Sticky business: How to make tapioca starch glue

Starting out, I figured I’d just have labels printed on stickers and then stick them on to the bottles.

The first ever batch, “Batch alpha-001”, was the only batch to have used stickers. As we were hurriedly sticking them on at 2am before the launch in September 2011 we realised we would never be doing this again. The problem with stickers is:

  • They stick on dry, and are therefore unforgiving if there is a slight mistake
  • They are more expensive as they are two ply and have glue attached already
  • They are glossy by default
  • They create more waste
  • They are hard to get off

So when Fiona, the illustrator of Quick Brown Fox suggested tapioca starch as a glue, I was happy to give it a shot.  Tapioca starch is commonly used to thicken food. It’s the starch extracted from the Manioc plant. It is biodegradable, natural and inexpensive.

Tapioca starch

I have used tapioca starch to label every single bottle since that first batch and the first 400g bag which cost $1.99 lasted over a year for 3000 labels.

I’ve kept using tapioca starch because:

  • It is inexpensive
  • It applies wet, meaning you can straighten the label before it dries.
  • The label comes off with hot water, meaning your bottles are actually re-usable (by either the customer or by myself – Tony from SmartBottles doesn’t even need to soak them, he just runs them through the machine)
  • There is less waste in that you don’t have to discard sticker backs

The downsides: It is far more labour intensive than having a machine. But actually, I quite enjoy having a yarn with friends while doing it!

So if you are a home-brewer, jam maker, liqueurist, paper mache enthusiast or just want to stick things to things with an easy to make, home made glue then this is for you:

You can buy tapioca starch from an Indian or Asian supermarket. 400g will cost roughly $2. It’s a white powder like this: 

How to make glue from tapioca starch

1. Put a quarter to a half teaspoon tapioca starch into a microwaveable mug and pour in about 60-100ml of warm water (about half a cup).

The water will go cloudy and white.
Note: If it is overheated it will have a big solid lump in the centre. If there are a many small lumps throughout, the water was too hot when you put it in.2. Microwave in bursts of 15 seconds, stirring after every burst, checking consistency. The cloudiness will go away and you’ll be left with a lightly viscous liquid.



3. Use a small brush to spread lightly on the back of your labels or paper mache or whatever you’re sticking.

For labels, QBF labels are printed on 120 gsm matte paper -I found that any less dense and glossy papers don’t work as well with tapioca starch.

Massive thanks to Fiona for suggesting this, it has made it a lot easier to re-use bottles and is still enjoyable to do!

Feel free to get in touch if you have any problems or want to chat more! Happy sticking.