The Baking Staple That Gets Stuck-On Labels Off Of Glassware

If you wince at the thought of tossing away a perfectly good olive or tomato sauce jar into the recycling bin after a single use, you're not alone. While repurposing glass jars to store foods is a sustainable and cost-effective win, there's no denying the hassle it can present to simply remove the label. Getting your repurposed glassware looking like new often involves a lot of peeling and scrubbing the surface with an abrasive sponge over the kitchen sink, and after all that muscle and elbow grease, some stubborn glue and label remnants inevitably seem to stick around on the jar. Luckily, there's a baking staple you can use to make the process of removing those labels a whole lot easier: baking soda.

Baking soda (also known by its scientific name, sodium bicarbonate) is the ingredient that acts as a leavening agent and reduces gluten development to give baked goods, like cakes, their airy tenderness. When baking soda is activated in hot water, it can also help soften and release stuck-on jar labels. To seamlessly remove the adhesive material, submerge and simmer your jars in hot water, add some baking soda to help loosen and melt away the labels, then wash and dry your jars. Voila! Clean as if they were brand new! 

Baking soda's chemical reaction removes sticky adhesive

In baking recipes, like cookies and cakes, baking soda (which has an alkaline pH), undergoes a chemical reaction with more acidic ingredients and heat to increase the pH and create carbon dioxide gas, which introduces air bubbles, friction, and a lift of airiness to the bakes. When baking soda is added to hot water, a similar process occurs as it causes foaming, which acts to slowly break down and lift away label residue. 

To use baking soda to remove sticky labels and the glue underneath, peel off the label to the best of your ability. Place your jars in a stockpot large enough to hold and submerge them in water. Fill the pot (and jars, so they don't float) with water, and bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium to maintain a gentle simmer. Add in a small amount of baking soda (an eighth or quarter teaspoon will do); it should foam in the hot water. 

Soak and simmer the jars for about 20–30 minutes, as the labels slowly dissolve. Check the jars as the labels loosen, then carefully remove them from the water bath with tongs or a sieve. Cool the jars, then use a towel or sponge to wipe off any leftover residue. The labels should easily slide off after they soak in the baking soda solution.

Use more baking soda to remove extra stubborn glue

After trying this method, you should find that the labels and glue come off with ease, especially if you let your jars soak long enough. However, from time to time, there is a relentless glass jar or two that wants to hold onto its label glue for dear life. In this case, after soaking the jars, let them cool then wipe the jar clean with an abrasive baking soda paste.

To make the paste, whisk together a tablespoon or two of baking soda with an equal amount of water, vinegar, or dish soap. Then, apply the paste to the stubborn label glue, and let it sit for about five minutes. After it has had a chance to set, scrub the paste and glue residue off with a sponge. At this point, it should come off easily, since baking soda is a salt and is coarse enough to combat sticky remnants and gunk.

Once you try using baking soda to remove stuck-on labels, the result will be glassware that looks as good as new. All that's left to do is give them a soapy wash, and you'll be ready to reuse them. Repurposed glass jars with resealable lids are perfect for storing marinated feta and olives, or blackberry compote leftover from your pancake breakfast. Fill like-new glassware with baking ingredients or scratch-made spice blends to have on hand for cooking.