Sticky Stuff

Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser

What, you don’t love ubiquitous Sticky Tape, the stuff that holds everything together? In my earlier life we called it “100-mile an hour tape.” These days you find sticky tape/stuff everywhere, especially on items you don’t like it attached to. sticky tape Their embedded bar codes helps the stores to keep track of the inventory and your personal shopping needs, perhaps even helps the government to collect higher tax revenues and so forth. How could you not like Sticky Tape?

Dawn of Sticky

When I was studying chemistry some 50 years ago, the stuff accumulating at the bottom of our test tubes, usually a dark-coloured gooey stuff of sorts was quickly discarded as “schlatz” meaning undefined goo or residue. However, towards the end of my studies, our older colleagues who were then in research positions at industry would tell us that it was their task to determine the composition and potential uses of that entire residue. Surprisingly, neither I nor many of my colleagues were enthralled by the idea of becoming professional “schlatzologists.”

That was also the time when the science field of polymerization of small molecules to extremely large and gooey mixtures of all kinds of molecules expanded like balloons in hot air. The media took notice as well with great promises of then fantastic new things, like flexible windows and other previously unheard of human needs.


The products of that polymer research certainly are flexible and many of them gooey and sticky too. Modern silicone-based materials are among the important substances invented by that research. However, the fact that some of these things firmly stick to anything else can have undesirable consequences too.

If you get it on your hands, it takes a while to get it off. Some more recent materials come off easily with soap and water and others with hydrocarbon-type solvents. If you are really unlucky and got some on your shirt or pants it’s just about the end of that garment. Perhaps it might still do for yard work but certainly not for being “properly attired.”

One of the great inventions of the research on goo was the invention of masking tape used for keeping you from painting the glass on your windows that you don’t really want to touch when your intention is to paint the frames only. Just don’t leave it on the glass too long because the sticky part will harden and it may become more difficult to remove than any paint.

Another great use for the goo are sticky notes. You can use them to paste little reminders on nearly any smooth surface. Fridge doors are especially handy for it. I learned that with a sticky note I left on the fridge for my dearest: GONE FISHING. That note was sticky alright—beyond expectations.

Goo = Glue?

Some wise people even think that using sticky stuff is the way to build modern fighter airplanes not only faster but with less cost as well; glueing the parts instead of using old-fashioned rivets. It reminds me of the mirror I had—until a couple of weeks ago. It, too, was fixed to the wood backing with a double-sided sticky tape. However, over time the sticky stuff polymerized further into a non-adhesive hard material. Then the glass crashed to the floor and broke in the middle of the night. Serves me right; I really don’t need to see my mirror image at night any way.

Goo Everywhere

These days, sticky goo is nearly everywhere and, with increasing frequency, where you really don’t want it like small hardware items. If you are lucky, the sticky bar code labels from your latest purchase at the hardware store peel off cleanly. More likely than not though, you are left with a doo-hickey covered with a papery-sticky gum at a crucial part, like the thread. Without first removing that gum, the thing will not be usable, period. That’s when you need even more chemistry, especially a solvent that can take care of that gum in a hurry; sort of a dissolve all-goo solvent.

Goo Chemistry

Given the many ways of making goo and sticky messes, you may even need more than one chemistry lesson on that subject. In simple terms, no two goos/gums are the same.

Depending on the components the gum is made from, most of the sticky stuff can be removed either with mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol. Both are excellent solvents for many materials of different composition. Firm rubbing with a cloth or paper towel soaked with one or the other solvent should take care of the problem.

If that does not help, perhaps use one of the countless self-adhesive address labels that regularly arrive at your mail box and enquire with the manufacturer of the item about how to remove the label or gum. Good luck with that!

If you don’t like my idea, you are welcome to email me a sticky note anytime.

Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts

Dr. Kaiser can be reached at:

Comments (3)

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    Probably the strangest thing with sticky tape is that when pulled from the reel X-rays are generated. No, I kid you not. see

    Now how does that happen when there is nothing about the tape, the gloo, or the structure that can generate that amount of energy?

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    Sticky labels inside of dishes and glasses are the worst. I use alcohol and lots of scrubbing. Normally, I’d reach for a harsher solvent, but not in food items. (Now I have started watching for the location of the labels and buying items with the labels on the outside.)

  • Avatar

    Al Shelton


    WD40 works good…..
    Sometimes it has to soak for a few minutes.

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