Shelf liners are sheets of thin, flexible material typically with adhesive on one side that are applied to cabinet shelves and drawer interiors for protective and decorative purposes. Eventually, even the highest-quality liners, often called contact paper, can crack, rip, or appear dirty. If that's the case in your home, then the next time you go to clean out your kitchen cabinets, plan to remove the contact paper, degrease the cabinets, and apply new shelf liners. You can also apply shelf liners to bathroom cabinets, linen closets, and chests of drawers in any room of the house. However, that afternoon project may be easier said than done if your old shelf liner won't budge or is fragile and tearing up in pieces.
If your existing liner isn't backed with adhesive, you can likely just remove the liner and clean the shelf thoroughly with a mild detergent and water mixture. Allow the shelf to dry completely before replacing the liner. However, if your old liner is glued on, you're going to need to put in a little bit of elbow grease. After emptying everything out of the lined cabinets, gather a few tools to help with the old liner removal.
Before You Begin
If you're removing adhered paper shelf liner from wood shelves, you need to select a safe chemical adhesive remover or solvent if you're having a tough time lifting the paper. Your best bet is to avoid anything with acetone or vinegar to dissolve the shelf liner adhesive. Instead, opt for a commercial product, such as Goo Gone, which is a general adhesive remover and gentle on finished wood shelving (don't use it on unfinished wood shelving, however). If you are desperate to remove some stubborn adhesive once the paper comes off, use a tiny bit of rubbing alcohol, but beware it may not be gentle on the finish.
Equipment / Tools
- Hair dryer
- Putty knife
- Spray bottle filled with warm water
- Adhesive remover
- Cloth or paper towels
- Mild detergent
Heat the Liner
Starting at one corner of the adhered liner, heat the surface with a hairdryer that's set to a high heat setting for about a minute. The hot air should loosen the adhesive and make the shelf liner easier to work with.
Begin Liner Removal
Use a putty knife to carefully pry up a corner of the shelf liner. Continue to pull it back slowly until you get to a point where it's stuck to the shelf and won't pull any further without tearing or damage.
Spray Stuck Liner
Spray the adhesive side of the liner with warm water in a spray bottle, focusing on the place where the adhesive no longer lets the liner peel back.
Continue to Peel Liner
Wait a bit for the water to seep under the liner, then continue pulling back the liner until it sticks again. Repeat the process as many times as necessary to remove the entire piece of shelf liner. If you get to a spot that doesn't respond to the water, heat it up with the hairdryer and try again.
Eliminate Remaining Pieces
Using a putty knife, scrape any remaining bits of the liner from the shelf, wetting them or applying heat as necessary.
If all else fails, you may need to use sandpaper to remove remaining shelf liner and/or the adhesive. Use fine or medium grit sandpaper to do the job. However, sandpaper may damage the finish on finished wood shelves.
It may be tempting to use vegetable oil on a rag as a typically recommended solution to soften bits of liner. Don't try this on wood shelving. The wood may absorb the oil, resulting in a stain and/or the inability to paint over the wood. Oil may work on glass and plastic shelving to lubricate stubborn adhesive, however.
Remove Sticky Spots of Shelf Liner Adhesive
Soak a cloth or paper towel with commercial adhesive remover and scrub the shelf anywhere a sticky residue remains. Wipe with a damp cloth to remove the adhesive remover.
Prep Shelf Surface
If you're planning on applying a new shelf liner, clean the shelf surface with a mixture of mild detergent and water so that the new liner will stick properly. Wait for the shelf to dry completely before applying the new shelf liner.
Shelf Liner Replacement Options
When replacing shelf liners, consider newer non-adhesive or removable and washable liners so you won't need to repeat the hassle of scraping off old residue. Options include the following:
- Mold- and mildew-resistant liners are ideal to place in food areas such as spice cabinets.
- Clear or white plastic grip or adhesive liners are versatile and good for laying over wire shelves for a smooth surface, under sinks for protection, and in drawer bottoms to stop glass and plastic food storage items from slipping. This type of liner may also be an excellent idea for a lazy Susan to stop items from falling off a twirling shelf.
- Puffy grip and fabric liners are cushioned and best for protecting delicate dishes and glassware, but moisture may get through to the shelving.
- Adhesive liners can be placed anywhere to give a cabinet an updated decorative and transformative look.
Avoid installing a new shelf liner over an old shelf liner because the adhesion of the newer paper may become compromised. When installing a new shelf liner, especially an adhesive one, it helps to use a squeegee to eliminate all the air bubbles as you lay the paper.