Stickers and decals are everywhere, and can be anything from a manufacturer's label to bumper stickers to kids gone wild with a roll of stickers. When the stickers end up on metal objects, they can leave behind residue that causes discoloration. Even worse, our attempts to remove stickers can leave unsightly scratches on the surface of the metal.
So, before you damage your new stainless steel appliance, vintage chrome bumper, or priceless sterling silver tray, follow one of these methods to remove stickers and the adhesive residue they leave behind from metal. Removing the paper or vinyl part of the sticker is usually simple but can require a bit of patience—it is the adhesive residue that is more difficult to remove. If one method doesn't completely remove the sticker and residue, try another, because different types of glue or adhesive can require different solvents.
Equipment / Tools
- Handheld hairdryer
- Thin plastic scraper (old credit card)
- Small bowl or bucket
- Spray lubricant (WD-40)
- Vegetable oil
- Acetone (nail polish remover)
- Mineral spirits
- Paper towel or old cloth
- Safety razor blade
- Dishwashing liquid
Removing Stickers From Metal With Vegetable Oil
Saturate the Sticker
For paper stickers, simply saturate the surface with a few drops of vegetable oil (olive, corn, and safflower oil all work). Let the oil work for a couple of hours to loosen the adhesive.
For vinyl or metallic stickers, try to peel away the top layer of the sticker so that the oil can reach the backing. You can also lightly score the top layer with a safety razor blade, the edge of a credit card, or a fingernail.
Heat the Glue
Once the sticker is fully saturated with oil, use a handheld hairdryer set on medium or warm heat (never high/hot) to warm the glue. This helps the glue release its hold on the metal.
Wipe Away the Residue
In a small bowl or bucket, mix two cups of very warm water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Stir well to mix. Dip an old, soft cloth in the soapy mixture and dab lightly at the sticker, then use an old credit card or rubber spatula to gently scrape away the adhesive. Wipe away what's left of the sticker and residue from the metal surface. Dry and buff the surface of the metal.
Removing Stickers From Metal With WD-40 Lubricant
Peel Away the Sticker
Use your fingernails or the edge of an old credit card to gently peel away as much of the sticker as possible. Work slowly and remove it in layers to prevent scratches to the metal surface.
Remove Sticky Residue with Lubricant
Spray an old cloth with the WD-40 lubricant or any brand of water-displacing lubricant. Starting at the edges of the sticker, wipe away the sticky residue remaining on the metal. Keep moving to a clean area of the cloth and add more lubricant as needed.
Dry and Buff the Metal
Once all of the adhesive is removed, use a clean, soft cloth to dry and buff the metal surface.
Removing Stickers From Metal With Acetone or Mineral Spirits
If the vegetable oil or WD-40 didn't remove all of the adhesive, it is time to move to a stronger chemical solvent like acetone or mineral spirits. If one doesn't work, begin the steps again with a clean cloth and a different solvent. This method can be used after the sticker is gone but glue remains on the metal.
If you try both these methods, be sure to thoroughly clean the surface between attempts to remove the sticker: Mixing acetone and mineral spirits can result in a solvent that could remove varnish, paint, or lacquer, damaging the surface.
Remove Sticker Layers
Soak away the sticker with oil or peel or scrape away as many of the layers of the sticker as you can without damaging the metal surface. It is important to expose as much of the adhesive residue as possible to the solvents.
Apply a Solvent
Dampen an old, soft cloth with acetone or mineral spirits. If you are using nail polish remover, read the label to make sure it contains acetone. Hold the solvent-soaked cloth against the adhesive for five minutes to soften the glue.
Repeat with additional solvent, if needed, until the glue is soft.
Remove the Adhesive
Once the solvent has had time to work, the adhesive residue should be soft and tacky to the touch. Use an old cloth to wipe it away.
For heavy layers of residue, use a safety razor blade to scrape away the glue. Keep the razor blade flat against the surface of the metal and work slowly to prevent scratching or gouging the metal.
Clean, Dry, and Buff the Metal
Wipe the freshly cleaned surface with a damp towel. Use a clean, soft towel to dry and buff the metal surface.