Removing Old Photo Album Paper from Photos

Dear Donia,
How do I remove old photo album paper from the backs of photos?

Old photo album paper


Q. Dear Donia,

My grandmother had an old photo album made up of black pages in which she'd glued her photos. Since I'd heard this paper could be harmful to photos, I carefully removed the photos from the pages. However, there are black splotches of paper still attached to the backs of the photos where the glue had dried and now whenever I handle the photos a black soot-like material comes off on my fingers. I'd like to permanently remove the remainder of the paper from the backs of the photos before I place them into a new archival album. How can I do this? Thanks, Kaye

A. Dear Kaye,

Thanks for a great question! Now that you have the photos out of the album, there are a couple of ways to remove the remainder of the black paper mechanically and with moisture. To remove the residual paper mechanically, place the photograph on a smooth surface, take a blunt edged object like a micro spatula (available on Amazon) and gently scrape the paper off down to the adhesive level. This is a slow process as you need to be careful to scrape with the edge of the spatula and not the point so you do not tear the paper and damage the photograph. Brush off the dust and your photo is ready to go. Another option to try is with gentle moisture. Test a small corner of the paper and adhesive to see if the adhesive will soften in water. If not, your only option will be the mechanical method listed above. If it does soften, take a cotton swab dipped in water and then rolled on a paper towel to get the excess water out (you want it wet but not dripping) and gently roll (don't rub) over the black paper. Let this sit for a bit for the water to absorb and then gently roll over again with a new wet cotton swab. Let sit again and then test with the edge of a micro spatula to see if the glue has softened. If it has not, repeat rolling and waiting until the glue has softened. When the glue has softened, gently scrape off what you can without damaging the paper or the photograph below. With what remains, re-moisten with a cotton swab and repeat the above until all the paper and glue is gone. Let dry completely before putting into any sleeves or albums. Like with the above mechanical process, this is a slow process requiring a lot of focus so that you do not damage the photograph. If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask!