Book Stickers: Remove ‘em or Leave ‘em?

In the part of your day involving your physical inventory of books, you’ll come across a lot of small tears, rips, and worn cover edges.  About this time, as you pick up a well worn book, you might be muttering to yourself ‘glad this is a library book because the customers won’t expect me to fix it up.’ Sometimes it makes sense not to change a book’s appearance and sell the used book in as is condition.  I, personally, have no objection to the plastic wraps which libraries put over the dust jackets of books.  Having removed quite a few of these plastic covers – what happens is – the original dust jackets only become ripped without that plastic cover for protection.

A few years ago, one of my local libraries gave me a good deal on a bunch of old library books.  When I got the boxed books home I discovered that the first and last pages were cut out removing traces of the library’s stamps and markings.  Essentially these books besides being badly outdated are all books I cannot seem to sell.  The stigma of pages cut out of the book is all but unbearable for a customer.  Cutting pages out of a book even if only the blank pages inside the covers is simply taboo in the book world.  No one wants a book with missing pages.

On the other hand, the biggest pain of a used book seller’s normal daily routine in dealing with used books is usually found on their covers.  The stickers located on the covers of used books are a bane of my existence as a used book seller.  I often find myself in a quagmire over whether or not to remove these stickers.  Largely this frustration is due to having trouble finding a good product at the local hardware store which will cross over to the book industry.

Two remover products which I have tried are Oops, and Goo Gone. There are good and bad points to both of these products.  I had a nice bottle of Goo Gone with a spray nozzle that I used for a couple of years.  For the most part, the product did its job as advertised and I finished the whole bottle in a few years’ time.  It really lasted quite a while.  One concern while using any remover product is that removers are liquid and you are essentially spraying or pouring liquid onto a paper book cover.  The book cover could soak up the liquid and leave a large blotch permanently altering the condition of the book.  Worse yet, it could soak into the pages and make a terrible whole book stain.

For the most part Goo Gone did a great job.  I sprayed some of the product onto the stickers on the cover of a book, and let it soak in.  Then later I would return to easily remove the stuck sticker.  There were attempts made in which the Goo Gone liquid soaked into the book and left a blotch.  Later I learned to put a rag under the cover to absorb any extra liquid and this often prevented any soak through.  I wanted to try something a little different the next time around for a comparison with attempts to avoid the extra liquid during the sticker soak removal process.

I found Oops.  This product is packaged in a giant container and the large size did not seem necessary for my purposes.  Instead, I located the little sample can with the flip up soaker.  This size container was good enough for a trial run of the product.  Wouldn’t you know it, but my first used sticker on a paperback text, and I had damaged the title and author names printed on the binding of this paperback book.  The printed text on the book’s binding rubbed half off.  Even though that happened to me – I was lucky in that I plan to keep that copy of the book for my own collection.  I was not completely deterred from using Oops as a sticker remover.

Oops is advertised as an office product.  I don’t know the formula, but I believe it must contain some rubbing alcohol because it has an alcohol scent.  The positive for the product is book covers stay in a drier state than with Goo Gone.  There is less chance of the book getting wet with Oops even though Oops is also a liquid.  I have removed several other stubborn stickers with the Oops product and it works fast.  Often with Goo Gone, I had to leave the sticker soaking overnight before I could remove it – increasing the chances of the book cover getting wet.  Both products in the right situation give stickers an easy lift off without any tearing of books or stickers.  This may reflect more on the type of sticker than the products though.  You have to become a good judge of sticker stuckness.

These removers are not the only solution to this sticker dilemma.  I have books sitting around with half of a sticker removed and those books’ back covers look terrible.  This is the reason that I hesitate to even begin the sticker removal process.  You have to gauge a sticker – whether or not you are sure you can remove it.  However, from a matter of principal and considering that book selling is my work, I feel obligated to dress up a book as much as I can.

I also clean my used books as well – I wipe off their covers because I don’t know where they’ve been.  Any suggestions for cleaning book covers would be appreciated as an addendum to this article.


22 thoughts on “Book Stickers: Remove ‘em or Leave ‘em?”

  1. Great article, Louis. I’m not sure how easy it is to obtain outside Australia, but water-based Eucalyptus Oil is my product of choice for both removing stickers, their residue and for cleaning up book covers. Smells better than alcohol-based products too.

    • Yes, I agree with Judy that water-soluble Eucalyptus Oil is the best thing to remove any sticky substance from most surfaces, including books.

    • I suspect my next article should be about products myself and some friends have found work well for cleaning books. It will include some gems from Judy.

  2. I used to use UnDo. It worked great and had a handy, dandy scraper on the bottom. Then I read somewhere that UnDo is basically just lighter fluid. So I purchased a bottle of lighter fluid and refilled my UnDo bottle. Been using this for years and have never had a sticker I could not remove. Also the lighter fluid evaporates quickly and so far I’ve not had any staining.

    Please used in a well ventilated room. The odor is strong while using but dissipates quickly.

    PS I really like your blog 🙂

  3. My favorite tool for cleaning up books in general is a white vinyl “Magic Rub” eraser. For removing stickers on dust jackets and soft covers, I try to remove as much of the sticker as possible with a fingernail, being careful not to make indentations in the paper (heat from a hairdryer can help with this). The eraser comes next, rubbing the sticker will slowly roll it off and continued rubbing will remove the sticker goo, rolling it off as the eraser breaks down. These erasers are non-abrasive and also work well cleaning up soiled board edges and light text block smudges.

  4. For most stickers I simply take a heat gun to them. A hair dryer works. If the sticker is real old (quite a few years) it often pops right off with no residue but it usually does leave a mark. For newer stickers it takes longer and you have to carefully peel as you heat it up. At some points in this process you might hear your mother’s voice saying, “Don’t touch that! It’s hot!” – I’ve yet to be seriously injured and I’ve never had a book burned from the heat but it might curl the cover some. Depends on the grain of the paper I think.

    For plastic wraps like the library puts on be very careful because it CAN shrink the plastic but using a bit of distance and patience this method can still be used.

    For the newer stickers there usually is some goo left which can be removed with the Goo Gone or Oops but I usually use WD-40 sprayed on a paper towel then carefully rubbed on the sticky stuff.

    Hope this helps.

  5. I’m pretty sure Oops is made of alcohol or paint thinner or something. The hardware store down the street from my shop sells Goo Gone and I swear by it. My mother is a librarian and she uses it to clean library books. Someone mention WD-40, which also works in a pinch. I had never thought to try a heat gun or blow-drier but it might be worth a try. I also intend to look for some eucalyptus oil!

    I think most of my customers just expect stickers in some form or fashion. I don’t really work too hard to remove them, other than removing enough of the sticker to keep it from imparting confusing information.

    For instance I generally I remove stickers advertising discounts. I think we’ve all dealt with customers complaining that they were overcharged on that $3 book because of the “20% off” sticker that clearly says “Barnes and Noble” at the bottom.

    Tags with prices higher than my price always stay. A neighboring store sold me their inventory when they moved and I was shocked at their prices. Two, sometimes three times higher than I would consider charging. I priced them as I normally would and left the higher priced stickers on the books to give the impression that we’ve got the best prices in town (which we do).

  6. All you’ll ever need to clean a book cover: A damp sponge; Eucalyptus Oil; Petroleum Jelly (excellent on cloth covers); a hair dryer. If those don’t clean it then it’s probably not cleanable.

  7. Scotch makes a little pen adhesive remover that is amazing – it’s an orange base so smells great and doesn’t do any damage. The only other thing I use is an art gum eraser – works like a charm!

    But eucalyptus oil – if I can find it, sounds grand!

  8. I use lighter fluid. (Cigarette, not charcoal.) Works great. It is what our library uses.
    And that wonderful little red plastic scraper from Very cheap and very effective.

  9. On the subject of stickers….where’s the best place to adhere the price sticker? On the front? Back? Or inside front cover? Thanks.

    • Price stickers if you want them to be removable, unless someone knows some that are easy to remove, should be put on the front or back cover. Most older style used bookstores write in pencil on the flap page but it can leave you with an imprint there later when a person wants to erase it. And what to do with first editions and other collectible books? Pricing gun stickers leave a small footprint, on the other hand, the guns do and sticker refills do cost money, and you don’t have much more than 2 lines to put in a lot of information.

  10. Plain ol’ rubbing alcohol. It dissolves the adhesive like a dream, evaporates quickly enough that it usually won’t damage the cover and leaves no scent once it’s dried. I usually soak a cotton pad in it and hold it to the sticker till saturated, then peel off as much as I can. You can then use the pad to scrub the rest of the adhesive off.

  11. I have come across some of those stickers that can’t be removed with alcohol, WD-40, goo gone, polish remover etc. So the BEST thing I have ever found is Glass Cook Top Cleaner ( I use Weiman brand). It’s thick enough that it will not soak into the cover or pages. If the sticker is really stubborn I put some salt on the book cover then the cleaner and scrub with a rough sponge. Works like a charm!

  12. I am actually going to rescind my recommendation of Oops. I stopped using Oops because it is too strong a substance to contact book covers. Oops is probably a good remover and I will try it in furniture repair, but I will no longer use it for book sticker removal.

    My latest technique is an old standby — water!

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