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Get It off Me! How to Remove Sap, Glue, and Sticky Goo

Hand sanitizer is great at removing sticky gooey pine resin!

Hand sanitizer is great at removing sticky gooey pine resin!

A Sap-Free Christmas?

Pine resin smells wonderful at Christmas time, but I hate the black marks it leaves on my hands (and anything I touch) for days. This year, I discovered a miraculous reprieve: waterless hand sanitizer.

Squirting a glob of sanitizer gel onto the sap, I rubbed it around with a paper towel to remove most of the sap and then rinsed away the residue. At first, it left a little stickum when it dried, but a second application left both the tools and my hands smooth and sap-free.

It also works on many kinds of glues, softening them to peel or rub off easily.

Before You Begin

  • Physically remove as much as possible: If you can scrape, pick, or blot up most of the goo, you will be way ahead. Try using a stick or cardboard scrap to scrape up the worst lumps, or wrap a bag over your hand so you can throw away the goo without getting it on you.
  • Find the right cleaner: Do you need a chemical solvent, or a non-toxic or natural cleaner? Check the label for recommended solvents or 'cleanup' products.
  • Test in a safe place: Make sure there's ventilation, no open flame, etc. If you are cleaning a treasured item, test a hidden area. If the goo is on you, use skin-friendly options like soap and water, hand sanitizer, nail polish remover, mineral oil, etc.

Cautionary Notes

  • Acetone, mineral spirits, and turpentine can discolor or dissolve wood finishes, fabrics, mirrors, and plastics.
  • Alcohol and oils can also discolor or stain many surfaces.
  • Hydrogen peroxide can bleach.
  • Soapy water is usually very safe, but it may damage delicate fabrics or paper crafts.
  • Super Glue Remover or Goo-Gone: If you're using a patented remover, read their cautionary notes carefully.

General Treatment Procedure

  1. Work the cleaner into the goo. It may take several treatments. Be gentle, and generous. Work a little cleanser in first, then add more as the goo softens. Try concentrated cleaners; e.g., start with pure soap, then add water after the goo is all blended in.
  2. Remove both the cleaner and the goo, either with a rag or towel, or by rinsing well. (Avoid paper tissue until you're sure it's working; you don't need little paper fibers stuck in the goo.)
  3. Find a good solvent for rinsing. Most cleaners can be rinsed away with soapy water; or use the usual cleanser for your surface (oil soap for wood, dish, or fabric soap for clothes, etc). if this doesn't work, apply your cleaner again and try rinsing with acetone or alcohol.

Sticky Goo Removal Guide

  • Resins and sap: Alcohols (rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer), acetone, or turpentine.
  • School glue, Elmer's glue, wood glue, homemade 'slime': Soap and water, vinegar.
  • Chewing gum: Chill and chip away, or warm up and remove while gooey. Get residue with oil-based remedies like peanut butter or WD-40, then wash with soapy water.
  • Tape, label goop, and adhesives: Try soap and water, WD-40, acetone (nail polish remover), Citra-Solv, or see "oil and grease" below.
  • Sugar, gelatin, caramel, etc: Hot water and lots of it.
  • Blood, egg, or animal proteins: Soapy water, enzyme-based cleaners, hydrogen peroxide.
  • Super Glue, model glue: Check the label before opening! Home remedies include soapy water or acetone; Super Glue Remover is available commercially.
  • Epoxy: Catch wet epoxy with vinegar before it cures. Acetone can speed curing for some epoxies (AAAGH!); read the container, and be ready to use a LOT of acetone to rinse quickly. Commercial 'epoxy removers' are also available.
  • Oil and grease: Soak up excess with rags, paper, kitty litter, or sawdust if appropriate. Apply concentrated detergent or soap and wash immediately. If water is incompatible with the surface, consider non-toxic paintbrush cleaners, mineral spirits, or turpentine. (Kerosene or gasoline may also work.) Be very careful of flammable, toxic vapors.
  • Plasticine clay, oil pastels, oil paints, etc: Treat as you would for gum or grease; physically remove as much as possible before heating/dissolving residue.
  • Melted crayons, candle wax: Chill and chip away as much as possible; if any remains, warm up and blot with rag or paper. Treat residue as for oil or grease.
  • Lacquer, shellac, etc: Try pure alcohol or acetone.
  • Latex paint: Soak with water, scrape off. TSP or patented paint removers may be available. If it's 100% natural latex, mineral oil can weaken it.
  • Wallpaper glue, paper-mache, or Play-Dough: Soak in soapy water, or steam to soften.
  • Food Stains: Neutralize the specific food:
    - If it is greasy, use detergent or soap (see "oil and grease").
    - If it's acid (fruit, wine, food dyes, vinegar, proteins) try a base (soap, ammonia, Borax, hydrogen peroxide).
    - If it's a base (mineral stains, hard water marks, soap scum, plaster, ashes) try an acid (vinegar, lemon, carbonated water).

Delicate Fabrics, Fine Finishes, and Paper Crafts

The trick with delicate fabrics, fine finishes, and paper crafts is to find a solvent that attacks the sticky, slimy substance but leaves the surface alone. Test carefully, and refer to care instructions if possible. Professional dry-cleaning is always an option.

  • Freeze the goo with ice (or dry ice) to make it brittle. Carefully chip, flake, or pick off.
  • Use a powder to absorb oily stains, then shake off or vacuum up. Baking soda works on oil, food, or pet stains and most carpets. Bentonite clay (kitty litter) absorbs oily spills on concrete, but avoid using it with any goop that can dry and harden. Both these remedies can be combined with wet or dry solvents, like soapy water or mineral spirits.
  • Dry shampoos can remove grease or oil, using ingredients like starches, salts, and powdered detergents. Shake-n-bake the dry shampoo with hair, fur, or fabric; then shake or vacuum out.
  • Turpentine, mineral spirits, and WD-40: These solvents are almost "dry," containing no water or oils, which makes them particularly water-repellent. They dissolve oils, grease, and some gums. Alcohol, acetone, and ammonia mix with water, and may discolor water-based dyes and finishes, but they dry quickly, so you can blot them up without needing to rinse.
  • Soak and blot: While wet, scrape or blot away as much of the stain as possible. Test your solvents, then soak or steam the goop until dissolved. Blot, don't rub, with a paper towel or white rag: transfer the mess to the rag. Repeat as needed with fresh solvent and clean rags. When satisfied, leave a last clean rag on the damp spot to absorb any remaining mess that may be drawn up as it dries.

What If Nothing Works?

If none of these work, you can request more information from the product's manufacturer or retailer. They are likely to know exactly how to remove their product. If they don't know, don't give up: ask for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for workplace use of their products. The MSDS will give the chemical name(s) of the goop. Type the chemical(s) online to look for specific solvents or cleaners online.

Hope these remedies help rescue your holiday!

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I get homemade slime out of my blanket?

Answer: I'm guessing you have the type of slime made from Elmer's glue and Borax. If so, then it is easy once you know the trick. Soak the blanket in vinegar, and the slime should dissolve. Rinse thoroughly to get out any residue, then wash normally with laundry detergent.

If you are dealing with some other type of home-made slime, please let me know the ingredients, and I will see what I can come up with.

Question: How do you remove dried slime from a wooden desk?

Answer: Depends on the type of slime.

If it is the type made with Elmer's glue and Borax (also called Flubber), vinegar works to remove it. Soak it for a few minutes to an hour, then wipe off.

If it is biological (pond algae, egg, aloe vera gel, etc.), try soaking with water to re-hydrate the slime and make it easier to remove. A damp paper towel will hold enough water or vinegar in place to soften the slime without making a big mess.

If water or vinegar doesn't work, you can try solvents such as alcohol (isopropyl rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer) or mineral spirits. These solvents are more likely to damage the finish of the wood, so I would try plain water first.

There are some materials, like epoxy, that might look like dried slime but are not going to dissolve again. In this case, you might need to chip or sand off the dried material, then refinish the desk with oil or stain and clear coat.

Can you tell me more about the type of slime?

If I know what it is made of, I might be able to give you a more specific suggestion.

Question: How do you remove Elmer's slime from a wood door or drawer?

Answer: Elmer's Glue is very good at bonding to wood, and it may take several tries to remove it completely.

If the wood is particularly valuable or antique, such as an oak desk or hardwood panel door, consider having a professional woodworker use cabinet scrapers, planer, or sander to remove dried glue, as this may cause less damage.

Amateur efforts can easily damage the wooden surface by using the wrong solvent for the finish, too much force, uneven tool pressure, etc.

If you are dealing with ordinary furniture, and just want to remove unsightly slime so the drawer can be used until the next messy adventure, keep reading.

For childrens' toy slime made with Elmers' glue and Borax, sometimes called "Flubber," the secret is to soak the slime in vinegar. The acidity softens and dissolves the sticky slime.

If the slime is stuck to a vertical surface, you can soak a paper towel in vinegar, and sort of plaster it onto the surface to hold the vinegar in place. Put a plate or placemat underneath, to catch the gob of slime and towel in case they slide off.

Check on it after 5 minutes, to see if it is starting to work. Re-soak and re-apply the paper towel if needed. Leaving the paper towel in one place too long may cause staining of the wood, and/or uneven removal of the slime, with little ridges of residue where the paper towel was wrinkled.

For just plain Elmer's glue, you can soak in the same way with water and/or vinegar. Once the glue starts to soften, you can use a flat tool like a wooden or plastic spatula to gently scrape off as much of the excess glue as possible. The goal is to minimize soaking time, and minimize damage to the wood surface.

Soak the slime until you can physically remove it. Scrape off any excess; if there are little traces of slime in the cracks, soak again or sponge out. Rinse the area with clean water, blot dry with a clean rag, and allow the wood to dry.

Unfortunately, depending on how the wood was finished, you may see some permanent staining or cosmetic damage from food coloring in the toy slime, or from the glue itself and the soaking process.

Once the surface is completely dry, you can assess the damage. Try wiping it down with a wood cleaner and preserver, such as Murphy's Oil Soap. Or apply a small amount of a wood preserving oil such as tung oil or linseed oil, or a very small amount of any vegetable oil from the kitchen.

If the damage remains too ugly and obvious, consider sanding, painting, or refinishing the wood as needed.

Question: How can I remove strong gum from the skin?

Answer: If it is sap-based, the solution described here may work. (Generous amount of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, scrub, rinse with water, repeat.)

If it's something else, like chewing gum or spirit gum, you may need to try other solvents that are safe to use on skin. One popular method is to work peanut butter or olive oil into the gum with a toothbrush, wait a few minutes for it to work, then remove it. Depending on the type of chewing gum it could either soften or harden/granulate the gum, but it should make it less sticky. The oil is also nice for the skin, helps it tolerate more scrubbing without getting chapped or scratched up. You could even use a good hand lotion if you prefer, to work on softening and scrubbing off the gum before washing with soap and water.

Here's one article on using these materials to remove gum from hair:

Another source recommends vinegar as a possible antidote to chewing gum.

I have been able to avoid most types of goop besides tree sap for a long time, due to my lifestyle, so this advice is second-hand.


Erica W on April 23, 2016:

I came across another remedy about a year later:

For small, fresh blood stains (the kind you might get without murdering anyone at all) the most amazing stain-remover is spit.

Apparently we have an enzyme in our spit that starts 'digesting' the blood. Anyway, if you can spit on the stain while it's fresh, you can watch the red color disappearing right before your eyes.

It's hard to produce enough spit to neutralize larger blood stains, unless you salivate at very different things than I do.

Erica K Wisner (author) from Oregon on February 07, 2012:

That tie problem is a bummer. I did the same thing to a former boyfriend's dress shirt, only the gunk was on the iron. I didn't know what to do, and I was just miserable.

The best advice I've seen since then is to take a clean, absorbent paper like a tissue, and iron the spot again and again. The glue may not all go away, but it should help remove most of it, and perhaps the tie can be salvaged. If you use a tougher handmade paper that is more absorbant than the tie, you might be able to peel it off, but be careful as this can damage the fabric.

It may be too late for your dad's tie (sorry for the delayed response) but hopefully this can be useful to others.


Erica W

Tony Mack on October 05, 2010:


Can you help !

the problem is I used one of my dads ties last week but before I could use it I washed & ironed it, as I was ironing I was using a piece of card to flatten & did not see some glue on card & yes it's on Tie can you advise ?

Thank You