Things You'll Need
White vinegar (optional)
Acetone-based nail polish remover (optional)
70-percent solution rubbing alcohol (optional)
Nonabrasive nylon scrubbing pad (optional)
Commercial label/sticker or glue remover (optional)
Never use any cleaning agent or tool without first testing it on an inconspicuous area of the metal. Various chemicals and tools can etch, chip, bubble and even dissolve a metal surface, depending on the type of metal and any surface paint or coatings. For this reason, use extra caution when removing stickers from finished metal. Always open windows and turn on exhaust fans if you use acetone-based nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, WD-40 or a commercial label/sticker or glue remover to remove a sticker. These products contain chemicals that can irritate the lungs and potentially exacerbate or cause health issues.
Stickers – printed paper, plastic or foil adhered to surfaces with glue – are used as labels or decoration on a wide array of items containing metal, including appliances, electronics and school lockers. Sticker glue is designed to create a semi-permanent-to-permanent bond to a surface. As a result, it often leaves behind greasy smudges or marks during removal or, with older stickers, a hard, solid material. Whether you're dealing with a newer or older sticker, to take it off a metal surface you must remove as much of the label portion as possible and then soften and dissolve the remainder so the glue loses its hold on the metal.
Blot a paper sticker or sticker glue with a cloth soaked in vegetable oil or undiluted vinegar until the area is saturated. If you're dealing with a plastic or foil sticker, or a new paper sticker, run your fingernail, or the edge of a plastic or glass scraper held at a 45-degree angle, under one of its edges and carefully lift the sticker from the surface before applying the oil or vinegar. Wait approximately 30 minutes.
Rub from the edge of the area with your oil- or vinegar-soaked cloth toward the center to lift away any remaining label and glue. If the rubbing doesn't remove the glue, try rolling the glue into balls with your fingertips.
Wipe the oil or vinegar away from the surface with a fresh cloth if any part of the sticker label or glue remains. Soak a cloth with acetone-based nail polish remover, 70-percent solution rubbing alcohol or WD-40 and blot the area again. Wait five minutes and rub the area with the cloth.
Remove remaining residues with a scraper – scraping with a plastic or glass scraper from the outer edge toward the center; scrubbing the area with a soapy, nonabrasive nylon scrubbing pad; and/or applying a commercial label/sticker or glue remover to the surface. If you use a label/sticker or glue remover, wait as directed on the product packaging and then rub, scrape or scrub the surface as needed.
Wash the surface thoroughly with a warm soapy cloth when finished. Rinse with a damp cloth and then buff the area dry with another cloth.
Irene A. Blake
Based in Southern Pennsylvania, Irene A. Blake has been writing on a wide range of topics for over a decade. Her work has appeared in projects by The National Network for Artist Placement, the-phone-book Limited and GateHouse Media. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Shippensburg University.