Have you ever purchased the perfect garment from a thrift store only to discover that it has an iron-on name tag attached inside the collar? Iron-on labels in clothing offer an easy way for parents to label children’s clothing or for small clothing companies to mark their brands. These labels may feel annoying, so you probably want to learn how to remove iron-on labels from clothing.
The most popular way to remove an iron-on clothing label is to reheat the label using a hot iron and peel the label away. Another popular method is to use a solvent such as alcohol or nail polish remover to dissolve the adhesive holding the label to the garment. Methods like placing the garment in the freezer to crack the adhesive can also work.
In this article, you will learn how iron-on labels work. You will discover seven simple methods for removing iron-on labels from clothing. Finally, you will find tips for how to remove specific types of labels.
Do Iron on Labels Come Off?
Iron-on labels do not easily come off the fabric of a garment if you apply them correctly. Some iron-on labels claim to last permanently, while others simply state that they will remain fixed to fabric for at least ten years.
Iron-on labels such as woven, write-on, or heat-stick labels all use a special kind of heat-activated adhesive on the back side of the label. Applying extreme heat, such as the cotton setting on an iron, activates the adhesive–often a polymer-based adhesive. Once it melts, it bonds just as strongly with the garment as it does with the label.
Iron-on labels become waterproof and extremely durable if applied correctly. You can throw these clothes in commercial washers and dryers without damaging the label, often for many years.
If a label does peel away, it probably did not experience the right amount of heat when you or the original labeler applied it to the garment. Insufficient heat will fail to activate the adhesive on the back of the label and will not bond deeply with the fabric of the garment.
Also, some types of heat-activated adhesive do not bond with nylon, though they work with all other types of fabric, including polyester.
You cannot simply peel away these labels if you applied them correctly. That said, iron-on labels can come off if you use the right temperature and tools.
How do you know if a label in your garment is an iron-on label? Check to see if you can spot any stitches holding the label in place. If you do, the label is likely sewn on, and you can remove it using a seam ripper to carefully slice through each stitch.
If you do not see any stitches and the whole label seems affixed to the fabric, it is likely held in place by a heat-activated adhesive, and you can use the following methods to safely remove it without damaging the clothing.
How to Remove Iron on Labels From Clothing: 7 Methods
You can remove iron-on labels quite easily by applying the right amount of heat, the proper solvent, or the right tools.
Before you try to remove an iron-on label from clothing, feel the surface of the label. Many commercially made clothing labels have a plasticky surface. In this case, you need to apply a protective barrier, such as a piece of parchment paper, over the label before using extreme temperatures on it. Some labels have a soft woven surface, and you can safely apply heat directly to those types of labels.
The most popular way to remove an iron-on label uses a hot iron, which works just like applying the label but in reverse! The basic idea of this method is to re-melt the heat-activated adhesive between the label and the fabric, allowing you to remove the label while the adhesive is pliable.
- Check your iron to see if it has a “cotton” or “extra hot” setting. Let it heat up and make sure you turn off the steam function if your iron has one.
- While the iron heats, smooth out the garment on an ironing board with the label facing up. If necessary, place a protective piece of parchment paper or an ironing pressing cloth on top of the label.
- Press the iron down firmly on top of the label and rub it in slow circles for about 15 seconds.
- Use tweezers to peel up the label, as it will feel extremely hot and could burn you. Do not wait to let the label cool down, as the adhesive will harden again quickly.
- If the label does not come up with the tweezers, heat it again for five seconds.
- Once you peel away the label, you may see some hardening adhesive remaining on the fabric of the garment. You can use another method, such as the residue removal method, to remove this glue film from the fabric.
2. SteamerYou can use either a handheld fabric steamer or a hair dryer to remove iron-on clothing labels in some cases. However, this method does not work as quickly as using an iron, so if you own an iron, use that instead!
- First, arrange the garment with the label facing up on a flat, protected surface. You can use a folded towel on top of a table or carpet, but make sure your steamer can easily reach an outlet.
- Next, turn your steamer or hair dryer to the hottest possible setting and let it heat up.
- Place the nozzle of the steamer or dryer right above the label. Move it back and forth slowly for about 30 seconds.
- Use tweezers to pry at a corner of the label. If it lifts, peel the label away!
- If the label does not easily peel away, continue applying heat for about 20 seconds, and try again.
- You may feel a stiff layer of residue remaining on the garment after you get the label off. Heat will not remove this, so try the residue removal, nail polish, or alcohol method as a follow-up to get rid of the remaining adhesive.
Surprisingly, you can use cold to remove an iron-on label and heat! The freezer method works by causing the adhesive between the label and the garment to become brittle and easy to snap apart.
- Bundle up the whole garment inside a large Ziploc bag and place it in the freezer.
- Leave the garment with the iron-on label in the freezer for one to two hours.
- Take the garment out of the freezer and immediately use tweezers to pry up a corner of the label. It will not easily peel away, but if you pull hard, you should see the brittle adhesive cracking, allowing the label to come off!
- You can also remove the frozen residue by prying at it with tweezers. It may help to tap the residue with a blunt object like the handle of a butter knife to crack it, allowing you to peel it up in frozen chunks.
- Finally, launder the garment as usual to remove any lingering fragments of residue.
4. SolventThe best way to remove a vinyl iron-on clothing label is to use a special chemical solvent. Brands like AlbaChem work well for this, as they can remove the vinyl letters with no residue left on the cloth.
You should follow the instructions on the solvent packaging, but most removers work in this way:
- Place a rag of folded paper towel behind the portion of the garment with a vinyl tag on it to prevent any solvent from leaking through.
- Next, dip a Q-tip or cotton ball into the solvent and spot-test it on a hidden inner seam of the garment. To do this, dab the wet Q-tip onto the inner seam and let the solvent sit for five minutes. If the garment does not seem stained or discolored, continue the removal process.
- Use your cotton ball or Q-tip to thoroughly coat the vinyl label with solvent. Then flip the garment over and apply the solvent to the backside of the fabric behind the label.
- Let this sit for three to five minutes.
- Use tweezers to pull up one section of the label at a time. If the solvent dries, apply another coat and carry on pulling up pieces of vinyl.
- Once you have all the vinyl off, rinse the garment in cool water, and then launder it as usual with regular detergent. This way, you can remove the solvent so it does not stain the garment later on.
5. Residue RemovalYou can remove the residue from an iron-on label in several ways, including using a solvent, a heating and blotting technique, or the freezer method.
The easiest way to remove the residue left behind when you take an iron-on label off a garment is to use a solvent that can dissolve the residue and allow you to easily wipe it away. Products like Goo Gone Adhesive Remover work well for this.
- First, place a buffer behind the garment section with the label residue. You can use a clean rag or a folded paper towel for this.
- Next, either spray or dab the Goo Gone onto the residue. Make sure it thoroughly covers the whole area.
- Let the Goo Gone sit for three minutes.
- Use a blunt object like a plastic spoon to scrape up the now-pliable residue.
- Once you have removed most of the residue, use a sponge dipped in hot water to wipe away any remaining residue.
- Finally, launder the garment, as usual, using laundry detergent to remove the Goo Gone smell.
If you do not want to mess with smelly chemicals, you can use the freezer method described in the previous section to crack and peel away the cold residue.
Alternatively, you can use this variation on the ironing method to remove the residue.
- Begin by setting up your ironing board and turning the iron to its highest heat as you did in the ironing method.
- Place the garment with the residue from the label facing up on the ironing board.
- Next, smooth a disposable, clean rag on top of the garment.
- Rest the hot iron on top of the rag and perform slow circles for twenty seconds.
- Lift the rag to see if any of the residues from the label came onto the rag.
- Replace another, clean portion of the rag on the residue and repeat this process until no more residue remains on the garment.
6. Nail Polish Remover
Nail polish remover that contains acetone can effectively dissolve the adhesive holding most iron-on labels to a garment. This method works fast and is quite easy, but the downside is that nail polish remover can sometimes permanently stain or damage fabric. Make sure you perform a spot test before trying this method to avoid damaging your clothing as you remove the label.
- Start by reading your nail polish remover label bottle to make sure it contains acetone because some modern types of nail polish remover do not.
- Next, dip a cotton ball in nail polish remover and dab it into a hidden inner seam of the garment. Let this wet spot sit for five minutes. Check to see if the fabric looks bleached or discolored.
- If the fabric passed the spot test, go on to the next step of placing a buffer behind the section of the garment with a label, such as a clean towel.
- Soak a cotton ball in nail polish remover and apply it liberally to the label.
- Flip the garment over (placing the towel behind the label this time) and apply a liberal coat to the back side of ht garment behind the label as well.
- Let this sit for two to three minutes.
- Use tweezers to pry up the label.
- Finally, use a damp, clean sponge to wipe away any remaining residue. You may need to apply another cotton ball soaked in nail polish remover before taking this step.
- Rinse the garment under cool running water and then launder it as you usually do.
Another solvent that removes many iron-on labels from clothing is basic household rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. You can use pretty much any strong, clear alcohol, such as vodka, if you don’t have rubbing alcohol handy!
Alcohol can dissolve many types of adhesives, such as epoxy or polymer-based adhesives. Plus, alcohol will not damage most types of fabric. In some cases, it could cause a mild bleaching effect, so you should always perform a spot test before trying this method.
- Place a clean, folded towel on the floor or a counter. Spread the garment on top of the towel with the label facing up at you.
- Soak a clean, white rag in the alcohol. Spread it over the label and allow it to sit for ten minutes.
- Peel away the label. The alcohol will not hurt you, so you can use your fingers or a pair of tweezers.
- Dampen the rag again in the alcohol if necessary and scrub lightly at the adhesive residue on the garment. It should wipe away easily onto the rag.
- Rinse the alcohol out of the garment under cool running water.
- Launder the garment right away using your usual washer settings.
How to Remove Clothing Labels:
Now that you know the seven simple methods for removing iron-on labels from clothing, check out these tips for removing special labels from clothes!
You can easily remove iron-on letters or vinyl clothing labels using either the ironing method or a solvent such as a spray-on vinyl adhesive remover.
To use the ironing method on iron-on letters, make sure you:
- Apply a piece of parchment paper over the vinyl before ironing. Otherwise, the letters could stick to your iron and make a big mess.
- Use tweezers immediately after ironing and try to peel up whole letters at a time. Once the vinyl cools down, it will stick to the garment again.
- Try the next method if any residue remains once you remove the letters.
To use a solvent to remove iron-on letters:
- Follow the steps on the solvent package. Usually, you spray solvent onto the fabric behind the letters, let it sit, and then use tweezers to peel away the letters.
- Do not touch the solvent with your bare hands! Use tweezers instead. Also, work in a ventilated area to avoid breathing in dangerous fumes.
- Have a clean rag and hot water handy to wipe away the residue once you remove the letters.
Iron-on Name Tags
The easiest way to remove iron-on name tags is to use the ironing method with wax paper or parchment paper to help lift the label away.
Iron-on name tags often have a soft, woven fabric surface. You can iron directly onto them to loosen the adhesive and peel away the label. But using a piece of wax or parchment paper between the iron and the label can make the process even easier.
The only downside to this method is that it often leaves a scrim of adhesive residue on the garment. You may need to apply a solvent like rubbing alcohol or Goo Gone to remove that residue.
The best way to get sticky labels off clothes is to peel them away gently by hand while still fresh. If you find an old sticky label on a garment, you will need to try either soap and water or a special commercial product to remove the sticky layer from your garment.
Sticky labels like name tags from a school function or size stickers on a brand new garment can leave an ugly residue on clothing if they stay on the fabric for a long time or if you accidentally wash the garment with the sticker still attached!
You can often get an old, sticky label off a garment by letting it soak in hot soapy water for ten minutes and then using a blunt object to gently scrap away the label and glue. Lots of paper stickers like name tags use water-soluble glue, so this method works when it would not work on an iron-on label.
If this method does not work, you can pull out the big guns and use a commercial product designed to get adhesive out of fabric, such as Carbona Stain Devil. This product can dissolve hardened nail polish from most fabric types without damaging the garment! To use this product, simply follow the instructions on the bottle.
Nursing Home Labels
If you inherited a clothing collection from a loved one who passed away after living in a nursing home, you may want to remove the nursing home name labels from the garments before donating, wearing, or selling them.
Many nursing homes require family members to mark every garment with the owner’s name. This makes doing laundry easy, as the nursing home employees can quickly sort out which garments to return to which room.
You can use any of the seven methods for removing an iron-on label described earlier in this chapter to remove iron-on nursing home name labels from the clothing.
If you do not care a lot about protecting the garment and want to get the tag off as quickly as possible, you can use an Exacto knife or razor blade to slip between the label and the garment and slice it away. This will leave some residue on the garment, but it is an easy way to remove a lot of nursing home labels quickly!
If you find that some of the garments have a name handwritten on the care tag with a sharpie, try using a rag dipped in rubbing alcohol to wipe the sharpie away.
You can remove iron-on labels from clothes easily using the ironing method by applying heat and then peeling away the freshly melted adhesive on the label. You can also use extreme cold to freeze the label and turn its adhesive brittle and easy to pry away. Another quick way to remove iron on labels from clothing is to use a solvent such as a vinyl adhesive remover, Goo Gone, or nail polish remover.
Special types of iron-on clothing labels, such as vinyl letters, will peel away when you use the ironing method, though you can also apply special solvents to remove them easily. For quick removal of many iron-on labels from clothing, you can even use a sharp blade such as an Exacto knife to slice the label off the garment.
Have you ever tried to get an iron-on label off a piece of clothing? What method did you try? Leave a comment below to let us know!