Easy solution for cleaning adhesive

Hey everyone!
I’m a K-8 STEAM teacher, so I’m continuously challenging students with fun, educational maker projects. We use a lot of recycled materials that I often need to prep in one way or another. One task that is super tedious for me is prepping tin cans (such as soup cans) for students to use by scrubbing off the label adhesive. Currently, I tackle this using Goo-Gone, but it takes forever when you’ve 100+ cans to clean! Does anyone have an easier solution for cleaning adhesive off of a bulk quantity of cans? I’d be forever grateful!

Hello Nic!

My first thought was to check McMaster’s site. It seems that they offer pretty much just Goo-Gone and it’s equivalents in various quantities and applicators. But have a look there, I probably missed a lot of options.

Another route would be to try a fine-bristled steel or stainless steel wheel on a bench grinder of a convenient size. Or a polishing wheel and the appropriate compound. I can see having something like a bench grinder attached to a table, leaving me with two hands for the cans, as being very helpful here. The fine-bristled or polishing wheel should be plenty abrasive. There is also something called a deburring wheel which may be the grit you’re looking for. Adding some hydrotreated light petroleum distillates (Goo-Gone and such) to the mix could make it that much faster.


When I used to make a ton of home brewed beer I was always de-labeling glass beer bottles for re-use. If the labels on your cans are similar to beer bottle labels, a 10 minute soak in water with laundry detergent is the best. I used a small scoop of OxyClean (the powder kind, not liquid) in a 5 gallon bucket. Powdered Brewery Wash aka PBW is even better but more expensive. You can make a 70/30 mix of Oxyclean and TSP/90 (trisodium phosphate, available at big box stores) which is nearly identical to PBW and works really well. The adhesive will turn goopy and wipe right off!

Hey Nic. One economical (and very effective) alternative to commercial adhesive-remover products such as “Goo-Gone” and “Goof-Off” is KEROSENE. It’s super cheap in the quantities you’d use for adhesive removal (get it at many local gas stations; just bring your own container) and just as effective as the commercial products, if not more so. Of course the makers of the commercial products don’t want you to know that. :wink:

Also, another trick I’ve found very useful in removing adhesive-attached labels from certain containers is HEAT. In particular, with containers, fill the inside of the container with hot water BEFORE attempting to remove the label. When you do this, you’ll generally find that more of the adhesive comes off with the label, and you have less to remove by other means. YMMV with different containers — it works incredibly well with some containers and adhesives; less so with others.