One of our most frequently asked conservation 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 - Use heat
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.
Step 2 - Remove residue
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.
If you are in any doubt about what you are about to do please consult the services of a professional conservator - see the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (AICCM) website.
This content was first published on our Archives Outside blog.