How to Remove A Wine Label (and live to tell about it)

Let’s face it, some labels just plain refuse to be taken off the bottle. However, there is more than way to peel a label – given a little patience.

The following is a summary of tips based on our experiences. These methods do not guarantee success. Read the whole passage, including the caveats. Proceed with caution and practice on labels you can stand to lose first. That being said, the labels we remove and save for personal and redwinebuzz.com purposes are removed with the Bake & Peel and Hot Soak methods (video).

It is important, when buying your wines, to pay attention to the condition of the labels - especially if you plan to keep them. Decanting prevents drips and runs of wine down a label. Always remove labels from empty bottles.

Tools:


For the serious label collector, these tools will be useful:

  • A good razor – see images below. These are most effective when used alone without any casing or grip. Be very careful as these razors are sharp.
  • Thick dish towel or large pot holder
  • A heat pad or old towel (or similar) to pad the work area
  • A bottle of clear rubbing alcohol, high concentration of isopropyl or ethyl alcohol
  • A bottle of mineral oil (generic baby oil will do), no dyes
  • Paper, ideally acid-free
  • Clear plastic (8.5" X 11" overhead transparency blanks) for two-part labels
  • A tall container such as a cylindrical vase (10”-12” tall, at least 6" in diameter),
  • A can of aerosolized spray adhesive, ideally acid-free or school glue (in liquid or stick form.
  • Large pair of tweezers (about 6 or 8 inches long),
  • A small rubber or foam covered roller,
  • A heavy book or other large flat object to press labels once removed.
  • Talcum powder (baby powder will suffice)

 

These types of shaving razors (on the left - for old-styled T-shaped safety razors) are flexible, but require caution.

Single-edge utility razors (on the right) are more durable and safer but are also more rigid.

Bake & Peel | Bake & Slice | Hot Soak | Soak & Slice

Soak & Yank | Chemical Treatment | Cleaning the Bottle

Deciding what method to use.


It all comes down to two things: the paper and the glue. Using a razor, cut under and lift a small corner of the label. This can give you a good idea of what you are facing (see video).

Observe the glue: is it tacky, gummy and rubbery or is it dry? Water soluble glues shouldn't stick to the razor. If you feel the label sticking to the blade then most likely, the glue will come off best with the Bake & Peel method (Actually, this method tends to work best for most labels from California and some from the old world). Hands down, this is the best method for removing the vast majority of New World wine labels.

What about the paper?. Is it thin, pulpy and does it split and tear leaving a layer of paper on the bottle? If the answer is yes, then you know to give it gentle handling once you are removing the label. The Bake & Slice method may be advisable here but you will have to go slow and be gentle. If you find the label tearing or splitting, the Bake & Slice method may be the way to get the label off. This can get messy and produce a ruffled label, so proceed with caution.

A combination of thin, pulpy paper and hard, dried glue poses a formidable challenge. If the paper is thicker, dense and strong and possibly laminated, the label will handle pulling and tugging during removal. Be aware, though, that clear plastic lamination on the face of the label as well very large areas of very dark inks (black) can show fine wrinkles or ruffling if the label is peeled off at too sharp of an angle.

Many European labels (and some on New World wine bottles) are applied with water-soluble glue. These come off easily with the Hot Soak or Soak & Slice methods. The latter is trickier and messier - see caveats below. Holding the bottle up to a light can also give you clues to the type of glue used on the label. Horizontally (or vertically) running lines (image, right) are where the glue was applied and where the label is most closely attached to the glass. This pattern does not guarantee a water-soluble glue, so use a razor to cut away a small corner as described above.
               
If extensive soaking fails to liberate the label, the Soak & Yank, which utilizes commercially available label removal products, may salvage the situation but is the riskiest. The disadvantages here is that the label remover is a piece of clear plastic which will stay on the label after removal. The label can also split, and only top layer with the printing will be removed, sometimes with holes. Occasionally, the glue on the label remover does not bond sufficiently with the label and the label tears. This is more likely to happen when the label is dry and the glue is very dry and hard.

For the most stubborn labels, you can attempt the Chemical Treatment. Treat this like your last ditch effort and expect the worst (while hoping for the best, of course). The main caveat with this method is that any sort of gold leafing or additional printing on a pre-printed label may come off. The label may be damaged in other ways in the process, rendering it unsightly.

 

Getting it done.


Be sure to read the details and caveats of each method first. Proceed with caution and practice on labels you can stand to lose first.

The Bake & Peel


This method is very effective - both from cost and results perspectives. We use it to remove some 95% of the labels we save. The tools you will need in this case are: one conventional kitchen oven (hair dryers take too long and you can always put several bottles in the oven at one time), one thin razor, one dry dish towel (or an oven mitt), padding to protect your work area/surface from heat and clean paper (preferably acid-free).

On your work area, prepare the paper and razor. Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, set the timer for 5 to 7 minutes and place the bottle on its side in the oven, front label up. When time is up, carefully remove the bottle using the dry dish towel or oven mitt to hold it by the neck.

Caveats:

  • Be sure there is no liquid in the bottle before heating. Any liquid left in the bottle will surge out as hot steam when in comes in contact with the hot glass causing you to drop the bottle or burn your hand (or both).
  • The foil or wax on the top of the neck of the bottle will melt and stain your towel or oven mitt. Don't use your wife's favorite.
  • The bottle will be hot. Choose your work area carefully and use lots of padding.
  • This method assumes that the label is all-paper. Some labels may bubble or brown if they are plastic or have a plastic coating.


Stand the bottle on your work area and hold it by the top of the neck with a towel or mitt. Using the razor, at a sharp angle to the surface of the glass, slice under one side of the label from top to bottom, separating the paper from glass. Cut only about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Keep the razor angled so that you are just separating the label form the bottle and be careful not to damage (cut or crease) the label. With the glue softened, you can use your fingers to slowly and carefully peel the label off the bottle. Don’t pull too hard and peel in small, even increments so as to not curl up the paper too much. Keep pulling at the part of the label closes to the glass to prevent curling and creasing. Watch the underside of the label. If at any time the label tears or splits, stop and use the razor to free the label from the glass. Sometimes it may be necessary to start peeling from the opposite end. Patience is essential here. (see video).

If you have successfully removed the label, be careful not to let it stick to itself. This is a set up for a John Ritter physical comedy routine. Set the bottle aside (be careful where you put it!) and place one edge of the label against the paper and, slowly pressing it down in even lines, glue it onto the paper. The glue on these labels is sufficient and you should not need additional glue. Avoid folds and bubbles. If a part of the label split during peeling, make sure that the piece that separated does not fold and cause a bump. Turn the paper over and with the back of a spoon or your fingernail (or a roller), rub the paper to make it adhere evenly to the label.

Two part labels can be mounted on clear plastic such as that used for overhead transparencies. Lightly trace the labels on the plastic before heating the bottle. Wrap a piece of plastic around the bottle. Scotch tape may help keep it in place. A fine-point permanent marker can be used to lightly trace the labels and that will serve as a guide when you glue the labels to the plastic later. Always take your time. To avoid folds, creases or bubbles, press lightly so you can lift and readjust the label if needed.
               
For those not interested in fixing the label to another surface, a generous coat of talcum powder should keep the label from sticking to ay surface.

Now you may choose to press the label and clean up and return to the label at another time or you can cut the label out and press it. Placing a smooth, even, hard surface on which you can use a razor place the ruler along the edge of the label and cut. Repeat this for all sides until the label is free. If you have a steady hand, you may opt to use scissors.

The razor can be cleaned with rubbing alcohol and a paper towel. Rubbing alcohol also cleans up errant lines when tracing labels on plastic.

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Bake & Slice


This method follows the Bake & Peel method except that instead of peeling off the label, you would need to make successive slices along the axis of the bottle.

Caveats:

  • Be sure to keep the razor angled so that it does not cut cause ridges in the label.
  • Caveats as for Bake & Peel apply.


Slice under one side of the label from top to bottom, separating the paper from glass. Cut only about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep at a pass. Keep the razor angled so that you are just separating the label form the bottle and be careful not to damage (cut or crease) the paper. Don’t pull too hard on the label so as to not tear it. Keep cutting until you have removed the label. It may be necessary to slice from the opposite end. Patience is essential here.

Mount as in the Bake & Peel method. 2-part labels can be mounted on transparent plastic.

For those not interested in fixing the label to another surface, a generous coat of talcum powder should keep the label from sticking to ay surface.

The razor can be cleaned with rubbing alcohol and a paper towel.

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Hot Soak


This method, when carried out correctly (and with patience) yields high success rates and excellent finished labels. Very rarely do we have to resort to any other methods fro removing labels applied with water-based glues. The tools you will need for this method: a tall container such as a cylindrical vase or pitcher (10”-12” tall, at least 6" in diameter). If you plan to glue your label onto paper or plastic, you will need the paper or plastic, tweezers, spray adhesive and a roller.   

Hot tap water is sufficient for this method, but a few sprays of a degreasing kitchen cleaner like Orange Fantastic won't hurt and can possibly help loosen the glue. A very tiny drop of dish liquid may do the same thing. In either case, apply the cleaner or dish liquid on the inside wall wall of the vase (not on the label), place the bottle in the vase and fill the bottle with hot tap water. Make sure you have the vase on a stable surface. As you fill the vase, make sure to fill up the bottle as you go. Set the vase aside.

If the label is going to come off by itself, it will do so in anywhere from one to three hours. It is not uncommon for the front an back labels to be fixed to the bottle with different glues and the back label can often be the first to fall off. If three hours have passed, and the front label is only partially off, there is a technique which can help the process along: Gently turn the bottle in place - side to side. Hold the top of the neck and turn back and forth like a dial. Doing this can help the water liberate the label off the glass. Do not expect this to always work in the first try. It may be that the label - if valuable enough to you, will require some firmer intervention like the Soak & Slice method.

Caveats:

  • A label may detach only partially, so be careful when peeling it as it may tear.
  • The label might begin to fall apart and disintegrate during soaking
  • Gold leafing or other label elements might fall off.
  • Do not get spray adhesive on valuable surfaces (below).


               

Cylindrical glass vases are usually wider than most pitchers and can accommodate wider bottle sizes. (see video).

If the label disintegrates, you probably have reached the end of the road. In this situation, you can choose to let is soak longer or attempt the Soak & Slice or Soak & Yank. If gold leafing or similar label elements begin to fall off you probably are out of luck.

A wet label should be dried face-down. A towel is generally a sufficient surface. The label will curl as it dries. It is generally better to press the label flat once it is dry.

Once dry and pressed, the back of the label can be glued to a paper or plastic sheet with light coat of a spray adhesive. CAUTION: never use spray adhesives inside the house. A garage, balcony or patio are ideal, where the glue will not fall on valuable surfaces (furniture, cars, etc). Hold the label, face-down, using the large tweezers, and spray a light coat of spray adhesive. Avoid spraying too much or getting any on yours hands. While still holding the label with the tweezers, turn it face-up and carefully fix to the paper (or plastic). Use the roller to smooth the label. Be sure no glue seeps out from under the label. To allow the solvents in the glue to evaporate, hold off on pressing he label for about an hour or two.

2-part labels can be mounted on transparent plastic.

Clean up is easy with rubbing alcohol. If you get a lot of glue on your hands, mineral oil followed by rubbing alcohol is an effective method for removing glue from skin.

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Soak & Slice


The tools you will need for this method: a razor and a tall container such as a cylindrical vase or pitcher (10”-12” tall, at least 6" in diameter). If you plan to glue it to paper or plastic, you will need the paper or plastic, tweezers, spray adhesive and a roller.   

Hot tap water is sufficient for this method. Fill the bottle with hot tap water. Place the bottle in the tall container. A small drop of dish liquid may help loosen some glues and it is your choice to use it or not. Fill the container with hot water and set a side.

Caveats:

  • A label may detach only partially or unevenly, so be careful when peeling and slicing it as it may tear.
  • The label might begin to fall apart and disintegrate or gold leafing or other elements might fall off during soaking.
  • Be sure to keep the razor angled so that it does not cut or cause ridges in the label.


If the label disintegrates, you probably have reached the end of the road. In this situation, you can choose to let is soak longer or attempt the Soak & Yank. If gold leafing or similar label elements begin to fall off you probably are out of luck. (see video).

Slice under one side of the label from top to bottom, separating the paper from glass. Cut only about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep at a pass. Keep the razor angled so that you are just separating the label form the bottle and be careful not to damage (cut or crease) the paper. Don’t pull too hard on the label so as to not tear it. Keep cutting until you have removed the label. It may be necessary to slice from the opposite end. Patience is essential here.

Gluing and cleanup are as for the Hot Soak method. 2-part labels can be mounted on transparent plastic.

For those not interested in fixing the label to another surface, a generous coat of talcum powder should keep the label from sticking to ay surface - if here is any remaining glue on the back of the label.

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Soak & Yank


Please read the instruction on the commercial label remover you plan to use before undertaking this method. We found this method is more effective than peeling dry labels with the label remover. It is also the next order of escalation in removing a label that does not readily come off with soaking alone. It is particularly more attractive than the Soak & Slice method because it will not cause ruffling or creasing.

The tools you will need for this method: a tall container such as a cylindrical vase or pitcher (10”-12” tall, at least 6" in diameter) and the commercially available label remover of your choice. If you plan to glue it to paper or plastic, you will need the paper or plastic, tweezers, spray adhesive and a roller.

Hot tap water is sufficient for this method. Fill the bottle with hot tap water. Place the bottle in the tall container. A small drop of dish liquid may help loosen some glues and it is your choice to use it or not. Fill the container with hot water and set aside for about two hours. The idea here is to soak the label long enough to let the water permeate the whole label down to the glue.

Caveats:

  • The label might begin to fall apart and disintegrate or gold leafing or other elements might fall off during soaking.
  • It is important to wait for the label to dry enough for the label remover to adhere to it but not enough so that it tears during peeling.
  • A label may detach only partially, so be careful when peeling it as it may tear.


After soaking, pat the bottle and label dry with a towel. Allow an 30 to 60 minutes, depending on temperature, for the surface of the label to dry. If you feel confident about doing so, blot the label with a towel, using firm pressure to squeeze any extra water from the paper. Dry the surrounding glass and apply the adhesive label remover. Proceed with caution, following the directions for the label remover.

Trim off excess label remover and glue and clean up as for the Hot Soak method.

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Chemical Treatment


This is a very last ditch effort for very stubborn labels and has a success rate of about 50%.

The tools you will need for this method: mineral oil, rubbing alcohol and a razor. If you plan to glue it to paper or plastic, you will need the paper or plastic, tweezers, spray adhesive and a roller.

Caveats:

  • More with this method than any other, gold leafing or other elements might fall off.
  • Some inks may smear or wash out with this method.


Lay the bottle down on its side, front label up. If you attempted to soak the label off and failed, you must let the label dry completely or this will method not work. Cover the front label with mineral oil. Be generous. This takes time, depending on the type of paper. You may have to reapply mineral oil. The objective is to allow the label be permeated with the mineral oil and ultimately dissolve the glue. This may take a day or more.

If the label comes off with mineral oil, put it face-down in a rubbing alcohol with a high percentage of isopropyl or ethyl alcohol (50% to 70%). The purpose of this is to remove the oil from the paper. You may need to do this several times to get all the oil out.

Remember, that this is only about 50% successful. The oil or alcohol or both may remove ink or other decorative elements of the label.

If the oil does not remove the label, you may chose to try to slice it off. Slice under one side of the label from top to bottom, separating the paper from glass. Cut only about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep at a pass. Keep the razor angled so that you are just separating the label form the bottle and be careful not to damage (cut or crease) the paper. Don’t pull too hard on the label so as to not tear it. Keep cutting until you have removed the label. It may be necessary to slice from the opposite end. Patience is essential here.

If this is successful, be sure to soak the label in rubbing alcohol to remove the label.

Dry and fix to paper or plastic as in the Hot Soak, Soak & Slice or Soak & Yank methods. 2-part labels can be mounted on transparent plastic.

Clean up with rubbing alcohol.

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Cleaning a Bottle


On occasion, the bottle itself is worth keeping because of its own esthetic merits.

The tools you will need for this method: mineral oil, rubbing alcohol, dishwashing liquid, scouring pad and a long container such as a long cake/bread pan, serving dish or casserole pan.

Caveats:

  • A coarse metal scouring pad may scratch the bottle. Plastic is safer than metal.
  • Avoid using scouring powders. The bottle will have a dull, matte appearance as a result.
  • Despite best efforts and technique, a "ghost" or shadow of the label may still remain.
  • Do not use paint thinners or acetone (nail polish removers) as these may actually damage the bottle. Additionally, these are rather toxic and can be flammable.


Lay the bottle down on its side. Cover the glue with a generous layer of mineral oil. Scrub with scouring pad. Be gentle, you want to loosen the glue, not scrape it off by force.

Check the bottle every hour. Apply more mineral oil as needed and scrub gently until the glue has loosened and come off.

Rubbing alcohol can emulsify the glue and oil and help clean the bottle. Once the glue appears to have come off, apply undiluted dishwashing liquid. Rinse with warm to hot water. The idea here again is to emulsify the glue and oil mixture and get it off the glass without leaving a greasy film.

You may still see a trace of the label. You may choose to repeat the process with mineral oil or rubbing alcohol (alone or in combination) followed by dishwashing liquid.

Rinse and dry. Clean up with water and rubbing alcohol as appropriate.

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