How to Remove Sticky Stuff from Household Surfaces

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Apr 05, 2011 | Steve Graham


The Internet is full of lousy advice for all kinds of problems, including how to clean anything off virtually any surface. To read some recommendations, it would seem that peanut butter could put Goo Gone to shame as the king of cleaners. To be sure, Skippy has its place in getting gum out of hair, for example, but on other surfaces it can leave its own stain and residue that causes further problems.

Instead of spinning the rumor mill and repeating this advice, we went to the experts at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute (GHRI). They published “Stain Rescue,” which includes much of the following information in greater detail, and well-researched recommendations for removing hundreds of other stains.

Here are some tips from the GHRI and sticky product manufacturers on removing gum, stickers and glue from household surfaces.

General Rules of Stain Removal

Upholstery should have labels or tags listing care instructions, but sometimes the information is difficult to decipher. Here's what the codes mean:

W -- clean with a water-based product such as a mild detergent.

S -- clean with a mild waterless dry-cleaning solvent.

WS -- use either detergent or dry-cleaning solvent.

X -- do nothing. Professionally clean only.

Carpet typically comes with care information that you should file away so you can find it when needed.

Many cleaning products damage leather. For stained leather, it is best to contact the manufacturer or a leather cleaning specialist.

Gum Removal

The key to removing gum is putting it on ice. Use ice to freeze the gum and it should pop off. If you are using this method on a surface that shouldn’t get wet, you can put the ice in a Ziploc bag, then try to freeze the gum. The GHRI warns against wrapping the ice in Saran Wrap because the thin plastic wrap may stick to the gum and make a bigger mess.

To remove any remaining gum residue from upholstery or carpet, blot the stain with a dry-cleaning solvent on a cloth until the residue is gone.

For other surfaces, except leather, silk and suede, try Goo Gone. For gum residue on leather, mineral spirits should help, followed by a leather conditioner, according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Sticker and Glue Removal

Kids (of all ages) love stickers and glue-based craft projects. Of course, the stickers and glue rarely stay strictly on the project surface. To remove sticker residue and glue, first scrape off as much of the substance as possible. If the glue has hardened, try to soften it by rubbing petroleum jelly or waterless hand cleaner onto the glue. Another option is to stack paper towels on the glue and saturate them with warm water. Leave in place until the glue softens.

For craft glue stuck to upholstery or carpet, the GHRI suggests mixing one tablespoon of hand dishwashing soap into two cups of warm water, and blotting it onto the stain with a cloth until the glue is absorbed. For stubborn carpet stains, mix one tablespoon of ammonia in two cups of warm water, and blot until the stain is gone. But ammonia itself can stain, so check it in an inconspicuous spot.

For more serious adhesives, the makers of Super Glue say only one product can remove the glue in many cases: acetone. Put some acetone-based nail polish remover (check the label, because you can’t assume all polish removers have acetone) on a cotton swab or toothbrush and try to soften or remove the glue. Be aware that acetone can discolor fabric and damage laminate countertops.

Acetone also works for removing sticker adhesive residue from most surfaces. If these solutions don’t work, try Goo Gone. Again, the manufacturers promise it is safe for most surfaces, except leather, suede and silk.

Mystery Stain Removal

The Good Housekeeping folks suggest taking the following steps, in the order given, until a mystery stain is removed:

• Sponge the stain with a dry-cleaning solvent and let air dry.

• Rub waterless hand cleaner into the stain and let stand for 15 minutes. Repeat, then rinse well.

• Soak in cold water for 30 minutes.

• Mix one tablespoon of laundry detergent in one cup water, add white vinegar, sponge and rinse well.

• Sponge with rubbing alcohol and let air dry.

• Rub laundry detergent into the stain and let stand for five minutes. Rinse well.

• Soak stain in enzyme-based laundry cleaner for at least 30 minutes, then launder.

• Bleach (as long as the stain is not rust-based).

• Take the stained item to a dry cleaner.

Want some extra help with household cleaning? Hire a reliable professional cleaner.

Updated January 8, 2018.

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