Removing Photos from Old Photo Albums and Scrapbooks

Woman with photograph album and scrapbook
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If you have pictures that are still in old-fashioned photo albums where the pages are turning yellow on the edges, and the photos are fading, you need to act quickly.

Magnetic Albums

Older magnetic photo albums have pages that are covered in strips of sticky glue that hold the photos to the pages. The pages are then sealed under a sheet of clear plastic made from Mylar or PVC. The glue in these older albums is highly acidic over time; it is also aggressive, making it difficult to remove the photos. The acid in the glue combined with chemicals in the plastic combine to make these photo albums very destructive for your precious family snapshots and memorabilia.

To remove photos from these pages, you need to use extra care. Begin by carefully trying to lift a photo from the page. If it is stuck and will not easily be removed, do not force it. Here are some steps to try; experiment on a page of your album that does not contain irreplaceable photos:

  1. Chemical – Adhesive remover such as Un-Du (found at your local craft store while supplies last) or Bestine Solvent and Thinner both of which contain the chemical Heptane, which works well for removing labels and stickers. Use this with a plastic scraper or spatula, allowing the chemical to loosen the adhesive while the spatula lifts the photo. The liquid chemical will quickly evaporate from the photos without damaging them.
  2. Physical – If you want to try removing the items without chemicals, you can try the purely physical method of sliding dental floss beneath the corner of the photo and carefully sliding it back and forth to gently “saw” through the adhesive.
  3. Heat – You can try gently heating the adhesive with a hairdryer. Be sure to try this in stages and do not over-heat the front of your photo, or you may damage it. Combining heat with the dental floss technique has been known to work very well.

Any of these techniques always has a chance of damaging the photographs and memorabilia. Get color photocopies or high-quality scans made of important photos and documents before you make any attempts to remove them from unsafe albums.

Glued Down Scrapbook Pages

Some older scrapbooks/photo albums were constructed by simply gluing items to heavyweight paper. The adhesive used may have been rubber cement. These albums pose special difficulties for photo removal. The chemical means above will probably not work. Heptane works to remove sticky adhesive like those found on the back of stickers and labels, but it will not work on dried adhesives like Elmer’s glue. Color copy the photos, documents, and memorabilia that are especially important and then store the original album in a safe place.