Sticker residue on plastic is unpleasant to touch and can be an eyesore. The stickiness can often seem impossible to clean.
Fear not, you can remove stickiness from plastic with common household items including:
- dish soap
- rubbing alcohol
- cooking oils
- bicarbonate of soda
- white vinegar
- a hairdryer
- peanut butter
You can also use acetone or WD-40 to remove stickiness on certain types of plastic. Acetone is a powerful solvent that can be used on polypropylene plastics only.
WD-40 is a lubricant safe to use on polypropylene, nylon, or polyethene plastics. You can use the resin identification code to work out what type of plastic you are cleaning.
Always test any new cleaning product on a small inconspicuous area before use.
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Why is it sticky?
It’s important to check why your plastic is sticky. A common sign that plastic has degraded is the development of a sticky film.
You can clean the sticky film from the plastic but it will usually return after a short while.
It’s best to replace plastic food containers that have a sticky film as this could seep into your food. Once an age-related sticky film has developed, plastic food containers are no longer considered food safe.
Many electronic devices, such as remotes and game controllers, have a protective plastic coating that degrades over time. You can remove this plastic coating using a small amount of rubbing alcohol and a soft cloth.
Ensure you test on a small area first and never use rubbing alcohol on electronic screens.
Other common causes of stickiness on plastic include price stickers, spills, and hand residue. If your plastic is sticky due to one of these causes, it should be easy to clean.
Remove stickiness from plastic with:
Dish soap and water
Dish soap and hot water may work if the residue is not too stubborn. Immerse the plastic item in hot soapy water for 30 minutes.
This should soften the residue, allowing you to scrap it off using a plastic scraper.
Avoid using a metal scraper or knife as these could scratch the plastic. If you don’t have a plastic scraper to hand, you could try using the edge of an old plastic credit card.
If the residue has not softened enough after 30 minutes, try one of the other methods listed below.
Rubbing alcohol is a strong solvent that’s safe to use on plastic. It’s especially good for removing stubborn sticky residue.
For best results, look for isopropyl alcohol (70% or above concentration) and use it with a soft cloth.
- Wet a soft cloth with rubbing alcohol
- Place the soaked cloth on the residue
- Leave for ten minutes to soften
- Remove the soaked cloth and use it to rub off the residue
- Wipe down with a clean damp cloth
If you do not have rubbing alcohol at home, you can use pure vodka instead.
You can remove sticky residue from plastic using cooking oil. Any type of cooking oil will work for this method including olive oil or sunflower oil.
To clean stickiness with cooking oil, you’ll also need some paper towels and a soft cloth.
- Apply a small amount of cooking oil to a paper towel
- Place the wet paper towel on top of the stain
- Leave for approximately five minutes to give the oil time to dissolve the residue
- Remove the paper towel and wipe with a soft damp cloth
Don’t forget to protect your clothing when using this method as some cooking oils can stain fabric. If you prefer, you can also use this method with baby oil.
Bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking soda) is a mild abrasive that can be used on plastic. For this method, all you’ll need is water, bicarbonate of soda, and a soft cloth.
- Mix together water and bicarbonate of soda in a 1:1 ratio to form a paste. The paste should be a similar consistency to pancake batter or toothpaste
- Use a soft cloth to spread the paste across the sticky residue
- Leave the paste to rest for five minutes
- Remove the paste with a soft damp cloth
White vinegar is acidic and often used as a household cleaner to break down grime. It’s safe to use on plastic and is most effective when combined with dish soap.
You’ll need white vinegar, dish soap, and hot water for this method.
- Fill a washing-up bowl or a sink with hot water
- Pour in one cup of white vinegar and one tablespoon of dish soap
- Stir the liquid until it forms foam
- Immerse your plastic item in the liquid
- Leave to rest for 30 minutes
- Hold the item under the water making sure the sticky residue is still submerged. Use a cloth or plastic scraper to remove the softened residue
- Rinse and dry the item
One of the simplest ways to remove stickiness from plastic is heat. It’s a handy method for items that you would rather avoid getting wet or are too big to fit into a sink.
You can loosen the sticky residue by aiming a hairdryer at the area for a couple of minutes. Hold the hairdryer a few inches away and set it to medium heat.
Then simply scrape with a plastic scraper to remove the residue. Use this method with caution as some weaker plastics can melt when heated.
This might seem a little odd, but peanut butter can be more than just a tasty sandwich filling. Its natural oils also make it a great adhesive remover!
Cover the sticky residue with a thin layer of peanut butter and leave it to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. After this time, the residue should be soft enough to scrub away using a sponge or plastic scraper.
Then simply wash, rinse, and dry your plastic item.
Is it safe to use acetone on plastic?
Acetone is a powerful solvent often used as a nail polish remover. It can be purchased at health & beauty shops or online.
Whilst it can be effective at removing sticky residue, it isn’t safe to use on all plastics. Only polypropylene plastics can be safely cleaned with acetone.
You can check if your plastic item is polypropylene by looking for the chasing arrow symbol on the item. There should be a number between one and seven in the centre of the symbol.
This is the resin identification code and is used to identify the type of plastic used. If the number is 5, then the plastic is polypropylene and can be cleaned with acetone.
To use acetone as a sticky residue remover you’ll need 100% pure acetone, paper towels, and a soft cloth.
- Ensure the resin identification code on your plastic item is 5 (polypropylene)
- Pour a small amount of acetone on a paper towel
- Place the soaked paper towel on the sticky residue
- Hold in place for a few minutes
- Remove the paper towel and wipe clean with a soft cloth
Is it safe to use WD-40 on plastic?
WD-40 is a lubricant spray that can be used on certain surfaces to remove sticky residue. Most hardware stores will stock WD-40 or you can find it on Amazon.
Before using, you must identify the type of plastic you are cleaning. WD-40 is safe to use on crystalline plastics but it will break down and stain amorphous plastics.
To identify what type of plastic your item is refer to the resin identification code. Nylon, polypropylene, and polyethene are all crystalline plastics that can be cleaned with WD-40.
Amorphous plastics like PVC and polycarbonate should not be cleaned with WD-40.
For this method, you’ll need WD-40, paper towels, and a soft cloth.
- Make sure your plastic item is either nylon, polypropylene, or polyethene by checking the resin identification code
- Spray a small amount of WD-40 on a paper towel
- Dab the sticky residue with the soaked paper towel
- Wipe away the WD-40 with a clean soft cloth
- Clean the area with soapy water and rinse to ensure the WD-40 is completely removed
Commercial sticky residue removers
If you would rather use a ready-made adhesive remover, there are several available.
One of the most popular adhesive removers in the UK is the De-Solv-it Sticky Stuff Remover. De-Solv-it is a gel spray cleaner that is suitable for use on plastic.
It promises to tackle sticky residue by clinging to the stain, even on vertical surfaces.
You can also try the HG Sticker Remover Cleaning Fluid. It’s highly concentrated to tackle stubborn sticky residue on plastics and other surfaces.
This cleaner is not suitable for polycarbonate plastics and should only be used in a well-ventilated space.
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Last update on 2023-12-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API