How to Remove a Bottle Label
By Tyghe Trimble
Feb 2, 2011
Wine connoisseurs know that removing the label off a bottle of fine wine is a valuable skill to have. What better way to forever remember that 1982 Lafite-Rothschild than to frame it? But removing a label for keeps is a meticulous process that isn't always necessary. Home brewers everywhere know the value of removing beer bottle labels quickly and completely. And those of use who have ever made creative use of wine bottles—whether making glasses or a chandelier—know that spending half an hour steaming a wine bottle just isn't time well spent.
Turns out we did—once. We compared that method to six other popular label-removing techniques. Here are the mixed results.
Directions: Put a drop of soap in a bucket, put water-filled wine bottles in the bucket and fill with water. Soak overnight and then, we hope, peel off the labels in the morning.
Results: After an overnight soak, it was obvious that the still-glossy labels would give me trouble, so we gave them a second night. This certainly helped—three out of six bottle labels peeled off with ease and left only minor residue. But the other three just didn't take. At that point, fingernails were the most effective means of scratching off the label, and then a heavy scrub with a steel-wool pad was in order.
Score: 6 out of 10
Directions: Take a high-heat hair dryer and run it across a label for 5 minutes. Peel off the label with the aid of a razor blade.
Results: If your hair dryer is old and doesn't get extremely hot (ours does not), this is a futile task that no amount of time will help. We had absolutely no luck with this.
Score: 1 out of 10
Baking Soda and Water
Directions: Three bottles, 16 tablespoons of baking soda and 32 cups of water, soak for 30 minutes.
Results: After 30 minutes, the bucket had two full labels floating on the top—a very good sign. One bottle required a peel of the main label, which came off cleanly—and another bottle was good to go with a simple wipe of the rag. The third bottle, however, proved more difficult. Although the top label floated away during the soak, the main label required fingernail peeling and steel wool (although it was a clean swipe with the steel wool, unlike with the soap-and-water method).
Score: 8 out of 10
Chill and Steam
Directions: Put your bottle in a freezer for 25 minutes and then put in a steamy, humid room for 30 minutes to sweat off the labels.
Results: While the bottles look promisingly sweaty, the labels held firm—no amount of scraping would do right by them. Frustrated, we stuck them in a tub with baking soda. Voilà.
Score: 1 out of 10
Bake and Peel
Directions: Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, set the timer for 10 minutes and place the bottle on its side in the oven, front label up. Take it out (use potholders) and peel the label carefully with a razor while the glue is still hot.
Results: The trick to peeling off a baked label is to get it when the glue is just right. Too hot and it will leave a sticky goo all over your fingers and the bottle. If it's not hot enough, you're going to be doing more scraping than peeling. Only one out of three labels came off with a clean peel (and even then, a thin film of glue residue was left, in need of a razor to remove it).
Score: 4 out of 10
Directions: Fill a small bucket with water and add 1/4 cup of ammonia. Immerse a water-filled wine bottle in the bucket for 30 minutes (place a cover over the bucket). Use gloves when removing the wine label. Wash the bottle under cold water to remove any residue.
Results: Ammonia is one of the most effective means of removing labels—use enough ammonia and the label will just dissolve. But the chemical odors are harsh. Make sure the room is ventilated before trying this method.
Score: 7 out of 10
Directions: Boil water in a pot. Hold the wine bottle over the pot of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. The steam affects the glue and softens the label. Carefully remove the label with your hands.
Results: After 25 minutes of steaming—10 on the back side, 15 on the front, one label peeled off with ready-to-mount perfection. Only a trace of glue residue was to be found. The other wine bottle was clearly not ready and got sent back into the steamer (we suggest using a pasta-draining pot-in-pot to hold the bottles). The longer you steam, the cleaner the peel, although after some 25 minutes with a certain bottle of Chilean Malbec, we were ready to call it quits. If you're looking to save labels, steaming and baking are the way to go. If you're trying to plow through, you're better with a soak. Only one out of three bottles peeled cleanly within 30 minutes of steaming.
Score: 6 out of 10