Dealing With the Open Bottle: Getting the Label Off

Maybe in the scheme of things (and what is the scheme in hyper-text, anyhow?), putting a section on how to get the label off a bottle here might seem out of place. But since we couldn't think of a better place, and since it is probably one of the most asked questions not directly related to drinking wine, here goes.

Thre are many suggestions here, but we haven't seen and/or done any of them since we're not into saving labels. But many are! Once the label is off, store them in whatever fashion you like. One correspondent likes to rubber cement the label into spiral notebooks.

Also, rather than going through the trouble of trying to get labels off, you may be able to get (at least) current labels directly from the winery just for the asking.

  • There is mention of a plastic laminate that is stuck onto a bottle. In peeling it off, you get a plastic preserved label, all in one step. They say to check for ads in the Wine Spectator. One correspondent remarks that it does work but is expensive and the label is plastic covered, something you may not want. Along these lines, an 8x11 "inexpensive" office supply product called "Cleer-Adheer Do It Yourself Laminating Sheets" has been mentioned. A sheet can be cut to a size a little larger than the label and put over the label. Then try rubbing the sheet with something hard for 20-30 seconds. Peeling off the sheet may bring the label along with it, often intact. The back part of the label may remain on the bottle, making the label a bit thinner, but may not affect the quality of the label.

  • Heat with a hair dryer, then peel off the label.

  • Use an espresso machine to steam off the label (sounds like you could try a teapot as well?) [I don't recommend this either as it sounds dangerous!]

  • Fill the bottle with really hot water but don't get the label wet. This usually weakens the glue quite a bit so you have a good chance of simply pulling the label off (you may have to use a knife to lift the edge first). You have to be careful to avoid tearing the label and also to avoid burning your fingers. It is also useful to have a sheet of paper handy to cover the still sticky side of the label.

  • For bottles that do not have labels, but are etched, you can do a "gravestone rubbing." Place a piece of paper (you can experiment with different types) over the bottle then take a pencil, crayon, or other appropriate instrument and "rub" across the paper until it is covered. The etched image will appear on the paper.

  • The most talked about method (with variations) is to place the bottle in a large container and soak it in hot water (and/or various concoctions). Soaking times given (depending on what it is you are using) run from 10 minutes to overnight to several days. The reason that it is hard to be specific is that there are different types of glues that are used in the process, each reacting in a different way. If the label doesn't peel right off, try carefully using a single-edged razor at "exactly the right angle" to help slice it off the bottle (careful not to slice yourself or the label). Sometimes the peeling can be done under the (no longer hot) water.

Once the label is off, pat it dry then place between paper towels. Sometimes it will help to cover the adhesive size with a single tissue as well. Press by placing under a stack of books (careful not to let the liquid destroy the books!) or between clamped pieces of wood. Change the paper towels once or twice a day until the labels are dry which may take two to four day.

"Concoctions" include:

Put a few drops of dishwashing detergent in the hot water.

For labels with a hot-melt glue (look for bands of adhesive on the back), try putting the bottle in a large container filled with boiling hot water, soak for a few minutes, then take the razor blade to it.

Soak in water with some ammonia added--and some have said all ammonia, but I'll bet they really meant just a mixture (and I assume you don't heat it?). The ammonia is said to disolve the glue, but then evaporate from the label, leaving no residue. Be careful with glossy labels as the ammonia may dissolve the ink.

For glue which is soluble in gasoline, soak in gasoline for 10 to 30 minutes and they will fall off. Definitely don't heat it. Furthermore, I DO NOT suggest this technique, since it is much too dangerous. DON'T DO IT!

If water won't penetrate metal or foil labels, try soaking overnight in a wetting agent such as a concentrated wall-paper remover solution. Work with the razor blade technique, but you may only be able to go a little way in at a time before peeling becomes impossible. At this point, put the bottle back to soaking overnight. Repeat until the label is removed. May also work on non-foil labels.