Removing stickers, fossilized or not, from books

Different people love books in different ways.

My mother first immediately broke the spine of every paperback she read. That way, she said, she didn’t have to worry about that any more. To me, that’s sort of like becoming a heavy tobacco and alcohol user so that one won’t have to save for retirement, but they were her books. Long as she kept her Visigothic, mutilating ways off mine, we were fine.

Some people keep no books, giving them all away. Some keep a selection, for show or rereading. Some have gone over to e-readers. Most people, I think, do not much care how much wear and tear they put on books. I believe this because of the condition of the used books I buy: creased covers, dog-eared pages, cracked spines, and probably body fluid stains.

Many have bookstore price stickers or remnants thereof. In many cases, someone brutally clawed at the sticker without much luck, leaving lots of nice divots and grooves. Sometimes there are three labels, one atop one or more others. Sometimes they are on the spine, which creates delicate circumstances; without special care, peeling the label may rip off part of the spine. ‘Used’ labels from school bookstores are always on the spine, and it’s not strange for them to be fossilized. It’s not strange for any label to be fossilized. The gum eventually hardens.

It’s not that my soul is crushed by the damage to a thing (though I think it’s pretty shabby to abuse a book, in my heart of hearts). It’s that I like to maintain valuable things in good condition. Books are valuable things. And for that reason, I’m going to take any sticker on a book as a personal challenge. I have now developed an improved method for this. Considering the demographics of my readership, there is a reasonable chance some will find this interesting.

First, gather supplies and books. I would practice on beat-up used books. Supplies:

  • Books with labels or remnants thereof
  • Bottle of Googone
  • Paper towel
  • Q-tips
  • Scissors
  • Some form of protection for the work surface, if needed, like an old plastic placemat
  • Plastic bookmark, or some other plastic potential scraper suitable for gentle work
  • A little patience


  • Examine the first book for stickers. Locate all, including all remnants and gum residue.
  • Make at least one gentle effort to peel off each sticker without help. New stickers may well come off. Some will leave residue.
  • Rip off a paper towel just so it’s handy. Cut a piece of that the size of the label you want gone, or slightly bigger.
  • Set the piece over the label and drip the Googone onto it. The idea is that by having the piece in place, it doesn’t all run off–Googone is thin.
  • Repeat for any other labels on the same exposed side of the book. Drip a bit more Googone on the paper towel piece, now and then–it evaporates, and if the label is paper, keeping it soaked is how you get the solvent through the paper to loosen the gum.
  • It can take some time to soften up completely hardened gum. You can test with the plastic bookmark (works better than fingernails). Most labels loosen up after several minutes kept soaked with Googone. Once you loosen it, you can q-tip some more Googone onto the residual gum.
  • If the label is plastic, this is going to take a while. If it won’t peel safely, use just a little Googone all around the edges, and wait for the stuff to eat away at the gum until you can peel up one side a bit. Then q-tip a little more on, wait, peel, q-tip more, wait, peel, etc.
  • Eventually, all labels will come off. Baste the remaining residue with Googone, then use the rest of the paper towel for a vigorous rub of the whole surface. If some got on the pageblock, or there’s a stain, don’t worry; it’ll evaporate. Give it a day or so to do that. The book will not smell like that forever, but a week or so is not odd.
  • Enjoy the original color of the cover, because on a used book, the uncovered area will be darker than the faded remainder.
  • Take a moment to scoff at their feeble labels.

If you are concerned about safety, wear those thin kitchen gauntlets and eye protection. I’m not, but I’d never encourage anyone not to. Googone has a very strong orange smell and is a petroleum distillate, and can be persistent, so I try to do this somewhere that won’t be a problem. I do make a point of washing my hands very well afterward, and that can take some effort before my hands no longer smell like this stuff. If you are concerned, the company website has Safety Data Sheets in .pdf.

The company’s website also indicates that they have a spray gel, and that may yet be a better method. I’m so cheap that I probably won’t consider it until I’ve used up my current supply of the original. They’ve even got a package they bill as the sticker-lifter, so the Googone people know their customer. Haven’t tried that one either.

Now if only I can figure out a way to fix cracked spines.


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