How to Remove Yellow Stains from Paper

You may have come across an old book or document that is peppered with yellow spots. These unsightly stains are caused by the growth of fungi or mildew, usually because the item has been exposed to prolonged moisture or humidity. The technical term for this is foxing, and today we will be exploring a method to remove yellow spots from paper.

Foxing is commonly encountered on the pages of old books, paintings, certificates, documents and generally on most printed material that has been stored away for some time. If left on shelves and drawers in less than ideal indoor air quality conditions, yellow or rust-coloured spots and stains tend to form over time.

“Foxing has to do with fungi and nothing to do with rust other than the colour it imitates…”

Interestingly, the term foxing has nothing to do with the animal. It is derived from the chemical term for rust, which is iron oxide or Ferric OXide in Latin. One can quickly see where FOX comes from and how it is associated with the rust-coloured stains on old paper and fabric.


Today we will attempt to remove foxing spots from some old certificate and fabric. Seen here are a box and paper certificate from the Royal Mint for a 1985 half sovereign gold coin.

The foxing stains are clearly visible, more so on the paper than on the fabric in the box.

remove foxing stains
Faint rust-coloured foxing stains appear on the white fabric on the inside of the box.
remove yellow spots from paper
Dark yellow stains and patches appear more visibly on the accompanying certificate card.


For this task, we will need:

  • hydrogen peroxide (6% pharmaceutical grade H2O2 solution is ideal)
  • Q-tips/cotton bud (optional)
  • facial cotton
remove foxing
Items required before starting work on removing foxing stains.

Do not use a high-concentration solution as hydrogen peroxide is a strong oxidising agent and the bleaching effect may do irreparable damage to your item. If your item is delicate and you prefer to do it at a more gradual pace, you could dilute your hydrogen peroxide with distilled water.

To be on the safe side, you can consider using food grade hydrogen peroxide solution. Try to avoid any with an acidic content if you can. In the one used below, the solution contains a very minute amount (0.01% w/v) of benzoic acid as preservative and it worked fine.

Having said that, if you’re working on any valuable item or document of significant historical importance, the removal of foxing stains and the restoration of such artefacts should be done by a professional.

If you’ve got the items above ready, let’s proceed!

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How to Remove Yellow Spots (Foxing Stains)

remove foxing stains
1. If you’d like to use the Q-tip to work on a small area, first place a generous amount of hydrogen peroxide on a piece of facial cotton.
remove foxing stains
2. Fold the wet facial cotton around the Q-tip and press to transfer some amount of hydrogen peroxide to the end of the Q-tip. Doing this instead of dipping the Q-tip into the solution ensures that the Q-tip is not over-drenched in hydrogen peroxide, which can be damaging to paper materials.
remove yellow stains from paper
3. Apply the wet tip on a foxing spot. Be gentle and do not rub it in too hard or you may risk removing fibres from the paper. I found it helpful to touch it lightly and do a scooping up motion as if to lift dirt off a sensitive surface. Always start gently. As you get a feel for how the paper reacts to the wet Q-tip, you can increase the level of wetness and the strength of your stroke against the paper. Keep in mind that delicate paper material can get damaged and warped beyond repair if it gets too wet.
remove yellow stains from paper
4. Once you are comfortable with the amount of hydrogen peroxide that can be applied without damaging the paper, you may even consider using the facial cotton to dab and apply the hydrogen peroxide onto larger blobs of foxing stains on the paper. I found this to be effective. Still, be very careful with the amount of solution that gets in contact with the paper.
remove yellow stains from paper
5. It may help to place the card on a soft solid surface and dab the cotton down with a little bit more pressure. This way, the card is kept flat and not forced to bend or warp as you apply pressure.
how to remove yellow stains from paper
6. Allow the wet card to dry on its own by gentle moving air or under a ceiling fan. Do not use a heat blower or hair dryer or any form of forced ventilation as it may warp or damage the damp card.
remove yellow stains from paper
7. While paper is more fragile and delicate, fabric is a lot easier to work with, provided it is still intact and not at a point of disintegrating or crumbling. You can apply a bit more pressure with more solution. Be careful with areas that are sensitive to water or with printing.
remove yellow stains from paper
8. Allow both items to dry under a ceiling fan. Remember not to use any heat blower or hair dryer for quick drying as it may damage or warp paper.
remove yellow stains from paper
9. Apply the solution to the same areas once they have dried, and allow the items to dry again. Repeat the process above as many times as it takes to remove the stains to your level of satisfaction. The key is to do the wetting and drying gently over multiple times.
remove yellow stains from paper
10. You will notice that if done correctly, even after 2 rounds produce quite noticeable results. For these items, I went as many as 8 rounds, until the card (see below) and fabric were almost 100% clear of yellow spots and foxing stains.

End Results

The result after just 2 rounds of dabbing was already quite noticeable. I found that using the facial cotton to dab was actually more effective than using the Q-tip, although for very small areas, the Q-tip works just as well.

I did a total of about 8 rounds of dabbing and drying for the certificate card. The difference between the before and after is as shown in the photos below:

how to remove foxing stain from paper
Before the start of foxing removal work.
remove foxing from paper
After 8 cycles of gentle dabbing and drying.

The key things to remember with using the above method are:

  1. The applicator (facial cotton or Q-tip) should not be oversaturated with the hydrogen peroxide solution especially when working with paper media (certificates, documents etc) – overdampening will likely damage or warp the media beyond repair.
  2. Exercise caution when using the rubbing motion with the Q-tip on paper as friction and moisture could remove fibres from the paper media and cause irreparable damage.
  3. Be wary of where the hydrogen peroxide solution is applied – avoid contact with coloured or printed areas of the document to prevent obliteration.

If you have attempted to remove foxing stains using the method above, hopefully it has worked well for you. Do share your experience with other readers if you have a different or even better way of doing it.

remove yellow stains from paper
Foxing stains removed. Old box and certificate card have been restored to their former glory!




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