How To Remove Sticky Residue From Photos

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When you remove photos from old photo albums, you’ll find that some of the photos are still sticky in one or more places on the back, and that’s not something you want because the sticky photos will end up sticking to your other photos. Let’s take a look at how to remove that sticky residue from “normal cooperative adhesive” and also what to do about adhesive tape that will not cooperate.

Normal Cooperative Sticky Tape

With most adhesives I use a product called Goo Gone, which is a citrus-based oil that works well on photos that have the right kind of coating on the front and the back.

When I tested Goo Gone on the front and back of color photos from the 1960s to the present time, it did fine. It didn’t absorb into the photo and was easy to clean up. But when I tested older paper photos that didn’t have the same kind of coating, Goo Gone would bleed through and you could see it on the front of the photo.

Coated photos feel different than uncoated paper photos. The uncoated photos just feel like paper, but both sides of coated photos will feel a little more slippery and smooth like plastic. So stick with the newer color photos when using any kind of removal product, and just to be safe start by testing a similar photo that doesn’t matter, one you don’t intend to keep.

I tried it on the front and back of several photos, both glossy and matte, and it cleaned up well and did a good job on both, but, again, do that test for yourself on one or more photos that don’t matter to you. 

The Removal Process

When using Goo Gone I like to cover a cutting board with a double layer of parchment paper. That gives me a smooth, clean surface to work on that won’t absorb the oil.

In my video demo I used a photo I took out of a Creative Memories photo album where I had used sticky tabs to attach photos to the pages. When you remove photos from an album like this some of the tab will stick to the photo and sometimes one or more of the tabs will still be sticky in places.

To remove a sticky tab dip a cotton swab into the Goo Gone bottle, and then apply the oil to one or all of the tabs. Make sure each tab on the photo is well saturated with oil.

Remove Sticky Residue From Photos

Wait for about 30 seconds or so and then use a knife with a straight edge to gently lift an edge of the adhesive tab a little bit at a time until you’re able to grab ahold of it and slowly pull off the tab. You might want to watch how I do it in the video. I angled the knife slightly down and then I applied pressure toward the tab. When you feel the tab give a bit, move to a slightly different angle and do it again and then again. Slow and steady pressure at various angles works better than trying to go one direction and do it all at once.

Remove Sticky Residue From Photos

Once you get the tab edge up far enough, take hold of it and gently pull it toward the opposite side of the tab to remove it. There will be a some sticky left on your photo so you’ll need to apply a little more Goo Gone oil and then wipe it off with a paper towel. You might notice a bit of oil on the edge of your photo. What I found was that on modern photos that oil will disappear and it doesn’t show up on the other side at all.

Remove Sticky Residue From Photos

So that’s how I use Goo Gone to remove the normal kind of sticky tape from the back of a photo. And I’ve even used it to safely and easily remove Scotch tape from the front of a coated color photo.

Obnoxious Sticky Tape

But now let’s talk about the obnoxious sticky tape. Back in the day, Creative Memories had a tape runner dispenser that allowed you to roll out a line of stickies so you could adhere your photos to a scrapbook page. It stuck like crazy so you had to get it right the first time or you were in trouble! Today, Creative Memories has tape runners with tape you can reposition, which sounds wonderful, but in the nineties this was what they had.

This kind of adhesive is very hard to remove with a knife. A razor blade works a little better, but it’s so easy to accidentally gouge the coating on the back of your photo with a corner of the razor blade. And if you puncture the coating even a tiny little bit, the Goo Gone will leak through the puncture to the back of your photo. It doesn’t seem to harm the front of the photo, and on the color photos where that happened the oil eventually dried up after a few hours. But you don’t want to take any chances, so I came up with a different solution.

Cover It Up!

When you encounter tape that is super difficult to remove don’t fight it. Just cover it up with white acid free artist’s tape, or you can use white washi tape. After all, it’s on the back of the photo, so who cares? That works just fine for me. So those are my two methods of removing sticky residue from photos: Goo Gone for the sticky tabs that are easy to remove or acid free artist tape to cover up the sticky residue if the sticky tabs are hard to remove.

Other Methods

I’ve received several comments about other methods or products used to remove sticky tape, so if you have a personal favorite method, please be my guest and share it with us in the comments!

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