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 to nearly all of us, a sticker gets left on a shirt accidentally and goes through the washing machine, or worse, the clothes dryer. Learn how to remove the sticker or decal residue that is left behind.

How to Remove Sticker Residue From Clothes

When a sticker goes through a wash cycle, usually the paper part of the sticker washes away and you're left with the residue or adhesive that is used on the back. Quite often, the adhesive has attracted dirt or lint and the stain looks almost black. Begin by heating undiluted distilled white vinegar in the microwave until it is quite warm. Use a sponge and saturate the sticker area with the warm vinegar. Allow the sticky and soiled area to "soak" in the vinegar until the adhesive loosens. The adhesive should begin to roll up or can be lifted with a dull knife or edge of a spatula.

Next, rinse the area with cool water. Treat the stain with a prewash stain remover spray or gel like Zout 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.

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.

You can also use acetone (nail polish remover) on the residue. NOTE: DO NOT USE ON ACETATE FABRICS because acetone melts acetate fibers. To be sure the fabric is colorfast, test the acetone on an inside seam or hem first. Use a cotton swab dipped in the acetone, rub on the seam, and if any color transfers to the swab, do not use.

If the garment is colorfast, put the sticky side of the shirt 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.

remove stickers
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

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. Apply the solvent with a small sponge or cotton swab by blotting-no rubbing. 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 to air dry.

If the garment is expensive, it is best to head to a dry cleaner. Point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner. 

How to Remove Sticker Residue From Upholstery

If the sticker landed on smooth upholstery fabric, try the heated vinegar method. Sponge the hot vinegar on the stain. Take extra care not to oversaturate the fabric because excess moisture in the cushions can be a problem. Use an old terry cloth white towel to blot the treated adhesive and move 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 or if you need more stain removal tips.

For leather upholstery, use a leather cleaner and follow product directions.