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How to Get Sticky Labels Off Cardboard Boxes

After a shipping mishap, we feared the boxes were ruined. Luckily, I found a solution!

Try these two different methods.

Try these two different methods.

How to Get Sticky Labels Off (2 Methods)

Recently, I've had to solve a fairly common problem—yet in a unique way. On the job, our warehouse received two rejected pallets of perfume. Long story short, the two pallets were rejected from going on an airplane because of improper labeling. 60 boxes from each pallet would have to be torn off and new labels put on the same boxes. That's 120 boxes that we had to relabel. Oy vey! What were we going to do?

Luckily, with help from the internet and my local Home Depot, we found the answer. And now, I just want to share our methodology with all of you just in case it helps anyone else in desperate throes.

In This Article

  • Method #1: Goo Gone
  • Method #2: Fast and Reckless

Materials Needed for Label Removal

Let's just briefly go over what we need.

  • Heat gun: Primarily used for melting the glue adhesive so that the label is easy to peel off. In this tutorial, I am using the Wagner HT 3500 heat gun, which is a very versatile heat gun for DIY projects. We will be using it at the lowest heat setting (250°F). You could also try a blow dryer, provided it can reach a high enough temperature to do the job of removing labels from a cardboard box. Also, you could use your heat gun without a nozzle, but a nozzle is helpful. Specifically, you could use a flat nose nozzle of the pinpoint nozzle.
  • Goo Gone: This is a popular degreasing solution sold online and in popular retailers like Walmart and Target. Specifically, we are using the Goo Gone Original 8oz Spray On. Information on how to purchase can be found near the end of this article about removing stickers from cardboard boxes.
  • Cleaning rag / old t-shirt / or cotton balls: This is to be used to apply the Good Gone with minimal staining.
  • Gloves: Plastic or vinyl gloves are ideal for this application. Goo Gone is a synthetic chemical that I would not trust with my skin, so I wear gloves while handling it. Also, the gloves will provide some protection if you are using the heat gun to remove price stickers from boxes, remove glue residues from boxes, etc.
Sticky labels don't stand a chance against these tools.

Sticky labels don't stand a chance against these tools.

Method #1: Goo Gone

I am first showing you how to use Goo Gone to remove labels and adhesive paper from cardboard.

Step 1: Apply Goo Gone to Your Cleaning Cloth

First and foremost, put on your gloves! Next, thoroughly soak a section of your rag or old t-shirt with the Goo Gone product. Or, if you are using a cotton ball like me (see picture), then soak that cotton ball entirely.

These two things will help solve all of your problems.

These two things will help solve all of your problems.

Step 2: Soak the Label With Goo Gone

With your damp medium (cotton ball, cloth, etc.), coat the label or labels you intend to remove from the cardboard box. Be especially sure to catch the edges of the label, as this will be very helpful later on.

Step 3: Wait From 90 Minutes to 3 Hours

The timing is not arbitrary. Because I had so many boxes to go through, I checked every 10 minutes whether the labels were loose enough to tear off with my hand.

  • It seems that thin labels and labels without any lamination are easy to tear off once you reach the 1 1/2 hour mark.
  • The tricky labels are laminated (i.e., the flammable number 3 label in the pictures above). Even with additional soaking, it required about 3 hours of wait time before I could remove the label with any kind of ease.

If you want to be absolutely sure you gonna get the label completely off, waiting three hours is your best bet!

Hopefully, you have something else to do in the meantime!

Hopefully, you have something else to do in the meantime!

Step 4: Tear the Label(s) Off Slowly

Now the fun part. Pick up a loose edge of the label with your nail (or pen/pen cap). (If you soaked the label edges properly, they should be loose enough to do this now.) Now slowly peel the label off of the box.

Please peel slowly; it is a paper label after all and is still subject to tearing. The more tearing that occurs, the more chance you have of leaving glue residue on the box itself. Yet, even with "slow" removal of the 120 labels we had to deal with, each one took about 15 seconds to remove on average.

And there we have it. We have removed labels and some adhesive paper from cardboard boxes with minimal residue. Of course, we were dealing with flammable substances, so the whole process took us at least three hours. Let's explore a more fast and reckless method of removing labels from cardboard boxes.

Method #2: Fast and Reckless

This method might not be the smartest or the most patient, but it can get the job done.

Step 1: Set Your Heat Gun to the Lowest Setting

Plug in your heat gun and start it up. Now heat guns can generate some pretty intense heat, so I would advise putting your heat gun on the lowest setting. For me, that is 250°F (pretty typical for heat guns).

Putting on your gloves at this point is also a pretty good idea, as your hand will get pretty close to the nozzle of the heat gun, and you could get burned a little (hey . . . no pain, no label removal).

Speaking of nozzles, now is a good time to attach either the flat nose or the pinpoint nozzles I referred to earlier in the article. In this demonstration, I am using a flat-nose nozzle for my Wagner HT3500 heat gun.

This might not work as well as Method #1, but it will do the trick.

This might not work as well as Method #1, but it will do the trick.

Step 2: Start Heating One Edge of the Label

Just like in the last method, you want to create a loose edge on the label from which you can remove the entire label and its adhesive off of the cardboard box. To do this, concentrate the nozzle of your heat gun on one edge of the label for a few seconds (move it up and down the edge of the label if you have to).

The adhesive underneath that edge should have weakened from the heat, and now you have a loose edge.

Slow and steady with the heat gun!

Slow and steady with the heat gun!

Step 3: Remove Label Slowly

Now the home stretch. While pulling on the loose edge of the label, use your heat gun to melt glue on the underside of the label that is keeping it attached to the cardboard box. This will allow you to pull more of the label off. Keep repeating this process until the label is completely removed.

And there you have it. The quick and dirty way to remove a label from a box. I hope this tutorial has been of help to all of you.


Arctic Blond on December 08, 2018:

Hi Justin: Thanks so much for posting this! Another site recommended using rubbing alcohol and that was completely useless. I wanted to remove the sticky residue from a pretty chocolate box so I could reuse it as a gift box. My previous attempts had removed the top layer successfully but I still had a layer of sticky stuff. Goo Gone applied with a cotton ball did the trick with no damage to the box. Because the top layer was gone, I only had to wait a few short minutes and the residue lifted up in one piece. Now we know - Goo Gone works on cardboard boxes!

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on March 10, 2018:

Wow! This is just too much work for me Justin. I remove some labels, but that is just boxes that I intend to use for myself personally.

Interesting article.

Blessings friend.

Justin Muirhead (author) from New York on March 09, 2018:

Thank You Straya

BitCast - The Daily Bitcoin Forecast Challenge from Melbourne on March 09, 2018:

interesting life-hacks