How to Remove Stamps from Paper

by Joelle Steele

Even if you purchase your stamps from a dealer, you may end up with at least some stamps attached to envelopes or postcards, and you will need to carefully remove them so that you can store and display them. Most of your older, non-self-adhesive stamps will have water-soluble gum, so you can soak them in water to detach them from the paper.

Begin by removing any excess paper from around the stamps. It isn't necessary to soak an entire envelope, and you don't want to risk any pen ink from bleeding onto your stamp in the process. Separate out any stamps that have heavy red or black cancellations or that are attached to colored paper, as these may bleed and ruin your stamps. You can soak them separately in cold water, but be sure to remove them from the water as quickly as possible before they get a chance to bleed. If you have self-adhesive stamps to remove from paper, you might want to soak them separately too, but in water that is room temperature.

Glass baking pans are excellent for soaking stamps, but any shallow bowl or pan will probably work as well. You can even soak them in a clean sink if you like. Fill the pan or bowl with cold water (warm water can cause some inks to run).

Place your stamps face down in the water. You can soak a lot of stamps all at the same time as long as they are all thoroughly covered on both sides with water. You can gently swish them around a little to make sure they are all getting equally wet. Soak them for about 10 minutes. Swish them around a little again and pull out the ones that are no longer attached to the paper. Leave the others to soak a little longer. After another 10 minutes, remove any more unattached stamps. Some will float, others will sink.

It is unlikely that any stamp will require longer than 20 minutes to detach from the paper. Some stamps, especially self-adhesive ones, will appear to remain attached, but they will slide off the paper with some gentle persuasion.

Create a blotter where you can dry the stamps. Old cotton dish towels (smooth ones, not the terry cloth kind) are very good for this purpose. Paper towels are not recommended as any glue that is on the face of the stamp or that dissolves through to the face of the stamp, can cause the stamp to stick to the paper towel or any other paper product. You can lay the dish towel over a cookie sheet, and this will allow you to easily move your drying stamps to another location, if necessary.

As you remove the stamps from the water, place them face down in rows on the towel. Be sure no stamps are stuck to each other. Let the stamps dry thoroughly. How long this takes depends on how warm the room is. Most stamps will be completely dry and can be placed in an album within 24 hours.

This article last updated: 02/11/2013.