How to Remove Sticker Residue From a T-Shirt (Applies to Other Clothes as Well)

Updated on December 7, 2018

Well yes, I voted in the recent midterm elections, the picture above is proof. It shows my favorite shirt with the NYC "I Voted" sticker on the left-chest area. Usually, this wouldn't be a problem. However, having left that sticker on this shirt for an entire three weeks, it is now stuck to my favorite shirt like cement. Moreover, even when I remove the sticker itself, the sticker residue still clings to the shirt like white on rice. So, how do I get sticker residue off my clothes?

It turns out I am not the only one in this conundrum. A quick google search will give you hundreds of methods to remove sticker and sticker residue from t-shirts, different types of clothing and a variety of fabrics. In this one quick tutorial, I will try to cover all available methods so that you will never have to go through the pain and misery I experienced when trying to recover my favorite shirt.

"And you thought your job was hard."
"And you thought your job was hard."

Overview

The methods for removing sticker residue from a shirt and other types of clothing will vary slightly depending on the type of fabric you are dealing with. Therefore, to cover all of our basis, we are splitting up this tutorial into the following sections.

  • Liquid & Chemical Adhesive Removers
  • Thermal & Mechanic Methods
  • Advice & Suggestions from Professional Drycleaners / Clothing Scientists

Liquid & Chemical Adhesive Removers

The most common methods for removing stickers and sticker residue from t-shirts involve using natural or synthetic solvents (which are almost always in liquid form). Here we will analyze these methods in greater detail.

Pre-Removal Methods:

The first step in using solvents to remove sticker residue is to remove as much of the original sticker (and loose sticker residue) as possible from the fabric in question. There are many ways to do this. I have included some of the most popular methods below:

  1. Removing sticker and residue by hand: removing the sticker by hand is the first choice for many. Having nails is clearly an advantage as you can dig up more residue that way.
  2. Using masking tape: After removing the original sticker itself, you can possibly remove the looser sections of sticker glue residue by laying masking tape over the sticker residue.
  3. Using warm to hot vinegar: Used in combination with other pre-removal methods, lukewarm to hot vinegar (acetic acid) can be effective in loosening sticker residue. (sticker residue may turn white, but this will be remedied with a turn in the laundry machine.)
  4. Using a microfiber cloth: Microfiber cloths are specially made to have more split fibers than most fiber materials. This makes them ideal for cleaning sticky/clingy substances like sticker glue. Use the microfiber cloth with dishwashing soap for best effectiveness.
  5. Use Acetone: Acetone (aka nail polish remover) can also be very effective in loosening sticker residue on t-shirts and other clothing. However, it is important that you do not use acetone on acetate fabrics. Reason being, acetone melts acetate fibers. If for any reason you are not sure of acetone's effect on your clothing, put a small amount of acetone on a small portion of the fabric and question and wait 5 minutes for any negative reaction.

Fun Fact:

Laundry detergent was invented due to a soap shortage. During WWI, supplies of fat to make soap were so low that scientists set out to make a synthetic alternative. The result wast the first detergent Dreft introduced to the world in 1933.

Source

Materials & Procedure:

The following are all chemicals, detergents, and degreasers that can tackle the main task of permanently removing stickers and sticker residue from t-shirts and other articles of clothing:

  • Goo Gone (My Personal Favorite)
  • D-Solv It (Highly Recommended)
  • Isopropyl Alcohol (Rubbing Alcohol - very common household item)
  • WD-40 (loosens residue, may leave stains)
  • Dishwashing Liquid (Palmolive or Dawn seem to be most preferred)

After using one of the aforementioned pre-removal methods, you should apply any one of the above-listed chemical solvents/detergents in a manner to completely cover the affected area. Using a cloth to rub any one of the chemicals into the fabric may help with the loosening and subsequent removal of glue residue. (FYI: Certain blogs claim that toothbrushes can also be an effective substitute for cloths).

After the glue residue is thoroughly covered, make one last attempt to pick off any loose glue residue. The goal is to get all the remaining glue residue off your clothing before putting it in the wash.

Next, put your t-shirt in the wash. Try to put the shirt in the washing machine by itself, set the machine to clean small loads and indicate that you wish to use warm water. Clean until you can visibly see that glue residue and any stains from your chemical solvent are gone.

Lastly, put your article of clothing in the dryer. On your device's settings, indicate that it is a small load. Otherwise, follow the t-shirt tag's directions when it comes to dryer settings. Yet, no matter what happens, make sure that you finish picking off the remainder of the sticker/glue residue before using the dryer. Reason being, the dryer tends to "set" the glue residue into the shirt, making it harder to pick off.

Fun Fact:

Astronauts essentially incinerate dirty underwear when on the space station. Oftentimes, they load up cargo supply ship with dirty laundry and that cargo ship will later burn up on reentry to the Earth's atmosphere. There are no laundry facilities on the ISS because water is too much of a precious resource.

Source

Thermal & Mechanical Removers

Sometimes the quickest and painless methods involve the use of heat and mechanical force to remove sticker residue from clothing. Here we present two such methods. (PS: You can also use any one of the pre-removal methods listed in the previous section before attempting the below methods for maximum efficacy.)

Iron and Ironing Board:

Materials Needed:

  • Iron
  • Ironing Board (Optional: Any solid surface should suffice)
  • Paper towels
  • Small or sharp object (Optional)

First, if you have an ironing board available, place your t-shirt on the ironing board with the offending glue residue facing up. Next, place two sheets of paper towel on the glue residue stain. Now adjust the setting on your iron to high heat (no steam). The next portion is important. Place the now hot iron on the area where the glue residue is. Keep it there long enough for the residue to melt (5 - 15 seconds). Afterwards, simply remove the sheets of paper towel and proceed to pick off the remaining glue residue by hand or with the knife.

Heat Gun:

Materials Needed:

  • Heat Gun
  • Knife or Similar Sharp Object (Optional)

First of all, make sure that your t-shirt is on a flat surface. It may also be smart to anchor the shirt down with your elbow or something particularly heavy. Set your heat gun to the highest setting and direct the heat blast directly on the offending glue residue (for 5-15 seconds). Assuming the shirt is anchored down, use your hand or a sharp object to pick off the glue residue. It should come off pretty easily.

Advice & Suggestions from Professional Drycleaners & Clothing Scientists

In a blog post from the Real Simple blog Chris Allsbrooks, a textile analyst from the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, clarifies a very important fact about glue residue from stickers and other sources. "Glue residue is plastic-resins based; ordinary soap will not completely remove it." That being said, she recommends using Carbona Stain Devils Formula 1 (listed below). Only a small amount of Carbona Stain Devils will significantly remove glue stains without changing fabric colors.

As a last piece of advice, if you truly feel that you are not up to the task of removing glue residue from your clothing, then pay a visit to your local dry cleaners. The typical dry clean facility has anywhere from $40,000 to $250,000 in specialty equipment and a lot of know-how. If you can stand to wait 1-3 days for them to get to your job, it is worth the wait.

Fortunately, I happened to get lucky and managed to remove sticker glue residue from my t-shirt using the DIY methods listed above. The final result is shown in the final picture below.

My favorite shirt after pre-treating with acetone, removing stain with goo gone and throwing the washer/dryer as a final measure.
My favorite shirt after pre-treating with acetone, removing stain with goo gone and throwing the washer/dryer as a final measure.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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    © 2018 Justin Muir

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