket or somewhere, which are bigger and stronger. And never stick together!

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I actually used to work in a supermarket where I would face this problem almost every single day and there were a few different methods that I and other people used to help separate the darned bags:

  • The old classic - lick the tip of your fingers which gives them more grip on the bag when you swipe you finger across it hoping for purchase on the material, it should easily allow the bag to pull away from itself / other bags without too much of a fuss
    • Possible downside - people don't like saliva on their bags but if it is only for yourself then I am sure this won't be much of a problem
  • Pull the handles - this method works really well for a large amount of bags at a time but also works for small quantities. If to grab the bag, one handle in each hand, and then just pull apart (adjust strength of pull for strength of the bag to avoid damaging) and this will cause parts of the bag (usually at the bottom of the handles) to rise up giving you something to actually pull on and making it easier to separate.
  • Chain reaction - Although this won't solve the problem of opening a single bag, if you have many bags stuck together, once you get the first one to pull away it should also cause the next bag to open and then you can just keep pulling and separating to your hearts content and is strangely satisfying getting a huge bag combo!

Although you have said it doesn't work, the rubbing method has always been a favourite with most people and works depending on how you do it, there are two methods:

  • With both hands
    If you hold a single bag between both hands and rub together vigorously it usually causes enough friction to pull them apart.
  • Thumb and Finger
    Usually works best at the bottom of the handles, but I have always had poor success with this method so I guess it might be all down to practice and technique!
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I'm surprised no one mentioned this. I know this is not a direct answer to your question, but another answer is to take your own bags! I know, I know, but hear me out - if the issue is simply that you forget to take your bags (which is commonly my issue), then here's a fix for that: have a bunch of bags always in your car (if you own one), and stick a piece of masking tape on your door handle with a "remember your bag!" note. Alternatively, hang them on a hook next to your door at home so you always see them before you leave.

If all else fails, then breathing out onto your fingers to get them moist before squeezing the bags apart should work, as others have already mentioned.

  • It is going to be the future, no more cheap or free thin plastic bags. Alternatives include netted (string) bags and fabric bags that fold into a small pocket. – Willeke Mar 26 '18 at 18:57
  • HIGHLY AGREE with bring your own bags. Very easy once you get the hang of it. I keep bags in my car, tucked in the pocket behind my seat. – M.Mat Apr 19 '18 at 3:06
  • Bamboo mentioned this about 3 years ago - both alternatives. – Lawrence Aug 3 '18 at 5:54
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One Method I saw recently was to have a small try (could be a jar lid or a gum tin) with a wet paper towel inside. You merely have to dab at it with you finger tips and you are good to open the bags. In a super market this would be a much better option then licking you dirty fingers.

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The classic way is to moisten the your index and thumb and then do the rubbing methos, usually with saliva, but of course there's germs because who knows what you've touched while picking up groceries.

Another way to get some quick moisture on your finger that does not include your mouth: If you happened to have picked up some items from the refrigerated/frozen section, like cold beverages, a jug of milk, plastic wrapped meats/food, a tub of ice cream, perhaps a six pack of beer, often there will be condensation on the outside of these items. Just swipe your fingers across the item to pick up some moisture and get to bag separation!

This seems to be more common in Asian grocery stores, but often at the checkout lanes, I've noticed the cashier and/or baggers have a small container of this stuff:

enter image description here

Essentially a waxy substances that you dip your fingers into to get a better grip on stuff- bags, paper, money, whatever.

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If I'm in the produce section, I touch a piece of wet produce to moisten my finger tips and open the produce bag.

If I'm checking out, I either touch some moist produce in my cart, or hold a small section of the bag opening area taunt and wiggle it back and forth until that section becomes separated. I then blow on it; creating a small opening to work with.

I have also used the "pull the handles apart" method. If I cannot get the bag open, I go for the paper bags.

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If you are not afraid to pull a little piece of a rubber glove out of your pocket or purse, this works very well. Place the small piece between your fingers and rub on both sides of the bag and the bag immediately has an opening. Very easy and works every time. I also use this method to get a better "grip" to open jars--no slip grip!

2

I struggle with this, and will not lick my fingers, etc.

I bought some Silicone Key Wraps, and put an extra one on my key chain. I just rub that silicone ring down on the bag, and POOF, it separates perfectly.

You could use one of those Silicone Wrist bands as well. It tends to grab/stick to the plastic easily enough.

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Take the bag with your both hands and blow at the place where you want to open it. The air will penetrate inside the bag and will open it. Downside of this method is that you need to catch the bag with two hands, and sometimes when blowing you may produce strange squeaking sound.

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Quick solution which is more hygienic than licking your finger: touch your tongue to a spot near the cut edge of the bag. I figure that the bag, having just come off the roll or the stack, must be cleaner than your finger is in a grocery store environment.

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Look at the edges of the bag. Don't mess with the end of the bag where the opening is. The edges are often folded in an accordion-like way. If you put the edge between your fingers and rub, you can often get the accordion folds to open up. Once you get a little bit of an opening, you can often pull the folds apart which opens up the whole bag. Then, the end of the bag with the opening will open.

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I could never bring myself to lick my fingers. Just me I guess.

How about grasping the bottom of your shirt or blouse and rubbing the top edges of the plastic bag with it. That might give enough friction. I haven't tried it yet.

I don't want to use saliva anyway, because I think of the clerk having to touch the bag that I put spit on.

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Hold the bag to your lips where you want to open.. then take a breath & blow hard .. should separate bag enough to open fully ... of course the manufacturer could make one edge oversized or one layer plastic at the preformation .. but would not bet on it 😀too expensive for grocer or customer ..

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