Plastic-Free Glue (Wheat Paste) and How to Use It

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Last month, I raffled off two beautiful bread saws that my partner Chandra made out of reclaimed, untreated wood. We raised $1,912 for fire relief! Thank you to everyone who entered the drawing.

Before we decided to do this fundraiser, I wondered what kind of plastic-free packaging I could use to ship the two bread saws. I have never found paper packaging tape in a store here (I’ve looked everywhere) and online, I’ve found only very expensive, very large rolls that I’d never be able to use up.

Chandra came to the rescue and said we could make our own paper tape (he actually did all the work). For each parcel, he made custom boxes out of an old cardboard box and cut paper strips out of heavy brown paper bags to use for tape. After making wheat paste and letting it cool, he brushed it onto the brown paper strips and secured the boxes with the homemade tape.

Two bread saws, ready to ship

People had lots of questions about wheat paste on social media

Does wheat paste dry clear?

When dry, the glue is essentially invisible. If you use it on glass, you may detect a tiny bit of opacity.

How do I store this if I don’t use it all?

I’ve been storing this current batch of wheat paste in a clean jar in the refrigerator for two weeks. I used some today and it still works well. It does thicken up a bit, so after I removed some, I added water to thin it out before I brushed it onto my paper.

A couple of people told me that they have added a small amount of vinegar to their wheat paste to make it last longer. I haven’t tried that but I will with the next batch. Chandra warns that the wheat paste will no longer be archival however. Depending on what you use it for, that may not matter.

If I mount a poster to the wall with wheat paste, will removal damage the wall?

Wheat paste is essentially wallpaper glue. When you remove wallpaper, you might damage the paint or the wall underneath. I would glue a test patch first in a closet or behind a dresser or elsewhere that won’t show. Leave your test up for a week or so, soak it with water and carefully remove it. If removing the test doesn’t damage the paint or wall, then consider mounting your artwork or posters on the wall.

Can I make a gluten-free version?

I haven’t tried making this with tapioca starch or rice but several people in my social media audience told me that they have made glue with one or the other and that they work very well.

If I glue homemade tape to a cardboard box, is the box still recyclable?

Yes, the cardboard can still be recycled. Depending on your city, waste management workers tear plastic tape off of cardboard boxes at the recycling depot before they recycle the cardboard. They may leave paper tape on. You can read more about recycling cardboard here.

Can I make tape and stickers in advance to use later?

Chandra told me that I could indeed make tape, stickers or whatnot in advance, let the wheat paste dry and wet it down when I want to use it. But I thought I better try it first. It worked! I cut open an empty flour bag, brushed it with a coat of wheat paste, let it dry and added a second coat a couple of days later (I could have brushed on the second coat sooner but was busy). I waited a day before cutting my strip, wetting it thoroughly and taping my box closed.

My favorite wheat paste use

Okay, I probably need to get out more (well, not during Covid) but I’m extremely excited about using this wheat paste to label jars. I envision my Instagram feed filled with jars plastered with homemade labels. Gifts in jars would look super cute with homemade labels glued to them. When you want to remove the label, soak the jar in water for a couple of hours. The label should slip off. If you have trouble, apply some oil and let the jar sit for several hours before peeling off the label. (Go here for more on de-labeling jars.)

While I can tell at a glance what my unlabeled jars contain, occasionally someone cooking in my kitchen will have trouble distinguishing spelt flour from whole wheat, curry powder from ground turmeric or, worse, paprika from cayenne. And then there was that one time I mistook confectioner’s sugar for cornstarch…

Several people over the years have asked me for a good way to label jars. I think I’ve found it!

After filling this jar with a bag of flour, I cut the label out of the bag and glued it onto the jar

Wheat Paste Recipe

Make your wheat paste thinner if desired

When Chandra worked as the matter and framer at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford, he made wheat paste to hinge precious works of art. Yes, it’s that good.

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5 from 1 vote

Wheat Paste

Use this wheat paste to make paper tape, mount protest posters, glue strips for papier-mâché, create collages, label jars and more.

Materials

  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Instructions

  • Add the water to the pot. Over medium-high heat, while slowly adding the flour, whisk the mixture aggressively and continuously. The paste will begin to bubble. Keep whisking. Within a couple of minutes it will thicken. Turn off the heat.
  • Chandra likes his wheat paste quite thick. You might want yours thinner. Remove from heat when the paste has reached the consistency you like. Store unused wheat paste in the refrigerator.
  • Relative to the amount of wheat paste he makes, Chandra uses a wide pot. With a shallow amount of liquid, the paste comes together quickly. He also says he can more easily get into the nooks and crannies of a wider pot.
  • Store leftover wheat paste in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator.
cardboard boxes taped closed with homemade paper tape and wheat paste
Consider making paper tape for your parcels this holiday season

13 Replies to “Plastic-Free Glue (Wheat Paste) and How to Use It”

  1. How interesting. I remember my grandmother making this flour paste for us kids when visiting and to glue things. I am so proud to know it really works, because a s a kid I did not see clearly the real “recipe”. Thank you.

    1. Hi Andrea,
      It works SO well and costs so little to make. Your grandmother was a wise woman 🙂
      ~ Anne Marie

  2. That’s a nice reminder from my childhood! I used to make glue out of potato starch and it worked very well 🙂

    1. Thank you for the tip, Liis 🙂
      ~ Anne Marie

  3. If you use it to put labels on jars and want to repurpose the jar, how do you get the label off? For manufacture labels on jars I use a mixture of coconut oil and baking soda. Would that work on the wheat paste to remove it? Would just soaking in water work?

    1. Hi Patti,
      You would just soak it in water. The label will slip right off. Thank you for asking. I’ll go update the post with that info.
      ~ Anne Marie

  4. suzanne schulte says: Reply

    We used homemade flour paste for paper mache when we were kids. I haven’t thought of that in years.

    You can also use straight milk to adhere labels to glass jars. I use cow’s milk and don’t know if nut milks would also work, but it’s so easy and works really well. I use this method when labeling my homemade wine, and haven’t ever lost a label, even if it got wet. Also, it comes off easily, so it’s a good choice if you don’t already have flour paste made up.

    1. Wow! Thank you for the idea Suzanne. I will try that.
      ~ Anne Marie

  5. Christine Hoffman says: Reply

    This is the most environmental friendly tape I’ve seen! Wow. Chandra did a great job packing them up so nicely! I will use this to label my jars. I have forgotten what’s in them sometimes (especially when I make a homemade mix- like fajita seasoning or curry powder). I had been using cellulose tape from http://www.wisdomsupplyco.com in SF. They have kraft paper tape too (sold out of both tapes right now though) in case you need a back up!

    1. Hi Christine,
      Thank you. Chandra does great work 🙂 And thank you for the link for tape. That’s good to know. I’ve never seen kraft tape down here on the Peninsula.
      ~ Anne Marie

  6. Ooo… I scrapbook A LOT. I’ve felt bad in the past for not using more low-waste / zero-waste options. I will definitely try this!

    1. Great! I’m glad you like the tip. This would be great for scrapbooking. Enjoy!
      ~ Anne-Marie

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