How Do You Glue?

We all have different methods for managing sticky situations in the art room. Today I’m sharing my tips for dealing with glue.

Let’s face it; glue bottles are not a fun supply to manage. In fact, I admit that I sometimes pawn off the job to my volunteer. (Sorry. Lois!) Occasionally, I just crack open new bottles instead of refilling old ones. But, on the whole, I do prefer to refill them. It’s much more cost-effective and better for the environment.

(If you loathe the processes, try stocking during the back-to-school when glue bottles are super cheap, and you should be able to find enough to last all year. Or, ask classroom teachers to donate their half-full bottles at the end of the year so you can use them up in the art room.)

I use all of the methods I mentioned to make glue work for me. It all depends on my time, level of frustration, and the projects we are doing at the time.

The method I use most often, however, is refilling bottles with a glue pump.

Elmer’s sells gallon jugs with a pump that goes on top. This is my favorite setup. If you haven’t tried it, you will love it! You can find the pump in the glue section of any art catalog. It’s inexpensive and makes filling glue bottles so much easier. Simply squeeze down (like a ketchup dispenser at a fast food restaurant), and a few squirts will fill the bottle.

I put the gallon jug right in the sink as I fill, so all drips go into the sink and not on my counter. I soak the lids in warm soapy water while I am doing this to loosen up the gunk.

To encourage students to use less glue, I do two things:

1. Use a chant.

In my room, I use the chant “A dot, dot, dot is a lot, lot, lot!” I also make sure to model what to do and what NOT to do when using glue. Then, I make sure to give practice time.

I can’t stress the importance of non-examples enough. Making a big show about a river of glue or a kid who just keeps squeezing and squeezing is a great way to get students to visualize what they should and should not be doing.

2. Keep a few “Tap N Glue” bottles on hand.

If a kid is squeezing too much, and I know it’s not a fine motor issue (i.e. they are just being careless) I make them use a “Tap N Glue” bottle. These types of bottles only let out a small dot of glue when you push down. These sometimes work well for really young kids as well. I have a love-hate relationship with these as they work well, but you have to be ruthless about cleaning the tips. They do clog easily! Some teachers love them, and others hate them. You can always buy a few and see what you think!

But, no matter how well you clean things, it’s inevitable that your glue bottles will clog. Here’s how I handle that situation.

When a student approaches me in the middle of class to tell me their glue doesn’t work, I never try and unclog it on the spot. It’s maddening to sit there with 5 others kids who need my help and try to stick a little paper clip into a glue bottle. For this reason, I have a few backup glue bottles. I simply give the kid a new bottle and set the clogged bottle on the counter to deal with later.

In addition, I try and prevent clogs as much as possible. One way I do this is by enlisting the help of students. I send a kid around with a damp rag at the end of a gluey class period. This student’s job is to close the caps and wipe extra glue off the lids. This extra step makes all the difference in stopping bottles from clogging in the first place!

Finally, don’t be afraid to throw away gunky old bottles. You can’t save them all. Remember, time is money!

I’m pretty sure I don’t even need to prompt you to share your drippy dilemmas and sticky solutions. Tell me about glue and link up any blog posts you have done on the topic, too, in the comments section below.

P.S. This is not a sponsored post. I just really like these products!

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Marla

    When I teach glue use, I have the bottle “kiss” the paper as it drags. I encourage them not to squeeze too much or at all when they are doing this. This creates a tiny even flow of glue that is just the right amount.

  • Anonymous

    Jessica, thanks for your eeweey gooey glue ideas,. Glue is always a dilemma. One thing I learned from my Preschool Teacher, pour a little glue in a milk cap and they can use their finger or I give them an old tiny paint brush. This works pretty well for the young 5 crowd. I put the glue cap on a little piece of cardboard to try and keep the table clean. I’ve collected so many caps I throw them out at the end of the class.

  • Lisa Ricciardelli, Coppell, TX

    I save yogurt or sour cream lids and pour a bit on that for each table to share. They are taught “dot-dot…not a lot” and they scrape the excess on the sides. Dried glue that next day can easily be peeled off and replenished. I tell them their finger is the best glue stick on earth! ONE finger only, that is. :)

    • Karen

      I do this too, only “pinky” is the finger of choice, he never gets his own job and kids don’t get so sticky.

  • If you have not seen some of the AMAZING Vimeo videos of Tricia Fuglestad, you really need to check them out. Her “Glue Blues” song is a fantastic way to get the kids to listen to some sound advice about glue. She has several other great jingles for your art rooms. Go to: ENJOY!!

    • Yes, I’ve seen lots of her videos, and I love them. Not sure if I’ve seen the glue one, so I’ll have to check it out thanks for the tip!

  • I do save the empty bottles. I put them in a sink with Dawn detergent and hot water and let them sit overnight and then clean them out. I then add black paint and glue in a gallon container and refill the old empty glue. For projects that we do black glue painting this works fine.

  • Jan

    I teach kids every year how to deal with clogged glue bottles….then tell them they may not ask me for help with them again for the rest of the year. If someone forgets and asks me for help, I tell them to ask a friend what to do. (Maybe it sounds mean, but they do learn how to take care of the problem themselves.)

    In my first gluing lesson of the year, I teach them to try these solutions to a non-working glue bottle:
    …check to make sure the cap is open
    …peel off old glue from the cap
    …take one of my open paper clips (located next to the glue bottles) and poke it in the hole.
    …try a different bottle of glue
    …if all else fails, share with a neighbor

  • Jen

    uuuuh glue!!!! I sorta feel like I gave up on glue bottles this year! I just got tired of unclogging bottles during class! Last year I created two plastic containers for my glue. “Fix Me” container and ”Fixed!” The problem…My ”Fix Me” container was over flowing while my ”Fixed” container was empty….another issue to solve ;)

  • Heather

    I am a 2nd year art teacher and gave up on glue bottles within my 2nd lesson in my 1st year. Now, I get donated cream cheese and baby food jars and put the glue in there. The students use the yucky paint brushes that come with watercolor sets to dip in the glue and I have a small cup of water to put the paintbrush in at the end of class (or while not using the brush.)
    I tip my hat off to all of you that put up with those bottles!

    • I might try this for some of the projects, like collage. Thanks, Heather!

  • Janis

    Thanks Jessica for posting this!! Its nice to hear that other art teachers hate wasting their master’s degree on time spent unclogging glue bottles!
    Lets hope someone at Elmers or Crayola hear us, and invent a solution.

  • Daevid

    GLUE! I’m glad to know it’s not just me. I’ve tried so many of these ideas but generally keep the paper clips handy, teach the kids to use themselves, and, when all else fails I simply dump them and open a new bottle.

    • Hmmm….. after having taught kindergarten and first grade for 26 years prior to moving into art and not being a fan of glue sticks, I have simpy learned to deal with it. I realize it is a hassle, but it is also a “skill” they NEED to learn. I guess I feel that in elementary art we aren’t suppose to just teach them about art, but how to use supplies and materials properly. I’m sure some of you don’t really want to hear this, but after having been in a regular ed. classroom, I think we need to be responsible in teaching our students the proper way to use glue bottles. And YES Elmer’s bottles are superior to the others. :)

  • EJ

    Noone’s mentioned my favorite option… glue sticks! Glue bottles/ white glue makes an appearance in my room at most once or twice a quarter, I do very few projects which require glue that can’t be completed with a glue stick. Yes theyre more expensive, but they’re worth it in my opinion. The glue sticks are in their table boxes (much like the glue bottles in the picture above), and we make a game out of keeping track of your cap, plus we sing a song in the tune of “on top of spaghetti” with rolling away caps.

    When we do use the glue bottles, they are stored in a box with every bottle labeled by table (green table, blue table) and seat (every table has a seat labeled square, triangle, circle and oval so each has certain “jobs”). So kids only take their their glue bottle (“this is the blue square’s glue”) and when they put them back in the storage box, i have one of my students (ovals are “inspectors”) check them to see who hasnt screwed down the cap (GASP!).

    • EJ,
      I use glue sticks for some projects, too. They are just the ticket. We get a lot donated from the classroom teachers at the end of the year. The only complaint I have with glue sticks is the work doesn’t always last over time, it peels back easily, otherwise, whatever works for you, go for it!

  • Do you do anything to your glue pump to keep it from clogging? I ordered a glue pump last year and it was great for a while- then got clogged and the cap glued on. When I tried to fix it, it broke. I decided to try it again this year and make sure the cap was ALWAYS on so it wouldn’t dry out and get clogged. Then the cap got stuck on and when I tried to uncap the pump to refill some bottles, it broke, too! I’m pretty disappointed and don’t know if there is some magical fix I haven’t tried yet. Maybe I need to try ONE MORE TIME and use the vaseline trick…

    • Katie,
      Hmm..Maybe my memory doesn’t serve me well, but I do remember the cap sticking on. Maybe an issue once with some clogging, but for the life of me I don’t know if I’ve had issues. I soak and rinse the pump in a lot of warm water often, that might help. Worst thing ever- kid pumps down the pump with the cap on. Then, when I go to remove it, it’s either stuck or glue comes gushing out. Yikes. I need to hide it.

  • Linda Jones

    I read a tip to clean the orange lids then lightly soak them in some veggie oil and very lightly wipe them– this worked wonders in my classroom, we went 2 weeks without a clog and before I was dealing with them daily and repeatedly.

  • Biggest pet peeve – when kids use scissors or pencils to try to un-jam their glue caps!

    One other tip – if you sign up for an account at Terracycle you can actually recycle all of your glue bottles. I actually collect glue bottles from the whole school and ship in a box every couple of months. The shipping is paid for by the company, you’re recycling some otherwise non-recyclable things, and you actually get a credit from the company that you can donate to various charities. It’s a win-win-win!

    • Love this! Thanks!

  • Heidi

    Hello Everyone!

    I enjoyed reading this post. I had no idea glue bottles were such a hot topic! I’m also a second year teacher. In general, I don’t have issues. I use Elmers glue and bottles. They do clog from time to time. If I can’t fix it then I’ll swap it out for a new one.

    One thing that makes mangement a little easier, I don’t have very many bottles to deal with. I have 8 tables (4 to a table) with supply buckets. I only alllow each table 2 bottles of glue. I teach students to share. Generally, it’s not an issue. If we’re doing something with a lot of glue I build in a little extra time into the lesson because kids are sharing the glue.

    I love the tip on unclogging old caps. I will totally give that one a try!

    Happy glueing!

  • Great Article.. my only concern with the pump is does it leave much glue left that cannot be pumped out of the large Glue jug? Otherwise I too despise refilling glue bottles, and find that glue sticks are a waste and do not last nearly as long. Another trick I have to help unclog the glue, a more on the spot rather than soak approach. I use a wooden barbecue/shishkabob skewer (sp) to poke through the gunk in the orange cap (after its removed from the bottle of course). Another great option if you do not have any barbecue skewers around find a large paper clip, unbend it and clear at that gunk. Thanks again for a very practical article.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure if someone responded with this, but I have to share this tip. It’s the best glue tip I’ve EVER heard – rub vaseline on the threads of the glue bottle proper and the threads for the nozzle and YOU WILL NEVER HAVE STUCK GLUE BOTTLES AGAIN. EVER. You will never hear kindergarteners complain that they can’t open the glue bottle (unless they’re “pinching and twisting” the wrong direction, of course :o) and even if bottles get left open, they will not get stuck. It is worth the time it takes up front – I used to use pliers to open some glue bottles to refill and now I can do it quickly and easily. It’s like butter!

    • Cinderenee

      I just started using Vasoline on my glue bottles last year, and it has a made a world of difference!!

      When I do have a bottle that I can’t open, I put on a pair of yellow kitchen gloves and try again.  The cap will usually come off pretty easily.

  • Sheil

    This article has elevated the importance of glue in the art room and I have taken away many valuable tips. Thank you! I continue a glue practice of my former art predecessor that helps to cut down on the time spent refilling bottles. You will need extra tops, so when throwing out old ones, remember to save and keep the extras in a wide mouth plastic container in warm water. This will loosen all the dried glue over time and they will clean themselves. When refilling, just switch the tops and “squeeze” away.

  • Thanks for this post! I think cleaning out and refilling glue is definitely my LEAST favorite thing to do! Sometimes I trick my students and saying I need some “really strong” helpers to help unscrew the caps (they hurt!), and I always get a rush of boys who want to do it for me, ha. I’m definitely going to try the vaseline thing mentioned above? I also ordered the tap-n-glue caps this year- meh. Sometimes they’re awesome, most of the time- nothing comes out. I didn’t realize there were coordinating bottles that go with the caps, so now I’m definitely adding that to my list of items I need to buy as requisitions come up. After this year, if the tap-n-glues don’t work.. I might just have to resort back to the frustrating unclog/ refill days.

    I do remind students on a continuous basis, “A little dab’ll do ya!” but… you always get those one or two stinkers that either don’t listen, or that just don’t clean when you ask them to, or don’t clean properly.. which pretty much starts the snowball effect.

    Here’s a link to my cutting and gluing practice done by my Kinders:

  • mrs g

    Most of the time I use glue sticks but I also have Elmer’s glue in Cheerio containers, the ones that toddlers use for snacks. (mine actually have smiley faces bought from walmart years ago) One side opens up for a students paintbrush and the other side stays secure. To fill, the top can be unscrewed. I have them stacked in a shoebox and when needed I hand them out with an old paintbrush and after a brief demo let them glue. If the glue dries up in the container I simply dump more glue into it. Also quite easy to wash -just close both flaps and stick under hot water.

    • jess

      Now this is a new concept- I like it. I think I will try it. It just seems easier then messing with the bottles, especially for specific projects like collage. Thanks for sharing something new!

  • Kirsten

    Starting my first year I taught the kids to say “dot-dot-dot, you don’t need a lot” and it stuck REALLY well. The K teachers were ecstatic and all of the students still use it. I teach the K students all about glue, starting with a parade around the room with an example of SNEEZE art which is what happens when you squeeze a whole lot. I make sure that the kids who have major glue accidents are reassured that they will improve if they keep trying.
    For the clogged bottles I keep some extra tips with the bottles. I can switch out the cap pretty easily for a clogged one which goes to a cup of water always in the sink. Eventually ( overnight usually ) they are unclogged and go back to the extra pile.
    I rarely use glue sticks because I had hardly any supplies the first year, find them wasteful and unreliable for sticking long term.

  • Scott

    I have a glue hospital. I have glue on the tables, but when one is clogged and can’t be opened they know glue first aid: Oh, no! The glue isn’t breathing. I have to clear it’s air passage. Close the lid! Pick off the obstruction! Open it! Is it breathing? If it’s breathing it will work, If not breathing or too wheezy it goes to the glue hospital for repair.
    The glue hospital is a shoe box with a divider in the middle. Clogged or empty glue goes to the hospital side, they can take a new glue from the “ready for action” side.

  • Dan Bell

    I’ve been using glue with kids for several years. Elmer’s glue bottles were abandoned long ago. Worst. Design. Ever. I’ve used Crayola’s school glue bottles (with the green top) and refilled them with Elmer’s. They don’t plug up but kids can still destroy stuff with zealous squeezing. Now I am using little flip top containers and a short-handled brush. See: Brushes go into soapy water. So far kindergartners, first graders, third graders and kids in life skills have been successful with this method and cleaning a handful of paintbrushes is not much trouble.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Those are awesome suggestions Dan! Thank you for sharing those!

      • Dan Bell

        And use brushes with plastic handles so that you can soak them overnight.