Preserving? Here’s how to remove labels from recycled jars


preservingWe’re on the countdown to autumn – the traditional time of year when we haul out the preserving pan, sharpen the kitchen knives, and – oh dear – tackle the dreaded job of removing the labels from the recycled glass jars we’ve been saving all year. Label-removal has a way of spoiling all your squirreling fun, but only if you don’t know how to go about it. Follow our quick and easy solutions, and you’ll soon be looking through sparkling clear jars at gorgeously colourful preserves.


If only every manufacturer used the same glue, we’d be home and hosed when it comes to removing labels from glass jars. They don’t, of course, which is why you will almost certainly have to adopt a range of removal techniques depending on which jars you have in your collection.

Removing labels is time-consuming, so handle the job on a day when you’re not trying to preserve as well. Work methodically to reduce mess and clutter, washing the insides of the jars at the same time, as well as the lids. Screw the lids back on the jars once all surfaces are dry, to keep out dust and dirt.

Removing the label

Note: when using very hot water, always wear heat-proof gloves. To avoid a jar cracking when removing labels, add a centimetre of hot water to the jar first, swish it around to warm the glass thoroughly, and then fill the jar with the remaining hot water.

The heat-nudge

The easiest-to-remove labels come off with a simple heat-nudge. Taking care not to wet the label, fill the jar with very hot water, screw on the lid to help lock in the heat, and leave for 5 minutes. If the label is co-operative, it will simply peel off leaving no glue residue on the glass. If less co-operative, the label will peel off easily but a tacky glue residue will remain.

Uncooperative labels

Labels that do not come off with a heat-nudge need a different treatment. Don a dust mask, reach for the coarse sandpaper, and lightly scuff the entire surface of the label, especially edges and corners (this should take no more than a few seconds). Place the jar into a bowl of very hot water so the label is completely submerged. Leave for 5 minutes. The label will then rub off or come off easily with the help of a scrape from a blunt knife.

Removing the glue residue

Easy options

When a label has been removed, but a tacky glue-residue remains on the jar, try the easy option first by lightly scrubbing the glue off using a dry cloth that has been dipped in dish-washing liquid. If this has no effect, lightly scrub the residue off with a kitchen hand towel dipped in cooking oil and baking soda.

Stubborn glue-residue

Some glue residue requires a more serious removal approach. If this is the case, take the jar outdoors into a well-ventilated spot, dip a rag into a little turps, and rub the surface of the jar. If the glue is responsive, it will loosen, smearing the surface of the glass. Rub the smear off with a clean kitchen hand towel. Wash the jar before use.

If the glue does not loosen, wash the jar and dry it (so you are not mixing chemicals), and repeat the procedure using nail varnish. If you still have no success, wash and dry the jar again, and repeat the procedure using methylated spirits. Wash the jar before use.

Top tips

  • Once you have a label brand sussed, be sure to note down how to treat it so you won’t have to experiment with removal techniques next time.
  • If you find a food that comes in a glass jar with an easily removable label, be sure to keep buying that brand!
  • If a label refuses to budge with your usual treatment, it may be because the manufacturer has changed the glue they use – in which case you’ll need to experiment again.