Picture it: you just got home from your seasonal shopping trip at the mall. Or maybe you browsed online and had your haul delivered to your front door. You take your items out of their bags to discover that they forgot to remove the security tag from the cashmere sweater you bought. Now what? It’s time to MacGyver (or Google) how to remove security tags from clothes without destroying the sweater.
The very idea of removing a security tag yourself might feel a bit … wrong? But if you purchased the item and the tag was left on as an oversight, it’s okay to remove it. No ethical dilemma there. However, and we’re pretty sure this goes without saying, don’t use your newfound knowledge for any five finger discounts. That disclaimer is similar to the, “Don’t try this at home” line that populates any stunt videos. We don’t expect you to do it, but just in case.
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The Anatomy of a Security Tag
Before we get into how to get the security tag off your clothes, it helps to understand how the tag even works. This will make it easier to disassemble.
Importantly, there are three main types of tags. Mechanical tags have one large plastic piece and a pin, which secures on the opposite side and locks in. Ink tags are similar but literally contain ink, designed to stain the clothing and the hands of the “thief” if they try to break it apart and steal the item (these are less common because they’re more pricey). Magnetic tags don’t have ink but are typically more difficult to remove. The two halves of the tag have a pin in between them and are secured by, you guessed it, a strong magnet.
Note: sometimes a tag will incorporate more than one component. For instance, an ink tag can also have a magnet in it. So if you’ve got the proper magnet laying around to remove your tag, try that method first!
If you’re not sure what kind you’re dealing with, it helps to assume it’s got ink in it, just to be extra cautious. And regardless of the type of tag, removing them with care is important in protecting the clothing.
Generally speaking, to remove an ink security tag, you need to:
- Remove the ink cartridge on top.
- Peel off a small piece of paper lining underneath.
- Lift up the metal arms.
- Pull apart the tag and remove the pin from the clothing.
If it’s a mechanical tag, then it comes down to being able to pry it apart. And for a magnet tag, you’ll need a magnet.
It’s easier said than done, though. So how can you do it yourself? Let’s dive in.
9 Ways to Remove the Security Tag From Your Clothes
Depending on what type of tag you’re dealing with, here are a few different methods you can try:
1. Use a Screwdriver
You’re going to need a screwdriver with a flat head for this one, and it applies to mechanical tags.
- Lay the clothing item flat on a stable surface. Look for the pyramid-shaped cartridge on the top of the tag. (It’s the part that juts out.) Slip your screwdriver under the cartridge.
- Press down on the screwdriver to pierce the plastic tag cover, and then pull it up. You might hear a popping sound. This allows you to remove the ink cartridge.
- Once you’ve removed the cartridge, you’ll see a small piece of paper lining that covers a metal plate. Remove the paper lining.
- Use the screwdriver to lift up the metal arms. After doing this, you should be able to pull the pin away from the tag.
2. Try Using Needle-Nose Pliers
This is another tool you might find in your garage, and it’s perfect for getting the mechanical security tag off your clothes. You’re going to need two of them.
- Lay the clothing flat with the ink cartridge tag facing up toward you.
- Grab one side of the tag using your pliers.
- Grab the other side with the second pair of pliers.
- Holding both ends with your pliers, gently bend them downward.
- The top will pop off. Pull the pin out to loosen the security tag.
Related: How to Decode the Secret Language of Price Tags at 19 Different Stores
3. Remove the Security Tag With a Rubber Band or Plastic Bag
No tools are needed! With a rubber band and a little elbow grease, this method can work like a charm.
- Lay your clothing item down with the tag facing up.
- Slip the rubber band or the handle of the plastic bag around and under the tag. The thicker the band, the better, as long as it still fits.
- Keep wrapping it around the tag until it pops open.
If this method doesn’t work, you might need to repeat it using either a thicker band or multiple thinner ones.
4. Fork It
You might not have pliers or screwdrivers in your home, but I’m willing to bet you have a couple of forks. Wedge one into the tag, ideally as far as it’ll go, and do the same with the other fork so that they’re back to back. Gently push, bend, and pry them in either direction until the tag pops open.
5. Buy a Powerful Magnet
Not all security tags contain ink. Many are simply ridiculously strong magnets. In the store, the cashier uses another powerful magnet to open the tag once you’ve purchased the item.
You can try to recreate this at home, as long as you have a magnet that’s powerful enough.
- Lay the security tag on top of the magnet.
- You might hear a clicking or popping sound.
- Wriggle the two halves of the tag until they come apart.
6. Set It on Fire
Kind of. Not really. Okay, fine, a little. You can use a candle or lighter to heat and melt the plastic of your security tag — not until it’s liquified, but only soft. Then you can use pliers, a knife, or another tool to break apart the tag.
This hopefully goes without saying, but approach this one with caution. It will catch on fire, so be very mindful of that.
7. Use Brute Force
This isn’t appropriate for ink tags but might work otherwise.
- Wedge something in between the tag and the pin to create some space.
- Start bending the two pieces of the tag back and forth until the pin snaps.
- Pull the halves apart to remove the tag.
8. Try a Nail and Hammer
Be careful not to go to town with this one, or you might end up with a big, inky mess.
- Use a nail with a head that’s roughly the width of your hammer.
- Wedge the nail into the groove under the ink dome and start to gently hammer it until it pops open.
- From here, you can remove the paper lining, lift up the metal arms, and remove the tag completely.
9. Freeze the Tag
Finally, we leave you with this neat little hack. If you’re really worried about cracking the cartridge and spilling ink all over your new clothes, freeze the item (with the tag) first, and then use any of the methods above.
The ink inside will be frozen and won’t be able to splatter everywhere.