Plastic, Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose

Removing the labels from plastic bottles

They say a gift can be a curse. Yet they also say a curse can be a gift. Sometimes I just wish “they” would make up their minds! Being the crafter, I am, with the eye for function and ideas has been both a gift and a curse.

Let’s take prescription, vitamin, and small pill bottles for example. My ideas are many and that feels like a gift. Those labels and that blasted glue they use, well that’s the curse. When I have a few hours to craft the last thing I want to do is cut my thumb using a knife or spend hours scraping that label off, only to be left with worthless glue on the bottle. It does not even help new labels stick to the bottle, only the ubiquitous dog hair found in the house!

I know why pharmacy labels are as sticky as they are, but vitamin bottles and aspirin bottles? I read somewhere they use the labels they use to help deter people from using prescription bottles to disguise illegal drugs and make them appear real. My guess is someone trying to avoid jail is willing to put more work into it than someone trying to knock out a quickie craft after work. Seriously, if they are willing to break the law doing drugs do they really think that extra sticky glue is going to stop them? Oh, ok! Or better still, when is the last time someone said, “I tried being a drug dealer, but I could not make the bottle pretty, so I quit!” Seriously!

If you are planning to recycle these plastic bottles and just don’t want bottles out there telling everyone who looks at your recycling what meds you take, well then you really don’t need to worry about the glue. (I might have just angered the recycling company with that remark! Oops!) And as much as it pains me to say so, the same can be true if you are just throwing them away!

If you are planning to put what amounts to a new label on the bottle, then you only need to worry about the areas that will not be covered by your new label. And if you can accurately predict that you are a better crafter than I am!

If you are planning to put what amounts to a new label on the bottle, then you only need to worry about the areas that will not be covered by your new label. And if you can accurately predict that you are a better crafter than I am!

Naturally, an internet search on how to remove them resulted in everything in my kitchen, and heck, even my garage being called into service. I decide to start with the easiest, determine which bottles they worked on for me and move on from there.

The Hot Water Method

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Admittedly, my first thought when I read this one was the dozens of bottles I have put in the dishwasher hoping to make labels disappear like dried-on food and that rarely happened. But I figured of all the methods online this was the easiest so here I go.

I grabbed a variety of empty bottles and turned on the kitchen faucet and made sure I was only using hot water. I took off the lids, snapped a few photos for this article and let the water get as hot as it could. Sticking my finger under the water caused a tiny bit of pain… hot enough. I filled the first bottle and set the timer on the stove for 2 minutes. I set the timer because I have a tenancy to assume more time has passed when I am waiting to do something. I had figured it would take me 2 minutes to fill all the bottles, and take photos. Wrong it was less than a minute. I noticed the first bottle filled began to have a wet look about it and after the 2 minutes were up I quickly grabbed it to remove the label. As I slowly peeled the label off I noticed it was one of those that says something like “open the label here for nutrition information” so there was a large section of the label that was not glued down. The edges however, were glued.

Findings:

Clear Bottle with the peel up label for nutrition information – Completely clear with no glue or label pieces left.

White bottle which also had a peel up label – The glue on one side of the peel up label stuck and needed another process to take it off.

Prescription bottle – The label came off easier than just trying to peel it off, but it was totally covered in glue and I really did not want it that way. So, it would need another process to take the glue off.

Orange bottle with purple lid – This did not work at all. After attempting a few other ways, it dawned on me that the water may have cooled a bit too much while I carefully peeled the other bottles and studied the results. This theory came about when I noticed that the further from the 2-minute mark I got the worse job this process did.

The Peanut Butter Method

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I have used this to remove sticky glue from other things in the past and went to this method next. I coated the glue on the White bottle and the Prescription bottle with a small layer of peanut butter. As I coated the label on the orange bottle I wondered how the peanut butter was going to penetrate the label to get to the glue. I had these thoughts in the past and noticed that depending on the label thickness and composition more than one layer of peanut butter was involved. But decided to give it a try anyway.

Instead of watching the clock this time, I walked away and found something else to occupy my time for about 10 minutes. Temperature was not going to be an issue here so the longer I could leave it on the glue the better. Or at least that was my theory!

I came back and grabbed a paper towel. I was actually quite surprised not only with how easily the glue came off both the white bottle and the prescription bottle, but how amazingly clean each bottle looked up close. What a pleasant surprise!

Turning my attention to the now stubborn Orange bottle… I began with a paper towel and it simply cleaned the bottle, label, and all! Using my thumb nail, I gently began to raise the corner of the label and worked my nail up the edge of the label and then a little deeper under the label and so on until I noticed the glue was stubbornly sticking to the bottle and not coming off. So, I grabbed the edge of the label and pulled. I noticed that what began coming up was simply a plastic cover over a paper label. A second layer of peanut butter and another 10 minutes of wait time and the paper label was completely removed. But that stubborn glue remained and it was ugly!

So, a third layer of peanut butter became necessary. Yes, at this point it is necessary! I’m not certain what this jar will become in the future, but I love the color of it, so it WILL get cleaned off and be shiny and new looking if it kills me!

Since I am looking for the one catch-all solution to this issue I coated several other empty bottles with peanut butter when I did the third coat on the orange bottle. I chose a variety of bottles like before to see if there was a solution that worked better on some than on others. I even had a bottle that I had peeled the label off of and of course the glue residue had attracted tons of dust, lint and dog hair even as the bottle sat in a box for months. Since the peanut butter had done such a great job cleaning the other bottles I decided to try it on this bottle.

Findings

The Orange Bottle finally looks amazing! I am so excited about what this bottle will become, but totally bummed at how long it took to get it looking like I wanted it too.

After the peanut butter was removed with a paper towel, I applied dish soap to the outside of the bottle and rubbed well using just my hands and then rinsed it in warm water. There does not appear to be a greasy film on the bottle, so it’s all good!

The dirty white bottle came out amazing as well.

The small green bottle label came right off with no effort. And no residue! Perfect solution here!

The other bottles had issues that will require more efforts to remove.

The Freezer Method = Colossal Fail

So, several years ago I worked in an industrial facility where we had large boxes full of items. We labeled what was in each box using standard bumper stickers that we ordered specifically for this purpose. After a horrible ice storm had shut the city down for a few days I returned to the plant that first morning back to find all the bumper stickers lying on the floor and no boxes labeled anymore. It made for an interesting few hours. Later in speaking to the vendor I discovered that the freezing temperatures had rendered the glue useless. Acting on that experience I placed several different jars in the freezer and set my alarm on my computer for an hour later.

I came back to my freezer ready to peel off labels and be instantly amazed at the ease of doing so. Ok, well that is not even close to what happened. Nothing budged, if anything they were more stuck than before. One of the bottles that had some paper still attached to it formed little ridges which, when scraped with my thumb nail pulled both the paper and the glue off. Unfortunately, it was not enough of the paper to make the hour spent to do this worth it.

The Olive Oil Method

So, if the oils in peanut butter are what makes the label come off, what about the oil in Olive Oil?

I poured a small amount into a little cup and used my pastry brush to coat each bottle with a nice layer of the oil.

I set my timer for 30 minutes and worked on another project.

Results:

I think this is my favorite method.

Glues, labels, junk on the bottle, most of it came off. I like this method because of using a pastry brush and the variety of layers it removed. I think this is great for the really stubborn labels and glue.

 

The Acetone Method

Acetone is the main ingredient in finger nail polish remover. I know from experience at work that we use it to remove tape residue from skin and any other durable surfaces. Durable, in this case, meaning things that are not easily evaporated by the strong solvent. Oil based paints can be cleaned out of paint brushes using acetone. My concern was if the shine on the bottles would be effected by the acetone. I did not try this one yet. In the event I ever do I will be sure to post my findings here.

The Microwave Method

I found this method while reading the comments under another method and wanted to try it out. The commenter stated she put some water in the bottle and microwaved it. Not exactly a complete description, but God Bless her for the idea.

As a chronic “Quick Minute” user of the microwave, I started there. First, I put hot water into the bottle, higher than the top of the label. I left the lid off to avoid any build up of heat in the bottle. I placed it in the microwave and hit my magic “Quick Minute” button.

It was super-hot when I pulled it out of the microwave and I used my fingernail to push the corner of the label up. I was amazed at how fast and clean it came off! I did manage to warp the plastic bottle just a bit, so maybe a shorter time next time!

My second attempt was on a little thicker plastic white bottle. Again, I filled the bottle above the top of the label and this time set the timer on the microwave for 30 seconds. The bottle was still hot when I removed it and the label was only slightly harder to start. The result was the same though, a perfect peel off of the label that resulted in no additional methods. I also left the water in the bottle while I peeled the label off. Kind of like using the water method, but on steroids!

I kept trying this with about a dozen other bottles. The trick here is to “get it while it’s hot”! The longer the delay the worse it worked.

It also gets really hot on your skin fast. So be careful. A pair of cloth garden gloves helped the hand holding the bottle in place, but the peel hand still got hot trying to start the label peel. After some of the water in one of the bottles boiled out onto the tray of the microwave, I began placing each bottle into a bowl and then placing them in the microwave.

Conclusion

For my uses the Microwave Method followed by the Olive Oil method, if necessary, are the ways I will be dealing with this issue in the future.

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog today!

Be sure to check back in regularly for new articles and updates on existing blog posts. It is my pleasure to share my findings, passions and creations with you.

God Bless you!

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