Back in the 1950s, baseball card manufacturers added a stick of gum into their packages. But, over time and heat, the sugary stickiness adheres to the face of the cards. This became concerning when grading valuable, high-ticket cards hit the market in the 1990s.
Ever since, people have scrambled to remove such gooey messes from baseball cards in the hopes of preserving their value, beauty and historicity. So, how do you remove gum stains from baseball cards? There are very few options, but they will involve one of the following ways: freezing, steaming, microwaving, liquid solvents or pantyhose.
Now, with any of these methods, you cannot expect to fully remove all of the gum stain and you should accept that there will be some nicks. So, only do these with cards that don’t have any major value, like a Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth. For those, you should find a reputable baseball card restoration expert.
How Do You Get Gum and/or Gum Stains off a Baseball Card?
If you peek around at online forums and message boards, the advice for removing gum stains is cheeky. Some suggest licking it and others will tell you to gnaw at it with your teeth. Not only are both disgusting and very unhealthy, it’s simply not advisable.
To attempt baseball card preservation and rid it of gum stains while retaining your human dignity, there are only five surefire ways. Although these produce satisfactory results, you should only try them on cards that won’t put you in a panic.
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Gum Intensity Level
First, you have to determine the level of gum adhering to the card. In the event you have a whole stick of 40-something year-old gum, do not pull it off with your fingers. Likewise, don’t use a knife or other implement to pry it off. Doing this will certainly ruin the card.
If it’s only a small smudge or two, you may be able to rub it off with your finger or thumb with gentle circular motions. If that doesn’t work or you feel it pull on the print, stop any try any of the suggestions below.
Pantyhose or Nylon
If the amount of gum stains is minimal but won’t come off with your finger, try a piece of pantyhose or nylon. Gently rub the stain back and forth, side to side and in circular motions until you see the stains disappear.
When there is more than a little gum but far less than a whole stick, place it in the freezer for several hours. Once frozen, take care in bending the card to remove larger pieces. Then, use a paper towel, a piece of nylon or a microfiber towel and rub the rest off with a light touch.
How you go about microwaving will depend on the gum’s severity. But, this is for stubborn, old gum pieces and stains. There are essentially two ways: put it on a paper towel or use a moist paper towel in a Ziploc bag. For either method, if it doesn’t work after three tries, stop and do something else.
For putting it on a paper towel, stick it straight into the microwave. In 15 to 30 second intervals, microwave the card and see if the gum lifts on its own.
The other is moistening a paper towel, putting it in a Ziploc bag and microwaving this until just warm. It can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 1½ minutes depending on your microwave, the bag and amount of moisture. Once heated, place the bag onto the card. See if that removes the gum after a few seconds.
You can use either lighter fluid or a solvent containing hexane, like rubber cement remover. Although this is a little more flammable and caustic than other methods, it works well on tough, ground in gum. But, for whole sticks of old gum, the results are a tossup.
Ensure you’re in a well-ventilated area while keeping small children and pets away. Get a durable dish or container you can put the card in. Place the card down but face up and pour small amounts over the gum until it starts to move without effort.
Don’t worry if you notice some cloudiness or changes in colors on the print, this will dissipate upon evaporation. Allow the solvent to fully evaporate by leaving it out overnight. Then, wipe it down with a paper towel or other soft, clean cloth.
Whether there’s a little stain or a whole 40-year old stick with sugary goo, steaming is the way to go. Boil some water and put it in a glass bowl. With a tweezers, wave the card above the steam. Rock the card back and forth to ensure the steam gets all around the affected area.
Every so often, check the card to wipe off any melted excess with a paper towel. Keep repeating this until all the gum and stains come off. This way does tend to be time consuming, but definitely worth it.
The bottom line is to use your best judgment when choosing any one of these methods. If you have a card that’s worth a considerable amount, take it to a professional restoration expert specializing in baseball cards. Do not risk doing it yourself.
But, if you have a card that’s extra to your collection or you’ve already accepted there’s no hope in salvaging it, go ahead and try any one of the five methods above. The worst that will happen is you’ll ruin the card. Since it’s already crumby, it won’t be much of a loss.
Before you jump in head first though, evaluate the card and the level of gum stuck to it. Consider each of these methods for awhile before deciding. Just know that you won’t have a perfect card after doing this. All methods will, more than likely, leave some marks, nicks and other damage to the face of the card.