The Best Adhesive Removers for Sticky Messes
Use a top-rated cleanser designed for adhesive residue and say goodbye to sticky messes.
There are many types of unwelcome messes out there in the world needing to be dealt with, but sticky residues in particular can be a real headache to remove. Goopy, waxy, oily, or just plain annoying, sticky situations can be caused by grease, wax, tape, glue, decals, and even certain foods.
Enter an unsung hero—adhesive remover. The right adhesive remover will save your surfaces from ruin—and will save you cleaning effort by breaking down the molecular bonds that make sticky stuff, well, sticky. However, be aware that not every adhesive remover is suitable for every surface type. Choosing the right product for the mess at hand is half the job of cleaning up in cases like this. For info on the key considerations to bear in mind when choosing an adhesive remover, and for a rundown on our top favorites, read on!
- BEST OVERALL: Goo Gone Original Liquid
- BEST FOR TOUGH MESSES: 3M General Purpose Adhesive Remover
- BEST FOR VEHICLES: Custom Shop Restoration Grease and Wax Remover
- BEST FOR OIL AND GREASE: Oil Eater Original
Key Considerations for Choosing an Adhesive Remover
Household adhesive removers come in three main formulas: citrus-based, soy-based, and solvent-based (although we also have some research into greener products that may be a good alternative for households cutting back on the use of harsh chemicals). As you compare options, remember to consider the type of mess and the surface material beneath the mess, as well as the stated uses for the adhesive remover and its intended application method.
Know Your Surface
Stickiness can damage surfaces—but so can the wrong product! Always choose a formula that lists itself as “safe to use on”, or specifically formulated for use on, your particular surface, be it fabric, finished wood, sealed stone, automotive parts, flooring, or something else.
In addition to surface type, consider the type of adhesive you are trying to remove. Certain adhesives are more difficult to remove than others. The most stubborn are called “reactive adhesives,” because they contain an extra chemical hardener that creates an extra secure bond. Reactive adhesives can be used to secure vinyl flooring, as well as to fasten decals and wheel weights on vehicles. To remove reactive adhesive, you’ll want a product that can break down these strong bonds, typically a solvent-based remover.
Choose a Compatible Formula
The rule of thumb is to try the least-harsh option before resorting to heavy-duty solvents.
- Citrus-based removers contain a mixture of citrus fruit extract and propane as their main ingredients. These products may also include chemicals like chloride, halogen, sulfur, and fluoride. Goo Gone, for example, is a mixture of citrus extracts and petroleum-based chemicals. Best for common household messes, citrus-based removers are great for mild to moderate adhesive residue (e.g., tape, stickers, cooking oil). They can also help you fight grime in kitchens and bathrooms.
- Soy-based removers use soybean oil and propane as their active ingredients. Soy is often used in industrial and professional-grade adhesive removal products. Stronger than citrus-based products, soy-based removers are good for loosening old tacky bonds. Think mastic adhesives (a gum-like substance used for tile work) and glues holding down old carpeting. Soy-based removers may require several hours to soften old glue sufficiently. Once you scrape the surface clean, the remover should dissolve with water and soap.
- Solvent-based removers are the strongest on the market. They penetrate surfaces to break chemical bonds and erase any residue. Active ingredients can include harsh and potentially caustic chemicals like xylene, ethylbenzene, toluene, benzene, methanol, and naphtha, a petroleum-based chemical often used to clean metal. These chemical solvents should be handled with care and according to instructions. Only use if absolutely necessary and when other methods have failed. Some of these products contain a specific warning about ethylbenzene, which may cause cancer, and methanol, which has been linked to birth defects and reproductive harm, according to the State of California.
- “Greener” adhesive removers are being developed due to increasing concerns over health, safety, and climate change, according to The New York Times. More companies are inventing products marketed as biodegradable and nontoxic. Being relatively new on the market, these products, for now, lack widespread consumer and expert reviews vouching for their effectiveness. According to the Environmental Working Group, complete lists of ingredients for these products can be hard to find, so caution is still needed when considering these products. For these reasons, we omitted natural adhesive removers from our “top picks” below, though they are well worth keeping an eye on.
Select the Best Adhesive Remover Application Method
You can remove adhesive in one of three ways, or mix and match:
- Spraying is best for covering larger surface areas. Most spray-on formulas come in a spray bottle or an aerosol can. Always work in a ventilated room or outdoors, and wear protective gear, such as goggles, rubber gloves, and a surgical mask.
- Soak and wipe away liquid adhesive removers, which you can control by applying with a paper towel or Q-tip. This is especially helpful when dealing with more delicate materials (e.g., certain fabrics or antiques), and when you want to use as little chemical as necessary.
- Scrape adhesive residue from certain hard surfaces like glass and tile. Don’t use just any sharp edge! Specially designed scrapers come in both metal and plastic blades, so you won’t damage your surface.
The Best Adhesive Removers
1. BEST OVERALL: Goo Gone Original Liquid
Goo Gone’s bright, yellow liquid is still the gold standard for eliminating sticky household messes. The citrus and petroleum-based formula is safe on most hard surfaces, but be careful with rubber and delicate fabrics; Goo Gone can deteriorate these materials. For cars, the company suggests spot-testing the formula in an unobservable place before using it to remove decals or other tacky residue from your vehicle. The reason for its “trusted # 1” status is simple—it just works! Goo Gone can remove stickers, wax, marker and crayon residue, as well as glue, tar, decals, glitter, gum, labels, and more. Apply with a paper towel or Q-tip.
2. BEST FOR TOUGH MESSES: 3M General Purpose Adhesive Remover
For the heavy-duty cleaning you’ve been putting off for days and weeks, 3M’s General Purpose Adhesive Cleaner is your best adhesive remover option. A solvent-based formula, it is blended to remove light spray paint, adhesive residue, wax, grease, tree sap, road tar, oil, and bugs (like the ones cemented to your windshield and bumper). It is also an aerosol formula, which has certain health, safety, and environmental risks. Please use caution and work in a ventilated space with the proper safety gear (e.g., gloves, goggles, mask). We recommend this product especially for automotive and garage use, as it will not damage paint, vinyl, or fabric.
3. BEST FOR VEHICLES: Custom Shop Restoration Grease and Wax Remover
At-home mechanics can get a professional clean with Custom Shop Restoration Grease and Wax Remover. This solvent-based spray works well on painted surfaces, metal, plastic, epoxy, and fiberglass. It dries quickly, removes car wax, and is the perfect prep before retouching your vehicle. Application is simple: Spray onto a clean, lint-free cloth and use a separate wet cloth to wipe off any residue. This product works to remove grease, wax, tar, sap, silicones, and more. Be careful when using on interior surfaces, however, as the formula is not designed for plastic polymers, leather, and softer fabrics.
4. BEST FOR OIL AND GREASE: Oil Eater Original
Oil stains can be tough to get out. If you’re dealing with dark, oily, resinous marks on your garage floor or living room carpet, Oil Eater’s liquid degreaser is gentle yet effective. It is USDA-approved for nonfood surfaces and contains no acids or petroleum-based solvents (2-butoxyethanol is the main active ingredient). Oil Eater is also compliant with the standards set by California’s South Coast Air Quality Control Board. Simply dilute this concentrated liquid with water as needed for oil spots on laundry, floors, carpets, tub/tile areas, grills, decks, asphalt, concrete, and more.