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The Très Simple Organizing Hack You Wish You'd Known Sooner

June 15, 2018

Like most people who love spending time in the kitchen, I get all googly-eyed at a well-organized pantry. But I’ll admit I spend more time looking at photos of well-organized pantries than I do keeping my own in order. One day, I tell myself, I will go to Staples, buy those label thingies, stick them on my spice jars, alphabetize them, and never have to send out a small search party every time a recipe calls for smoked paprika again.

But then, on a recent business trip to France—while the Shop team and I were visiting Emile Henry's HQ in Marcigny, a small town in Burgundy—I found an easier solution. (Okay, okay, I get that going to a Staples is a lot easier than going to France, but YOU probably don't even need to leave your kitchen to make good on this très nifty trick.)

All you need is paper and milk.

Yep, just paper and milk. Photo by Rocky Luten

I learned about this DIY sticker hack from Jean-Baptise Henry, the CEO of the storied ceramic cookware company that opened in 1860 (he's a sixth-generation scion). In a business meeting, he casually mentioned how his grandmother used to rub a dab of milk behind papers to get them to stick to jars. Say quoi?! I asked (in politer terms, of course).

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Top Comment:
“With your finger & a small amount of water, rub the paper off the back of the tape, & the ink stays in tact. The adhesive side goes right onto your smooth jar, canister, plastic tray & more, & sticks like a charm! Make sure there are no chunks of paper hanging around, & don't leave the tape "wet" to apply, just damp. Hope this gives you as much satisfaction as the milk labels, & have fun! ”
— Kimberlee J.

I was skeptical. A few days after I landed back home, I tried dabbing milk to the back of parchment paper and sticking it to my Mason jar of water. When I saw it was sticking, I immediately ran to my even more skeptical coworkers to show them...then I looked down at my jar and there was no label. Womp womp. They were convinced I must have heard Jean-Baptiste wrong. But I refused to accept defeat, because...why would a fourth generation French matriarch in the family business of luxury ceramic cookware let me down?

Say Quoi?!
Me & Everyone I Told This To, In Our Heads

Some additional research and a quick email to Jean-Baptiste fixed my problems: It was computer paper I needed, not parchment. And it worked like a charm—so much so that I wrote the words "IT WORKS" on a little rectangle of paper, dabbed some milk to the back of it, and put it on the Mason jar I drank water out of all day. It did not budge.

Jean-Baptiste said that his grandmother mostly used this "convenient and effective" method to label jars of homemade jam; she wrote the name of the fruit and the date she made the jam. The milk-and-paper sticker is still used in the 5-person Henry household today. "This old 'trick' is also very environmentally friendly," he adds; it will yield "better results than any chemical glue."

It turns out that this method is often used by breweries as a most cost-effective way to label bottles of beer. Blogger Jessica Jones of How About Orange suggests adding a bit of gelatin for an even firmer adhesive (her glue formula is 2 tablespoons water, 1 packet unflavored gelatin, and 3 tablespoons milk). But for my purposes, I've found that a dab of milk (whole or 2% only) does just fine. To remove the label, run the jar under water and you can gently scrape the paper off. This method works best on glass, but I've used it on my ceramic utensils crock and it has worked just as well on there, too.

In a matter of time, I found myself removing labels from the small glass spice jars I bought at the grocery store and putting on my own labels, with little notes like "go easy with this one." I noticed I had three different bottles of cinnamon—one of those ingredients I always forget I have, so I keep buying more. I tore off their labels and consolidated them into one, putting the earliest expiry date on my new paper label. I ripped off the paper on the now-empty jars, and filled them with other spices that I then labeled accordingly. It was thoroughly relaxing.

Next time friends come over, I plan on using milk label name tags on their wine glasses in lieu of charms. It's more, er, rustic, but I don't own wine charms anyway. Plus, I want every opportunity to talk about how the secret to a more organized pantry was hiding in my fridge all along.

Your Dried Beans Want to Be Garlicky Beans

Have you used this milk trick before? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Carolyn Carlson
    Carolyn Carlson
  • Pomga
  • Evonne E
    Evonne E
  • Ritarod1947
  • tamater sammich
    tamater sammich
Former Associate Editor at Food52; still enjoys + talks about food.


Carolyn C. October 20, 2020
I love this idea! And it is so environmentally friendly. For wine glasses and entertaining, same thoughts as reading article--and how about for buffets (smaller gatherings), on the front of those crock type servers, or older electric roasters with inserts for buffets?!
Pomga May 11, 2020
I just cut a piece of copier paper and applied a little milk on the back stuck it to a glass jar 😢 nada
Flavia Santana
Evonne E. January 7, 2020
I've been using masking tape, painters tape....easy on and easy off. Love hearing this idea.
Ritarod1947 October 19, 2018
Lollllll I thought I am the only one who reads all tips, recipes, etc to try out - but end up like you - just reading. I don’t feel so guilty anymore thanks
Ritarod1947 October 19, 2018
I just cut a piece of copier paper and applied a little milk on the back stuck it to a glass jar 😢 nada
tamater S. September 8, 2018
I never have milk, but always have 18% + whipping cream on hand. I tried it with both, and it works great. I've put the label on both hot and cold jars. Fab tip, thanks!
Kimberlee J. August 15, 2018
Packing tape labels printed with an ink jet printer make another whole selection of labels! Pick a font, type your word(s)/etc & print on regular printer paper. Cut the label down to size, & put packing tape over the it. press it on firmly - no bubbles - & turn the label over. With your finger & a small amount of water, rub the paper off the back of the tape, & the ink stays in tact. The adhesive side goes right onto your smooth jar, canister, plastic tray & more, & sticks like a charm! Make sure there are no chunks of paper hanging around, & don't leave the tape "wet" to apply, just damp. Hope this gives you as much satisfaction as the milk labels, & have fun!
Tomoko F. August 13, 2018
Doesn’t work with plastic containers.
Author Comment
Nikkitha B. August 13, 2018
Hm, I just did a test run with some scrap computer paper on a quart container (like you get at restaurants) and it held up fine. Did you use full fat milk? And generously? Let me know and I’ll do my best to troubleshoot.
tamater S. September 8, 2018
Oh, you mean it should work on plastic? Very cool. Check my comment above, re: cream works great. You do the troubleshoot yet? I just love this tip. I'm gonna tell everybody!
Tomoko F. September 9, 2018
Yes, I used whole milk (Lactaid brand). This tip worked brilliantly on my glass jars, but the labels fall off my Sistema food storage containers and the ubiquitous clear pint-size plastic containers (tried both the container and lid) as soon as the milk dries. I dunk the labels in the milk, then stick the wet paper on the container and dab dry with paper towel to clean up milk drips.
Chris W. June 27, 2018
Used this for years at Woodstock & Son to put beer labels on our bottles when I was brewing with my Dad.
Jennc133 June 22, 2018
Great tip, now I guess I need to practice my calligraphy-lol
Valerio F. June 18, 2018
Honestly, I doubted this trick. But I've been using it and am happy to report it really does work!
Kitchen B. June 18, 2018
Ha ha, funny thing is we did this in Nigeria growing up with evapourated milk!
Smaug June 18, 2018
Milk based casein glues and paints have a very long history in industry.
Erin A. June 18, 2018
This is genius!
SandraH June 16, 2018
très bon! I’m going to try this neat trick!
Krysia June 16, 2018
I use a gluestick on the back of my home printed preserve labels. It soaks off in water very quickly. I use the kind of glue stick that is nontoxic and used for elementary school kids, so it is also safe.

The reason Grandmere Henry's trick with the milk adhesive works is old school chemistry: casein, the protein found in milk. It's what they used to put in Elmer's School Glue, because it sticks, washes off, and is nontoxic.
JB June 16, 2018
What is “computer paper”?
Author Comment
Nikkitha B. June 16, 2018
The stuff you'd feed into a printer! Using scrap paper is even better, so it's less wasteful.
Smaug June 22, 2018
It doesn't seem to differ noticeably from what we used to call typewriter paper; there are also a number of specialized printer papers for photographs and suchlike.
Eric K. June 16, 2018
Ah, I love this idea—who knew? Thanks for bringing it back stateside, Nikkitha.