How to Remove Sticker Residue From Clothes and Upholstery

Sticker adhesive
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Stickers are everywhere. We get name tag stickers at meetings; we get stickers when we vote, and kids get stickers for everything. Then this happens: a sticker gets left on a shirt accidentally and goes through the washing machine, or worse, the clothes dryer. When a sticker goes through a wash cycle, usually the paper part of the sticker washes away but the adhesive lingers. Quite often, the adhesive has attracted dirt or lint and the stain looks almost black.

You can remove sticker or decal residue pretty easily with pre-wash treatments and regular laundry detergent. Just remember to never place clothes with sticker residue in the dryer until the stain is completely removed: Dried-on adhesives are much harder to eliminate.

Stain Type Resin-based
Detergent Type Stain remover and regular detergent
Water Temperature Cold

Project Metrics

Working Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1-1.5 hours

Before You Begin

Always check the care label of your garment before treating it so that you can select the appropriate detergent and wash cycle. Garments made of wool, silk, lace, or any other delicate fabric may require a mild detergent and extra care, while cotton clothes usually do fine with regular detergent and normal wash cycles.

Tip

If you find sticker residue on a washed article of clothing, always make sure the stain is completely removed before putting the item in the dryer—once it has dried out, the residue will be much harder to remove.

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Sponge
  • A dull knife, spatula or credit card
  • Soft-bristled brush (optional)
  • Old white terry cloth towel

How to Remove Sticker Residue From Clothes

  1. Soak the Stain in Warm White Vinegar

    Begin by heating undiluted distilled white vinegar in the microwave until it is quite warm. Dip a sponge in the warm vinegar and squeeze it over the sticky and soiled area until it is saturated and the vinegar is absorbed. The adhesive should begin to loosen and roll up or you can lift it with a dull knife or edge of a spatula.

  2. Treat with Prewash Stain Remover

    Rinse the area with cool water then treat the stain with a prewash stain remover or a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent (Tide or Persil are rated as the best brands). Work the stain remover into the area with your fingers or a soft-bristled brush. Allow it to work on the stain for at least fifteen minutes and then launder as recommended on the care label.

    You can also use acetone (nail polish remover) on the residue.

    Warning

    DO NOT USE ACETONE ON ACETATE FABRICS because it will melt the fibers.

    You also need to be sure the fabric is colorfast by testing the acetone first on an inside seam or hem. Dip a cotton swab in the acetone, rub on the seam, and if any color transfers to the swab, do not use acetone to remove the adhesive.

    If the garment is colorfast, put the sticky side face down on an old white towel. Pour the acetone onto the back of the stain and as the adhesive loosens, rub the adhesive onto the old towel. It may take several attempts to get all the residue to come off.

    After using the acetone, rinse the area well and wash the entire garment immediately as recommended.

  3. Check the Fabric

Check the area after washing. If any residue remains, repeat the treatment. Do not put the garment in the dryer until all of the adhesive is gone. If the garment has already been through the dryer, it may take several attempts to remove all of the residue.

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The Spruce

Dry Clean Only Clothes

If the garment is labeled as dry clean only and the stickers have left adhesive on the fibers, you can spot treat the area with dry cleaning solvent. If the garment is expensive, it is best to take it to a dry cleaner. Point out and identify the stain to the professional. 

For tips on removing sticker residue from suede or other napped fabrics, follow these instructions.

  1. Apply the Solvent

    Using a small sponge or cotton swab, apply the dry cleaning solvent by blotting—not rubbing.

  2. Scrape the Residue Away

Use a dull knife or the edge of a credit card to lift away the loosened adhesive. Do not rub because that can smear the adhesive deeper into the fibers. Allow the fabric to air-dry.

How to Remove Sticker Residue From Upholstery

If the sticker landed on smooth upholstery fabric, try the heated vinegar method.

  1. Apply the Vinegar

    Sponge the hot vinegar directly onto the stain. Take extra care not to oversaturate the fabric because excess moisture in the cushions can be a problem.

  2. Blot the Stain

Use an old terry cloth white towel to blot the treated adhesive moving to a clean area of the towel as the glue is transferred. Work from the outside edges of the stain toward the center to prevent it from getting larger.

You can also use the dry cleaning solvent on fabric upholstery and follow the same blotting and removal techniques as the vinegar. If the fabric is vintage or silk, consult a professional upholstery cleaning service; for leather upholstery, use a leather cleaner and follow product directions.