Loyce McKenzie, Mississippi

speaking of labels…..

November 28, 2009

Categories: Growing Daffodils, Non-Daffodil, Planting

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Perhaps some of you use the Industrial Strength black Sharpies to write on labels, of various surfaces. If so, have you discovered any easy way (as compared to scrubbing individually each label with Ajax or similar cleaner) to remove the last traces of the writing.

Labeling is one of my areas of frugality, so I use the strongest version of plastic knives from the local Party Store, yellow for daffodils, and various other colors for annuals, perennials, etc. These are about 10 cents each, and can easily be pushed into the ground out of season.
I write on both sides and both ends of the knives–cultivar on one, source of bulb the other; and reverse the information.
The part that is always below ground remains legible for years; the part above ground fades in the sunlight.
Other than washing all the presently unused labels and spreading them out in the sunshine for months, has anyone found a way to remove the Sharpie writing? I’ve tried a Clorox solution and it doesn’t work. I’m wondering about dentifrice cleanser?
Any other ideas?
I plant miniatures, and small rare standard bulbs, in plastic strawberry baskets, also about 10 cents apiece. I favor (though don’t always get around to it) the wise practice of an extra label in the basket.
Loyce McKenzie

9 responses to “speaking of labels…..”

  1. Ian Tyler says:
             It's not just me then! I first noticed this way of labeling plants while in the garden of my friend, the esteemed Ross Hotchkiss of Richmond, Virginia. A couple of years back while at the convention! It has played on my mind for 2 yrs and this year I trying it here in the UK. I decided on tea spoons, well I am English after all and standards do have to be kept!
    My problem also was writing on them as the plastic was so shiny nothing would take to the surface, but after some thought, it does take me sometime these days, I came up with rubbing over with some fine abrasive paper and now write then out in graphite HB or 2B. I have found that this is the best medium for writing labels in my climate conditions so far.
    Come sun or rain
    To remove the writing from old labels for reuse, saliva is the best substance I have found so far! But they are so cheap in the local Hypermarket's it's as cheap to just through them away or recycle them.
    Best wishes to all
  2. Bill Lee says:

    In a message dated 11/28/2009 8:20:37 AM Eastern Standard Time,  title= writes:

    Other than washing all the presently unused labels and spreading them out in the sunshine for months, has anyone found a way to remove the Sharpie writing?

    Loyce, have you tried acetone? You can get a small can at the hardware store. I have successfully removed laser printing from labels with it. However, it is a dangerous chemical and should be used with lots of ventilation, and it is probably a good idea to wear rubber gloves too.
    Bill Lee

  3. Melissa Reading says:

    My suspicion is that the ink has penetrated deep into the plastic and is not simply on the surface.  You can test this hypothesis by lightly sanding the surface. If it is true, you’re better off doing what Ian suggests, and discarding the knives after the print is no longer valuable to you. 

    As to acetone being dangerous, I’d say that’s all relative.  Yes, ventilation is good, and gloves will keep your hands from drying out, but it is not toxic on the scale of benzene or any pesticide.  We used to wash our hands with it in chem lab, and it is one of the major ingredients of nail polish remover, intended to be applied to the body.

  4. John Beck says:

    Hello Loyce
    At 10 cents each it just might be worth cleaning the knives-
    but they do get brittle over time and chemical cleaning
    would tend to make the situation worse! Anyway- the industrial sharpie
    initially will come off with ethanol- Probably need at least 150 proof-and
    nail polish remover sometimes works-the non acetone is what I use, but
    acetone is available at the cosmetic department in 100% for nail polish
    removal. The ethyl acetate(non acetone) works better at 100% but I
    have not found it in the stores- industrial paint shops use it.
    Automotive paint thinner or stripper will melt most plastic knives.
    Kerosene does not remove sharpie well but cleans other stuff off.
    I have not tries gasoline- I would expect it to melt the knives also.
     I expect to be in California by March 6- hope your show is a success-
    as it always is!

    Date: Sat, 28 Nov 2009 08:19:09 -0500

  5. David Liedlich says:

    Hi Loyce,

    There is a product called “Goof Off”, which removes permanent marker.  This is available at Home Depot, and many hardwares stores in a small can, much the same as household oil.  Two words of caution with the use of Goof Off though – 1) Use in a well ventilated area, preferably outdoors.  2) Wear disposable gloves while using this solvent as skin contact should be avoided.

    Dave Liedlich


  6. Donna Dietsch says:
    Whats the solvent in Goof-Off?  I used to use it for something a long time ago.  Now I can’t even remember what it was.
    To Loyce, too.  Harder to use but easier to get off would be to use black enamel paint.  Can be removed with paint thinner.
    I’ve also put white plastic tape on the marker, written with a Sharpie on the tape and then pulled off the tape when I no longer wanted it.  Ok, so that was when I had lots of time on my hands.

  7. David Liedlich says:

    Hi Donna,

    The solvents in “Goof Off” are xylene and 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol.

    As far as I can remember, xylene is a potential carcinogen.

    Goof Off is amazing stuff though.  It really does take off permanent marker.



  8. Ethel Smith says:

    No one has mentioned using just plain rubbing alcohol to remove Sharpie markings – unless the material is very porous that’s been my standby for years, ever since I worked in a biological lab and needed to clean writing off glassware. Also, I use a Brother labelmaker to make my labels and affix them to cut-up plastic venetian blind slats, then push the labels into the ground almost all the way. That way, they don’t get raked up or stepped on too much. Since I also keep a map of where i’ve planted which daffodil, I know where to look for the label if it isn’t spotted immediately., and a little scratching of the surface usually locates it. I have such limited space for planting that my daffodils go into a 24″ square with the varieties about 4″ apart, one or two bulbs of each variety in a space. I intersperse the daff squares with ones holding iris, daylilies, etc. so the beds don’t look too bare after the daffodils are gone. I like the idea of PVC pipes and dropping the labels inside, but I don’t want to fool with some 300 PVC pipes in the ground, especially after they start to fill up with dirt and need cleaning out! Ethel Smith in MN

  9. David Adams says:

    Sometimes a teacher uses permanent marker on a whiteboard by mistake, much to the amusement of the students. The permanent marker can be removed by writing/ scribbling over with an ordinary non permanent whiteboard marker. I don’t know if this would remove Sharpie but it could be worth a try.

    Global warming has produced a week of cold, miserable rain here. Any wonder some of us believe that global warming is only debated when the government is in strife, or they want a new way to tax us.