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For people who love, use and manage archives

Archives Outside - For people who love, use and manage archives

Conservation Tip No. 1: Sticky Tape Removal

This is the first of a planned series of posts providing handy conservation tips.

One of my most frequently asked questions from members of the public is how we remove sticky tape from documents. Conservators use a number of methods to remove sticky tape and one of the most effective can be attempted at home. Many self-adhesive tapes are heat sensitive and will release from the page more easily when heat is applied to them.

Step 1

We use a hair-dryer set to warm or small heat pads to activate the tape. Therapeutic heat pads that can be warmed in water or a microwave are excellent for this. Making sure they are dry, we place the pads over the sticky tape until it activates and then use a plastic spatula or a scalpel to lift the tape.

Using Heat to Remove Sticky Tape
Using Heat to Remove Sticky Tape

Step 2

Crepe rubbers are then used to remove any adhesive residue left behind. These rubbers are available from conservation suppliers. Small circular motions are used to “ball” the adhesive residue and then lift it from the document.

Before you start – Test a small area first

It is a good idea to test a small section of tape to see if it responds to this treatment method – the tape should become more “gooey” with the application of heat and should lift away from the paper without lifting any of the surface. If you seem to be lifting fibres or layers of paper with the tape then another method of removing the tape is necessary. All other methods involve solvents and should not be attempted at home.

Unfortunately even when you can remove the tape carrier and adhesive a stain will often remain. These stains are a disfiguring reminder of the evils of sticky tape as a method of repairing precious documents. It is always better to leave a page torn than to repair it with sticky tape. Place the pieces in a plastic sleeve until you can get them properly repaired by an expert.

 Note: It is important to take care when attempting any conservation repair. The general rule of thumb is first do no harm. If you are in any doubt about what you are about to do please consult the services of a professional conservator.

Elizabeth Hadlow
Senior Conservator

Do you have any experiences with sticky tape damaged records to share?

  • Susie says:

    That was very handy. Thanks for the tip.

    June 22, 2009 at 4:47 pm
  • Louise says:

    Would you remove a postcard or photo pasted into a photograph album in the same way?
    Could you do it so that the words written on the back of a card or photo could still be read?

    August 25, 2011 at 9:17 am
  • Barbara Ellard says:

    Have joined a history society in Knox, Victoria. All hints are very useful. Would like any hints on removing or neutralizing rust on metal objects. Many thanks.

    September 22, 2014 at 6:51 pm
  • Fiona Sullivan says:

    @Barbara Ellard a good place to start is the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (AICCM) website // Under their Collections Care menu they have reCollections . This is a six part Australian Publication available from this site as PDF. It covers the care of a wide range of collection materials and was developed by Artlab and Australian conservators. Part 2 Caring for Cultural Material has an informative 30 page section on caring for a wide range of metals (starting at p81). Access to this publication is recommended for anyone interested in the care of cultural material. AICCM notes that it was published in 1998 so some of the contact details are out of date but it can relied upon to inform preservation activities. [Posted on behalf of State Records’ Conservation Team]

    November 28, 2014 at 12:20 pm

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