Removing Masking Tape from a Textile

Removing Masking Tape from a Textile



Pressure sensitive tapes are a convenient and easy way to repair a variety of materials, but over time these tapes can degrade and cause damage to the underlying material. Masking tape is a common name that often refers to a paper based backing with a semi-strong adhesive that sticks when applied with pressure. Types of masking tape include household or general purpose masking tape (off white color), painter’s tape (blue or green color), washi tape (various patterns and decorations, often found in craft stores), and drafting tape (less tacky and narrow).



The deterioration of the masking tape can have an effect on your textile if left in place over time. The paper itself can become acidic affecting the adhesive and other surface coatings used in the manufacture of the tape and the adhesive can break down and/or cross link. Depending on the type of adhesive used, this is indicated by yellowing, flaking and brittleness, or it may become more tacky and permanently adhere to the material.


Conservation Approaches

To remove adhesives and residues, conservators try a variety of approaches depending on the type of adhesive and the underlying material. These methods can be broken into mechanical and chemical means.


Mechanical Removal

Techniques that can be used to mechanically remove tapes from textiles include:

·      Lightly heating the tape surface with a hair dryer. This may cause damage if the textile is degraded or reacts easily to changes in temperature causing the material to constrict. Do not use on acrylic or plastic product textiles.

·      Scalpel or razor blade. This should only be attempted if there is enough space between the paper of the tape and the textile. Serious damage could occur. May be useful for very tacky tapes.

·      Dental Pick, toothpick, or metal spatula. These can be used to gently provide separation and a uniform pressure as the tape is slowly and gradually lifted. These would not be good for very tacky adhesive tapes.


Chemical Removal

***The use of chemicals on textiles and dyes can have irreversible damaging effects. It is not recommended that you use a chemical removal technique without consulting a conservator. It is also VERY important that you test any chemical in an inconspicuous area to ensure it will not cause any dyes, pigments, or paints to swell, run, or dissolve.


While there are a variety of solvents that can be used to remove tapes and residues, some are only available to professionals. In addition, these may react differently on a piece of masking tape that has been recently applied versus one that has aged, even if they are the same exact manufacturer.

To remove a general-purpose masking tape from a textile, try the following:

·      If the textile appears structurally stable and is not prone to heat damage, try applying a light heat with a hair dryer. In some cases the tape may lift with just a little heat. Use tweezers to lift the tape as you run the heat over the surface. Using a concentrator on the dryer may help.


·      If the above technique did not work or if you cannot use a heat source, you may try using a solvent. A solution of 91% (aq) isopropyl alcohol (found at pharmacies or grocery stores) can be successful for use on general-purpose masking tapes.

o   Using a cotton swab, dip the tip into the above alcohol solution. You only need a small amount and do not need to soak the swab.

o   Do a test on the textile to ensure that the material and/or decoration will not be damaged by the presence of alcohol by rotating the swab several times over the surface of an inconspicuous area similar to where the treatment will occur. If any color or particles are noted on the surface of the cotton swab, stop and allow the alcohol to evaporate off of the surface. Contact a professional conservator to continue the treatment.

o   If no color or particulate matter is visible, run the swab over the top of the masking tape and edges.

o   Using a small or fine tipped paintbrush, dip the end into the alcohol solution only dampening it.

o   Brush the underside of the tape with the paintbrush as you lift the tape with your other hand.

The key to this technique is to not use too much alcohol and try to control where the alcohol goes.

***Alcohol may not be successful on all types of tape. This guide is not a guarantee of success for treatment.