Back to the Lab! Re-Trying to Remove Painted Labels from Plastic Containers!

One of our more popular posts on FTTDWYW is a post I did  pintesting a pin from Pinterest about removing paint from plastic containers. Coralie and I are always amazed at what posts resonate with the world, and this one struck a chord. In the original post, I deemed the experiment a failure and not worth the time, energy, or nail polish remover it takes to make it work. Since my post, several readers have commented on the post offering alternatives and suggestions as to ways to make this work… and since I would do just about anything for our readers, I wanted to give this another try… you know… for science.

One of our readers, Callie, had read somewhere that WD-40 might do the trick… and since I had recently bought a can to fix the squeaky door hinges in our new place, I thought now would be a perfect time to re-try this. Additionally, another of our readers, Maleah, suggested that using a more abrasive cleaning item (like my go-to all-surface S.O.S. sponges) with the acetone along with baking soda would have the desired effect. Now that our kitchen is almost unpacked, I was able to assemble all of the “ingredients” on a well-ventilated work space. And with my rubber gloves on, I went back into the breach.


This time I wanted to do a thorough test, so I got TWO plastic containers- thinking maybe there is a difference between plastic types and paint types. I tried the WD-40 first. I sprayed the lid and let it sit for a few minutes in case it was a chemical reaction thing. It wasn’t. I started to scrub with the sponge and it veeeeery slowly came off with lots of elbow grease. So much elbow grease that it began to scratch/abrade the surface noticeably. Additionally, the WD-40 started to EAT the plastic (evident by the below picture in the center of the lid).


Since I wasn’t going to waste anymore time on ANOTHER method that took a ton of time and effort, I stopped scrubbing and deemed WD-40 a dud (at least at removing painted labels from plastic- it totally stopped the squeak on the bedroom door!). Additionally, I did some reading on the internet about the WD-40… it is specifically formulated NOT to remove paint (unless its on a metal surface–like a car– where it doesn’t dissolve the paint, but lubricate it away).

On the container of sour cream, I tried the acetone again, like the first post… but this time with an abrasive sponge. Since my nail polish remover is still packed somewhere, I used some nail polish remover towelettes that were of the acetone variety- but not the 100% acetone variety which was what I had used in the original post. Here is where it get’s interesting; the paint immediately came off. So much so, that I didn’t even need the sponge. The paint does need to go somewhere/transfer to something so I would wipe with the towelette and then wipe with a paper towel. The container took me only a few minutes and turned out super clean.


Super excited, I tried the same technique on another container hoping for the same effect. I checked and both containers were Plastic #5, but with the Trader Joe’s container, I was back to super-scrubbing. The acetone/baking soda/scrubby sponge was working… but it was AGAIN taking forever. The below picture is after I had scrubbed for a few minutes.


Not knowing the ACTUAL science of plastics/paints/and chemical reactions, I think the secret is this… it depends. I think, depending on your plastic, and depending on its paint, this trick works. How do you know which ones will work and which ones won’t? My only advice is save your plastic containers and try and tackle a wide variety of them at one time. If the paint comes off easily and almost immediately, then (obvs) it works. If you are spending more than a minute with little payoff, toss it in the recycling and move on. Though, for the record, Daisy Sour Cream containers TOTALLY work.

A big thanks to our readers… if it weren’t for you guys, I never would have given this project a second thought! Good job, guys!!! If you DO try this at home, let us know which plastics and paints work for YOU! Maybe, we can compile a list of plastic containers on which this DOES work!

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  1. my son is having a farm/garden themed birthday party so i was thinking of having the kids decorate one of the jumbo yogurt containers and take home a bag of dirt and pack of seeds for their own little garden. Half of our containers had shrink wrapped labels and the other half are painted on. Looks like I’ll be giving this a try this weekend! thanks for sharing your experience and tips!

    • Heather- What a lovely idea for party favors! Talk about truly re-using an item! Especially in such a (literally) green way! Let us know your results! Thank you so much for reading!

  2. tried all those methods nothing worked not the acetone or anything else

    • Bumming! Sorry to hear it, Elaine. At this point, I just rinse the plastic containers and toss them in the recycling (when appropriate). Thanks for reading, though.

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