How to open an envelope without destroying it
Opening a sealed envelope without damaging it may be difficult, and no one approach will work for every letter owing to variances in adhesive type. Working slowly and gently will leave you with just scraps of paper and regret.
Using Leverage and Water
1. To limit the possibility of harm, try this first. This approach works best on thick paper envelopes or envelopes with weakly adhered glue, but it’s difficult to anticipate whether it will work on a certain envelope until you try it. Although it is not as successful as heating the envelope open, it is less likely to damage the envelope or its contents, making it a decent place to start.
2. Locate a tongue depressor or other comparable equipment. Some envelopes, but not all, can be opened gently using nothing more than a flat, curved wooden implement, such as a tongue depressor.
- An ancient CIA guideline states that the instrument should have a smooth edge, ideally with a curved, blunt point.
- These tools may be manufactured by filing a piece of wood or an ivory piano key blank, but any flat tool with the stated form should work.
3. Insert the tool under the corner flap. Look for a little gap in the corner of the envelope flap that hasn’t been sealed shut. Insert the tip of the tongue depressor or equivalent instrument carefully into this hole. If the flap is entirely closed, gently insert a wire or other thin item into the corner to make a space for the tongue depressor.
4. If the flap does not give way, prepare to come to a halt. Methodically follow the instructions below, using slow, tiny motions. Stop and go to the next stage if the paper does not react or if you hear, feel, or see a rip in the paper.
5. Hold the envelope in place while rocking the tool up and down. Hold the envelope flat against the table with your non-dominant hand to keep it from moving. Rock the tool in your other hand up and down, providing gentle pressure to the envelope flap’s edge. If the envelope reacts, continue the process to unseal the remaining flap. If it continues to refuse, go to the next step.
6. Slightly dampen a cotton swab. Fill a basin or cup halfway with clean water, ideally distilled. To remove extra water, dip a cotton swab into it and press it on blotting paper or a paper towel. Water should only be used in modest quantities to weaken the envelope flap’s paper and glue; too much water might cause the ink to bleed and the paper to rip.
If you have only partially opened the envelope, you may absorb any surplus water by folding a piece of blotting paper and sticking it beneath the flap.
7. Apply the damp swab to the trapped flap. Concentrate only on the problem area. Press down for a few seconds to allow the adhesive to soften before repeating the lifting procedure with the tongue depressor. If the flap stays stuck, repeat the process until it comes free, or switch to the steam approach.
- Never use water over an area that has ink or a stamp over it.
- Some envelope adhesives are not water soluble. If you don’t see any effects, try the cutting approach instead. Try steaming if you observe slight results but not enough to open the envelope.
8. If there are any more flaps, try them. Some envelopes feature numerous “built in” folds that were sealed during the manufacturing process. If they react to this strategy, you may open the envelope from the side rather than the top.
Whatever technique you choose, the flap may be re-sealed with small dabs of glue placed around the flap with a toothpick. When the glue is slightly dampened, some envelopes will become sticky again.
Freezing an Envelope
1. Place the envelope in a plastic bag and seal it. This will keep moisture out of it while it’s in the freezer.
2. Freeze the envelope for a couple of hours. When frozen, certain envelope glues, but not all, may become loose and sticky again.
3. Pry open the packet. Use a blunt, smooth implement, such as a tongue depressor or butter knife, or a penknife with caution. The flap will not come away on its own, but it may grow slack enough to pull without ripping if you’re fortunate.
4. When you’re done, reseal the envelope. Some envelopes may be re-sealed by wetting the adhesive on the flap with a cotton swab. Others may need discreet dabs of glue to be sealed.
Steaming an Envelope Open
1. Use this on envelopes that have been licked shut. Because the glue used (usually latex) is not water-soluble, this approach may not work on self-adhesive envelopes. If you’re not sure whatever sort of envelope you’re dealing with, use a little quantity of steam to test the process without destroying the paper or ink.
2. Begin with a cup of boiling water. Fill a thin cup halfway with boiling water. This will not create much steam, but it is a good starting point for novices to decrease the chance of paper damage. If it doesn’t work, the next stages will progress to more powerful, riskier ways.
Remove the envelope ink from the steam and try another technique if it seems moist or begins to run.
3. Prepare a flat opening tool by heating it in the oven. Warm a tongue depressor, butter knife, or other flat, blunt object for 10 seconds in the steam, then brush off the water droplets. This prevents steam from condensing on the envelope flap around a cold tool, which may cause water damage to the paper and ink.
4. Make an attempt to open the envelope. Place the heated tool on the flap’s corner. Keep this corner in the route of the steam. Gently press the envelope against the tool’s tip, stopping anytime you sense resistance. The tool should remain in position so that the area you’re working on is constantly submerged in steam. As you work, spin the envelope so that the liberated flap does not come into contact with the envelope again, and then reattach it.
A smooth, continuous motion is less likely to cause creases, but it has a larger risk of harm if you are inexperienced.
5. Try a steam jet from a kettle. If the moderate steam is insufficient, try turning on a water-filled kettle to generate a steady stream of hot steam. Rep the previous stages to open the envelope in this hotter steam jet. Move fast but gently, since too much steam might cause wrinkles or dampening of the paper.
- To keep your hands safe, use an oven mitt.
- Stick a spoon or other heat-safe item into the spout of your kettle to restrict the aperture if it doesn’t generate a focussed stream.
6. If required, use an iron to smooth the opened envelope. Before restoring the contents, allow the envelope to cool and dry. If the envelope’s paper or contents become wrinkled after drying, cover with a dry towel and smooth the paper out again using an iron on the lowest setting over the cloth.
7. Once the contents are back in place and dry, re-lick or use a little dab of glue to bind them once again. You might also try freezing the envelope for a few hours; certain glues become sticky again when frozen.
Cutting and Repairing with Papier-mâché Paste
1. Understand the dangers. This is a unique way to conceal a cut in the side by using Papier-mâché paste to close the entrance. The existence of papier-mâché will be noticeable if it becomes too thick, too weak, or too sticky. This strategy is best suited for letters that will not be closely studied or handled. You may also need a significant amount of time to alter the papier-mâché seal.
2. Place the envelope in front of a bright light. Hold it up to a bright light or a window to see the document’s shadow within. Make a mental note of where it is and take care not to disrupt the document inside.
3. Cut the envelope’s corner. Cut off an incredibly tiny corner, ideally the bottom, using a pair of sharp, little scissors, being careful not to snip the paper.
4. Cut the envelope open on the short side. Cut along the crease of the envelope’s side, without reducing any width but effectively opening the envelope. You may now read the document or insert any resources that you neglected to include in your mailing list.
5. Make a tiny quantity of papier-mâché paste. To get a reasonably flowing mixture, combine white flour and water. Test this on a scrap of folded paper to determine whether it will remain together once dry. If required, add additional flour until the mixture dries hard in a thin layer.
- Boiling the flour-water paste causes it to dry clear rather than white or off-white, but it also makes it weaker.
- Boiling is essential for dark-colored envelopes to hide the papier-mâché.
6. Once completed, seal the cut using Papier-mâché. Spread the paper mâché paste over the edge of the envelope cut with a letter opener or other smooth-edged tool. Take care not to get the paper damp inside.
7. Allow it to dry before repeating if required. Wait until everything is completely dry. Apply a second coat of papier-mâché paste for a firmer seal. Repeat until there are no apparent holes and the side remains adhered together.
8. Sand away the rough chunks of paste from your envelope using fine sandpaper. Work gently to prevent harming the envelope, particularly if the edge you’re sanding has ink on it. After the visible paste is removed, the envelope should resemble a regular, unopened envelope.