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How to Remove Sticky Labels From Cardboard Boxes


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 were going to have to be torn off and new labels put on the same boxes. That's 120 boxes that we had to relabel.

Originally, each box had at least 5 different labels attached to it. And the labels had been attached for well over 1 month, giving the label adhesive ample time to firmly affix to the box surface. Even worse, some of the boxes had flammable components inside (remember it's perfume); so we had to be careful with giving these boxes any significant heat exposure. Oy Vey! What were we going to do?

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


Item Checklist:

Let's just briefly go over what we need.

  1. 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. A very versatile heat fun for DIY projects. We will be using it at the lowest heat setting (250 degrees F). You could also try a blow dryer provided it can reach a high enough temperature to do the job to remove labels from a cardboard box. Also, you could use your heat gun without a nozzle but a nozzle is helpful. Specifically, you could use flat nose nozzle of the pin point nozzle.
  2. Goo Gone. This is a very popular degreasing solution sold both 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.
  3. Cleaning Rag / Old T-Shirt / or Cotton Balls. This is to be used to apply the Good Gone with minmal staining.
  4. Gloves. Plastic / 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.

Since I am handling some boxes that contain flammable goods inside, I am first showing you how to use goo gone to remove labels and adhesive paper from cardboard. I will later cover the technique on using the heat gun.


1. Apply Goo Gone to Your Cleaning Cloth

First and foremost, put on your gloves. (I did not have them on in the picture because I'm a moron). 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.

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.

  • If you are worried about staining on the box, Goo Gone will stain the box temporarily. But the staining will disappear within a day or two.

3. Wait From 90 Minutes to 3 Hours

The timing is not arbitrary. Because I had so many boxes to go through I timed every ten 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 the ones with lamination (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 was able to 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.

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 residues 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 very little residues. Of course, we were dealing with flammable substances so the whole process took us at least 3 hours. Let's explore a more fast and reckless method of removing labels from cardboard boxes.

The Fast & Reckless Method


1. Set Your Heat Gun to the Lowest Setting

Plug in your heat gun and start it up. Now heat guns can spew out some pretty intense...uh heat, so I would advise putting your heat gun on the lowest setting. For me, that is 250 degrees Fahrenheit (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 to label removal).

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


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.

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.

  • This method is very fast. It took me about 8 seconds to remove a thin price label from 1 cardboard box.

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. I will now leave you with one of my favorite pictures floating around the internet. It also just happens to be vaguely relevant to our topic. (See below)



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