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A Sticky Situation

January 11, 2010

I promised I’d never do a rant.  So this technically isn’t a rant.

You know how everything you buy always has at least one sticker on it?  I’m not talking about price tags.  They are obsolete because of bar codes and that means you never really know how much you are going to pay until you get to the checkout.  I’m referring to the alarming range of other things stuck to the products you buy today.    

It’s not a problem if the object comes in a box or some sort of packaging which you can biff out.  But for some reason, a lot of manufacturers/retailers have decided to put stickers on the merchandise itself.

There are labels with the name of the manufacturer, warning labels, information labels and sometimes just strange things like different colored dots or symbols.

I assume all that information has meaning to someone somewhere, but to me, it is just stuff that has to be removed before I can use whatever it is I’ve bought.

Here is the non-rant:  There are two kinds of stickers:  those that peel off nicely and those that don’t.

It is with the ones that don’t peel off easily that we are concerned today.

There is also a rule associated with stickers:  The ease of removal of the sticker is inversely proportional to the importance/desirability of removing it.  This is a fancy way of saying that stickers on things like car batteries, garbage bins and tools peel off easily, neatly and cleanly. 

Stickers on cups and saucers, silverware, vases, and anything that your guests are likely to use are generally unremovable.

It used to be that soaking a sticker label with cooking oil would loosen it, but They have invented a new glue that is impervious even to that.  

Note the use of the word They.  Yes, it’s a conspiracy.

I don’t know if the manufacturers are just hoping for some extra free advertising because their product name will appear on the item into perpetuity, or if it is an alien plot to drive humanity crazy before they take over, but it can’t be accidental.  We know that easily removable stickers exist.  They can’t be that expensive because some of the easiest sticker labels to remove come on cheap products.

So why do fine china and fancy decorative items require stickers affixed with some sort of polar covalent bonding cement which practically requires nuclear fission to separate?

There ought to be a law mandating easily removable stickers on all products.  After all there are laws to protect the consumer from unsafe products.  Anyone remember lawn darts?

So if you can’t sell a dangerous product, why are companies allowed to affix stickers to innocuous products like salt shakers that can only be removed with toxic solvents and razor sharp surgical instruments.

That’s right.  The only way to remove stubborn stickers is by putting yourself at risk of brain damage from toxic fumes or exsanguination. 

We are buying lots of stuff for the farmhouse and as a result, I’m in label removal mode.  Allow me to present my latest handiwork. 

We bought this step stool to use in the kitchen.  To help reach things on high shelves.  We intend to leave it in a corner where it will be generally visible, but also, and this is important, readily available.  This is how it looks after being soaked for 24 hours in water, rubbed with, pretty much in this order, turpentine, paint thinner, vinegar, nail polish remover, window cleaner and various household dirt and grime removers.  Each chemical application was accompanied by gouging and scraping with, at first a putty knife and later a razor blade. 

I finally got it reasonably clean, but also somewhat gouged, after painting the remnants with cooking oil, letting it soak for half a day and then scraping the label and residual glue off one molecule at a time. 

What is interesting is that like all consumer products sold today, this one included a list of warnings about ways not to use the product because death or injury could result.  The list seems endless:

Do not use with wet shoes

Do not reach or stand on tip toe, you may lose your balance

Do not jump

Will not support more than 90 kg

Not for outdoor use

Children should be supervised by an adult

Do not use if cracked




Watch out for overhead power lines

Not to be used as a launching platform for the Flying Wallendas

But nowhere is there a sticker that warns you to be careful when scraping it off.  My bloodstains on the step stool proved almost as hard to get off as the labels!

14 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2010 12:02 pm

    To “biff out”? Is that Ohioan or Kiwispeak?

    The argument you’re making is an excellent one. I wonder if there are any statutes regulating the types of glues on stickers. Must be.

    What do you call glue experts? Adhesivists? Gluologists? Stickmasters?

    Warning labels are always funny. I was stretching on a floor mat at my gym the other day, and I saw this tiny warning printed on the mat warning, among other things, that “landing on your head” may cause injury. (They forgot to add “may cause suffocation if swallowed whole.”)

    • January 12, 2010 2:58 pm

      I’d never heard ‘biff’ used that way until I came down here, but I don’t know where it came from.

      Thanks for two great ideas for future posts: (1) interesting Kiwi terms I had to come to terms with and (2) bizarre warning labels.

      I’m not sure what you call a glue expert. I’m partial to “stickmen.” Or should I say “stickpeople.” I did some research and apparently sticking stuff together is an aspect of polymer chemistry and ‘adhesives’ seems to be the preferred term but that’s as far as my enthusiasm carried me.

  2. January 13, 2010 6:41 am

    I noticed that my apples and pears now have not one but TWO stickers informing that they are indeed organic.

    To peel them off I am forced to removed the entire chunk of flesh underneath the two stickers.

    • January 13, 2010 8:12 am

      Kluth’s Corollary to Stazyk’s Law of Sticker Removal: “The amount of damage done in removing a stubborn sticker is directly proportional to the utility of what has been damaged”

    • January 13, 2010 1:58 pm

      My favorite are those stickers that simply say “Please remove” and nothing else.

  3. Dolly Shahlori permalink
    January 13, 2010 9:53 pm

    This is interesting,todays Sydney news was informing residents to be aware of recycled plastics.Those with a 5 on recycle should not be used.

    In addition,gladwrap since its inception has been keeping food fresh but is assuming to be causing chemical leakage…….

    So plastics beware……

  4. Gail permalink
    January 16, 2010 12:03 pm

    Tom, I am never without a bottle of eucalyptus oil in the house. I have yet to meet a label which cannot be removed, completely by this magic ingredient. Can be bought in the medicine section of the supermarket as an aerosol spray, don’t know why they don’t put it in cleaning as this is what it is touted as. Mix a few drops of the oil with water in a plastic spray bottle and grease goes before your eyea also. Worth a try – spray, soak and remove. Good luck. Gail

  5. Gail permalink
    January 17, 2010 12:36 pm

    Tom, another good label remover, although chemical, is nail polish remover. I had forgotten about that one. G.

  6. flamingo permalink
    January 18, 2010 9:13 am

    The really terrible ones are the ones on supermarket flowers – you would be most likely to be buying those for others and yet they cover them in stickers declaring that they are half price as just about to die etc. The stickers are partially removable so they start to peel and you are lulled into thinking it will come off nicely but you end up with half a sticker, thus showing the recipient that a) you bought cheap flowers and b) you tried to pretend they weren’t.

  7. Julia Jacobs permalink
    March 7, 2010 1:55 pm

    Amen! I just spent half an hour of my life trying to remove a sticker from this little nite lite. No luck…Now what remains is a big smeared dirty gooey sticky blob of goo on my nite lite. So, out of principal I’m going out of my way to take this little $6 nitelite back to the store and will be sure to look for another company who sells night lights without stupid little stickers. Two things that drive me nuts: Stickers and plastic packaging that you can’t break into without butching up your hands.

    • March 9, 2010 6:05 pm

      Good for you! And good luck with returning the lamp. I know what you mean about plastic packaging–like this new way of sealing articles between two thick pieces of clear plastic.

  8. Georgie permalink
    September 10, 2010 4:33 pm

    I second Gail’s advice re eucalyptus oil. Not only is it phenomenal as a solvent, it smells nice and it doubles as a brilliant disinfectant, ie for wounds.

    Another solution, and my last resort in the very few circumstances where euco either doesn’t work or (more likely) when the surface area is so large that euco isn’t economical, is metho – metholated spirits to those not from ‘Straya. (Tom do they say metho in New Zilland? You can add that to the blog post on Kiwi terms). If you can’t get it off with euco or metho, stop bothering.

    • September 10, 2010 5:01 pm

      Thanks Georgie! You’re right about euco–I haven’t heard the term metho over here. I’d tried turpentine and it didn’t work but I’ll try out some metho next time I have a sticker situation!

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