I have a stack of incoming mail containing envelopes of various sizes and shapes. What is the quickest, easiest way to extract the contents?

My current technique is to give each envelope a quick shake to drop the contents to the left side, then use scissors to cut about 1 mm off the right side. Then I reach in and pull out whatever is inside. It takes a bit of time to do a stack of envelopes, leaves an annoying pile of little slices, and there is a chance that a tiny piece of the contents will be cut if the contents fail to shift when I shake.

Is there a better way?

  • Wow, this seems like a interesting problem! :) But I am having trouble understanding the problem completely, maybe some pictures would help? Either way Thanks for your Contribution and Welcome to Life Hacks Stack Exchange :)
    – Pobrecita
    Jan 3, 2015 at 7:51

6 Answers 6


There are two easy ways to open an envelope without damaging the contents:

Letter Opener

This is by far the easiest method if you have one. Simply flip the letter over, slide the letter opener under the top flap and slide it across the top, cutting the top of the envelope. There is very little chance of cutting anything inside once you have the hang of it.

Your Hand

This is a very often overlooked tool to open letters. All you have to do is flip the letter over and insert your right thumb under the right side of the envelope flap and push it up. Then insert your pointer finger on your left hand under the flap and slide your hand over to the left. This will open almost any standard envelope without using any tools.


Method 1 - Freezing

Put all the envelopes on freezer for two hours. It freezes the adhesive and a slight flip on the envelope flap with a knife will help. You can put inside a plastic cover before putting it inside the freezer, if you worry about the moisture.

Method 2 - Steam

Iron the flap of the envelope with steam mode and pry to open the seal. This is the improved version of using water steam, but sometimes steam may make the envelope warped.

We can also use the steam from other sources like kettle or boiling water. I used steam iron because it is accurate on the flap and less effort. However this method is time consuming.

Method 3 - Microwaving

Put all your envelopes in a microwave for 10-15 secs and slight flip on the flap of the sealed envelope is enough. This is good method and I have tried. Do not crowd the microwave with envelopes, make sure adhesives are exposed to microwaves.

Microwave may burn any paper if it is thin and over heated, So just monitor it and increase +5 secs from 10 secs if needed. Use on own risk

Method 4 - Duct tape

If you do not want the envelope for any reference and not worried on the duct tape cost, then stick some section of duct tape on the envelope and peel it off fast. It will make an opening in the envelope and so you can tear the envelope apart fully.

  • Hi! I think this answer covers a lot of angles :), but for Method 2 couldn't you use other sources of steam other than a Iron? This article on WikiHow seems to think so and since a lot of the methods you stated are in that article I really thought it would help you! Another thing I had concerns about is "How safe is it to put paper in a Microwave" and "Doesn't Duct Tape tear the Envelope and could you add some pics to show how that works". These are just suggestions, this is off to a good start it appears! :)
    – Pobrecita
    Jan 3, 2015 at 8:55
  • 1
    @darthnesscoveredthesky 1. This is common practices we follow in our home. Mostly many people knows freezing & steaming are common hack for adhesive. Any sources of steam are fine, but ironing is accurate on adhesive and less effort. I saw your link, It has two other methods. 2. Reg concern of safety using microwave, I mentioned 10-15 secs, I have experimented many times. 3. Obviously intention is to tear the envelope using duct tape, already mentioned in answer "if envelope is not needed" Jan 3, 2015 at 9:07
  • 1
    Great explanation! 1+ for helping me understand what a great answer this really is and of course for writing the post :) I think that you should edit everything you told me into the post to help others that may need "expertise" help but may not understand. Because frankly, you say these are common practices, but I've never really experienced them :) I think that for the Method 3 you should have a "Use at your own risk comment", but again I have all these suggestions ;)
    – Pobrecita
    Jan 3, 2015 at 9:14
  • 1
    @Shokhet I believe OP wanted a quick way for the process of opening the envelope, not to be confused with reading the letter. Jan 4, 2015 at 3:59
  • 1
    @Shokhet OP mentioned he receives many mail of various size and as per his method he has to shake each envelope and cut the border with scissors. If he is having 50, He has to do the same for each envelope. If he can keep the 50 envelopes in a freezer, He can open each with a single flip. He doesn't have to push the content left or use scissors. It will not create any tiny slices of mess and not to worry on the risk of cutting the content. Along with the word 'quickest' OP mentioned many unsatisfactory things, This method can solve everything. Jan 4, 2015 at 4:36

I open envelopes by bumping contents to one side, then grasping the corner and tearing the end off the envelope. The strength of the folded paper structure usually causes the end to come off in a narrow strip. If any remains, insert a finger and tear it. The letter will usually fall out. This is quick, requires no tools, but also saves the envelope if needed.

  • This is a nice, interesting solution to the problem, that doesn't require any tools; however, the OP specified part of his problem was that he had all these little scraps of paper from the end of the envelope floating around on his desk after opening them -- this doesn't really solve that part of the problem. Do you have any other solutions?
    – Shokhet
    Jan 4, 2015 at 4:03
  • He has scraps of paper from using scissors. Tearing the end off is a lot easier and quicker. Thanks for saying my solution is interesting. Jan 4, 2015 at 4:35
  • Oh! Now I understand your answer! ....I thought you were saying to rip off the end -- you're telling him to rip open the end! Now I got it :) ..... this is a good answer :)
    – Shokhet
    Jan 4, 2015 at 4:51
  • Yes, the folded paper on the very end of the envelope acts like a cord and tears right off. With practice it comes off quick. Jan 4, 2015 at 5:07
  • I'll have to try that sometime. Thanks for explaining! :)
    – Shokhet
    Jan 4, 2015 at 5:13

I have two very useful methods that I use.

Use a knife

You can use a small knife (serrated or non-serrated) to open the envelopes. Just put the knife in the little slot where the envelope is not sealed and just cut open the top of the envelope.

Use a popsicle stick

You can also use a popsicle stick (preferably a thicker one) to open envelopes. Just put the stick in the slot (same as with the knife) and just run the popsicle stick from one end to the other. This is better if you don't want to damage the envelope.

  • Why in the world would you use a serrated knife? If you're looking for a quick, easy cut, non-serrated is so much better.
    – Shokhet
    Jan 4, 2015 at 3:35
  • @Shokhet Serrated has been quicker for me than non-serrated
    – michaelpri
    Jan 4, 2015 at 5:30
  • Hm....a sharp, non-serrated knife will cut paper much easier than serrated knives will, in my experience. I wonder what differences there are in our respective situations that might affect that; this is odd.
    – Shokhet
    Jan 4, 2015 at 5:37
  • Just edited in that it can be either serrated or non-serrated. It is strange though.
    – michaelpri
    Jan 4, 2015 at 5:38

I've just opened 50 letters using an Icy Pole Stick (popsicle stick in USA or Lolly Stick in UK). I created a YouTube video of doing the first 6. Quick and easy no paper cuts to fingers or damaged letters.


I have a little battery powered cutter that cuts a very narrow strip from the top of the envelope, I think I purchased it at Walmart. One place I worked at had a machine that costs about $200 if you have a large amount of mail coming in. Check at some of the office supply stores if you want to go that route.

  • 1
    Interesting! Do you ever have problems with it cutting into the contents of the envelope?
    – Robert
    Jan 4, 2015 at 18:02

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