Fabric care experts share their go-to hacks for removing stubborn adhesive residue from clothing.

By Real Simple Editors
Updated June 04, 2019
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Credit: Getty Images

Help—you accidentally washed a shirt with a name tag sticker and it left behind sticky, gummy flecks of glue. Don’t panic. It probably seems like the tacky, leftover adhesive will be stuck on your favorite top forever, but it’s possible to remove even the most stubborn residual sticker glue—as long as you know what to do. Here are three at-home ways to (gently) get sticker residue off your clothes without ruining them, according to clothing care professionals.

To Remove Sticker Residue From Natural-Fiber Clothing:

Believe it or not, you can use acetone nail-polish remover to help break down the hardened, leftover adhesive. But only use this method on non-acetate fabrics—otherwise the acetone in the nail-polish remover will melt the fabric. Here’s what to do.

“Lay the garment flat on a table and place a towel behind the stain,” says John Mahdessian, the president of Madame Paulette, a professional dry cleaning company in New York City. “First, check to make sure the glue is dry, then dab clear acetone nail-polish remover onto a cloth and rub it into the leftover glue. The white spots should vanish quickly.”

To Remove Sticker Residue From Synthetic Fabric:

Use warm water and dish soap. “Stick the shirt in the freezer for an hour to harden the glue,” says Gwen Whiting, a cofounder of The Laundress. “Pick off what you can, then wet the shirt and rub it with a microfiber cloth and a little dish soap to remove any residue. Soak the garment in warm water for 20 minutes, then let it air-dry.”

If just using soap and water doesn’t work….

Try a Specific Stain-Removing Solvent

“Glue residue is plastic based, and scrubbing with ordinary soap and water won’t always remove it,” says Chris Allsbrooks, a director of store operations at ZIPS Dry Cleaners. She recommends using Carbona Stain Devils No. 1 ($7, amazon.com), which is specifically made to remove adhesives (think: gum and glue) from most washable fabrics (including cotton)—even if it’s already been through the laundry. Here’s how to use it:

Before you do anything, scrape off as much of the sticker as you can using a dull, straight edge, like a butter knife. Next, check the colorfastness of the garment by applying a small amount of the Carbona to an unnoticeable area of the shirt, such as an inside seam or under the arm. If the color doesn’t change, soak the spot for a few minutes in a dish of the solvent. Then use the knife again to remove the last of the residue. If a stubborn spot remains, pour a little of the solution onto a cloth, dab the spot, and rinse with warm water.