How to open those plastic packages of electronics without injuring yourself


Small electronics nowadays come in those impossible-to-open plastic packages. A few weeks ago I tried to open one and managed not to slice my hand with the knife I was using. (Those who know me know that knives and I don't get along well.) Unfortunately, I failed to pay close attention to the sharp edges of the cut plastic and ended up cutting three of my fingers.

The next day, I called the manufacturer's product support number and politely asked, "How do I open the package?"

The support person recommended using a pair of very heavy scissors. (I tried scissors, but mine weren't heavy enough and couldn't cut through the thick plastic.) Cut across the top, then down the sides, being careful to avoid the sharp shards you're creating. (You might want to wear gloves.)

If you bought someone a small electronics thingie, consider keeping a pair of heavy scissors on hand. That's my tip for the season.

Comments (57)
  1. Nekto2 says:

    Try to cut-out only the thing you need with knife, instead of making box fully opened.

    This is usefull for flashcards – just cut-out the part with card keeping knife in parallel to descrption paper (===) but not perpendicularly (vertical?) to it (L).

  2. Paul Roub says:

    And they’re not kidding about the "heavy" scissors.

    I have twice broken decent-quality, relatively-new scissors trying to open this type of packaging.

    Now I use the redundant pair of kitchen shears that came with the knives we bought last year.

    Now if someone can come up with a magic way of removing the 17,000 taped-down, plastic-coated-metal twist-ties I’ll be taking out of my daughters’ presents tonight…

  3. Mike Dunn says:

    I feel your pain. As part of my job, I regularly test new MP3 players, and they ALL use that gawd-awful packaging. I’ve got no hand strength, wrist injuries, and wimpy scissors, so I’ve nearly hurt myself trying to open 3 or 4 of those in a day.

    I haven’t gotten to try this yet, but I bet a paper-cutter would do the trick nicely. Too bad we don’t have one of those at work.

  4. Feets says:

    Is there some kind of anti-theft impetus for using this horrible packaging? I can’t see any benefit to it aside from that.

  5. Cooney says:

    I’ve had very good results with my folding knife (kershaw 3" for the curious). For the nasty plastic packages, I stab the middle and cut outwards. Kitchen shears also work too. Just don’t cut your flash card in half.

    As for those anti-theft tags, has anyone taken them off (still armed) and stuck them to the entrance doors?

  6. Scott says:

    How about a good old-fashioned box cutter?

  7. rich says:

    It must be an anti-theft measure. The RFID tag is in the packaging, because you couldn’t attach a tag to some of the tiny electronic gizmos themselves.

  8. Anonymous Coward says:

    I have cut straight through a driver CD that was hidden inside some packaging without realising it. Fortunately everyone makes theirs drivers available on the web and usually newer than what they have on the CD.

    I had heard there was a law in Germany that you could take packaging back to the store where you bought the item and they would have to dispose of it.

    I wish something like that was legislated in the US. My first trip would be to Costco who seems to sell products with way too much packaging.

  9. asdf says:

    My technique used to be to cut one edge off and start two small cuts along the other two edges then pull to get both other edges cut open but then these stupid manufacturers added random circles inside the borders that are fused together so you can’t do that trick anymore.

  10. rich says:

    Anonymous Coward: You’re right about Costco. Their DVDs each come in a great big package which you could fit two into, if it wasn’t stuffed full of polystyrene. What a waste.

  11. Denny says:

    I say we get everyone to call the support lines. I bet if the numbers came back that say 30% or 50% of support calls where complaints about that plasic they would start finding a better way to package.

  12. Jeremy says:

    Thank you for raising this issue. I had been suffering in silence.

  13. lowercase josh says:

    Of course we’re all doomed if they start packaging heavy-duty scissors in this stuff.

  14. Saurabh Jain says:

    You know, hacksaw can do wonders to cut the tough fused plastic edges :-).

    In my last plastic cutting effort, I used a butcher knife (as a hacksaw) to cut through the edge near a corner. The aim was to reach the edge main display area. One can slice through a knife (like a butter) through that plastic. Doing the same on other edges separates the top part from the bottom.

  15. Ry Jones says:

    I use an old-fashioned guillotine-style paper cutter to trim each edge off, or a serrated knife. Once you cut in with one of the serrations, it will ride on the inside of the weld just fine. It takes no time at all to open one this way.

  16. David Lemson says:

    Here’s a good idea I found:

    http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Blister_20Pack_20Rip_20Cord

    As for the reason, it is listed in a comment on that page: you can’t just pop the package open in the store, slip an item into your pocket, close it again, and put it back on the rack.

  17. Arta says:

    This is so true! They drive me mad as well. Fortunately I have a stanley knife with a hooked blade that does the job really well.

    See: http://www.stanleytools.com/default.asp?CATEGORY=SPECIALTY+KNIFE+BLADES&TYPE=PRODUCT&PARTNUMBER=11-961A&SDesc=1996%99+Hook+Blade

  18. Paul says:

    I use aircraft shears from the hardware store. $5. Cuts sheet metal, leather, linoleum tiles and balky plastic packaging.

  19. R.H. says:

    I believe the technical term for this sort of thing is "Space Devil Packaging".

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/view.php3?date=2002-09-30&res=l

  20. Rob Meyer says:

    I use a pair of tin-snips (something like this: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0000DCZBX ). They actually have a longer cutting area, like 3.5 inches, and came in a two pack with a pair of regular tin snips. I bought it because it would be perfect for opening those types of packages. Ironically, it was from Cosco, and came in one of those packages, leaving me with a fun chicken and egg problem…:-)

  21. Brendan says:

    Other than when I fly, I have a decent sized and extremely sharp pocket knife on me… without it, I would never be able to get into those accursed things.

  22. Dominic Self says:

    Grrr… how about we just *stop* using this stupid, offensive plastic packaging that is as useless as it is bad for the environment?

  23. James Hancock says:

    The absolute worst offender for packaging that is impossible to get into????

    MICROSOFT WINDOWS XP.

    MS fix this stuff! It’s horrible!

  24. I sliced into a perfectly good pair of jeans trying to get a new DIMM out of packaging (didn’t cut into my leg, but there was no fabric left between the knife and me) so I feel your pain.

    I hate plastic packaging. I think it’s a theft deterrent and a "return" deterrent :) (all packaging in original condition, yeah right…)

    I bitched about this last year: http://weblogs.asp.net/cszurgot/archive/2004/01/19/60242.aspx

  25. Here’s a thought… Rather than calling the tech support lines, where you still have to open the package, have the clerk at Best Buy open it… I bet Best Buy will figure out a better way to package things after 30 or 40 workman’s comp claims <grin>

  26. Joe says:

    I think Costco uses the huge packaging so people can’t slip it inside their clothes or under to 50lbs of rice.

    As for the bubble packaging, there was a case where I actually WISHED the product I was buying was in that packaging — earbuds for a cellular telephone. I ended up inspecting each package for signs of earwax. I ended up purchasing the product that they "just got in today!"

  27. Mike says:

    About 2 months ago, I cut off a good portion of the UPC code while trying to open the packaging for a miniSD card. The UPC code was on the back, and I was cutting the package open from the front. I’m hoping they don’t disqualify my rebate because of that.

  28. Derek says:

    My Sony D-NF400 portable CD/mp3 player came in a blister package with a built-in ripcord.

  29. Bystander says:

    Imho, it’s one of worst invention that human being ever invented in the history.

  30. Pat Piccolo says:

    Gee, I hadn’t thought of Tin Snips, however, part of my standard office arsenal is the Fiskars pruning & lopping tool (the handheld one… not the 3foot long one) . Yup, it can snip branches 3/8" in diameter according to the instructions… but what it doesn’t tell you is that it can cleanly and easily cut open even the thickest heat-sealed plastic packaging. They don’t cost much more than a pair of good office scissors… but the bright orange handles may gather a few stares.

  31. Andy says:

    EMT shears are becoming pretty easy to find and work well for this also.

  32. tomw says:

    Top and sides is right – my instinct is to cut across the accursed packaging as close as possible to the gizmo, but sometimes instructions (usually poorly written, but that’s another story) are printed inside a folded cardboard insert that gets mangled in the process.

  33. Bob says:

    I use a nice pair of left-handed Fiskars I’ve had for years. Best investment I ever made, they’re holding up nicely after 8 years.

  34. Anonymous says:

    gocool.org &raquo; Darn plastic packaging&#8230;

  35. Mr. Ed says:

    I bought Microsoft Office the other day. I spent a half hour trying to get the hard plastic off, injuring my fingers as usual. After much gnashing of teeth, and bleeding of fingers, I finally liberated the box from its plastic container.

    Then I found out that it had a perforated square on the back that takes about 10 seconds to open.

  36. rob says:

    i usually try to take an x-acto and slice into the "blister" section from the top, like i’m trying to stab the top of the product. then i gently follow the outer contour of the blister, separating it. usually i can get the knife blade to rest behind the product (if it has to touch at all) and the short thin blade helps with that. when i’m done, i have one flat item (the base of the package with the cardboard and whatnot) and one "fingerbowl" (the blister part). works consistently, but you do have to have a small and very sharp knife around.

  37. Ryan says:

    "We can’t take it back, the packaging’s damaged."

    You really haven’t heard that one yet from Best Buy?

  38. Jeremy Morton says:

    The shrink-wrap and tape on CDs I can handle. But several years ago, the Barnes & Noble store in my town would wrap clear packing tape around the shrink wrap of each CD. After a couple CDs, I refused to ever buy them there again. I couldn’t open them without hurting the case.

    I also hate blister packs, and was pleasantly surprised when I got USB christmas trees from http://www.thinkgeek.com and they came in a plastic container that wasn’t sealed shut and could be easily opened and closed. What a concept…

  39. Kev Swindells says:

    When i brought my Creative Zen Touch from Amazon it came in one of these damn packages and I broke two pairs of scissors trying to open it, and once i had the outer shell off there was another inner shell which wasn’t suck down, but was so tight that when i finally pulled it apart the Zen went flying towards the floor, fortunatly it landed on the bean bag… phew!

  40. tsrblke says:

    Thankfully I bought Office XP under my Schools Education liscence, they just handed me three CDs in a plastic baggy, low tech and easy to open.

    I actually had a very *good* experience with that darn blister packaging this year. I got a Targus Cool pad for Christmas and the sides pulled right apart and the top ripped open, the pad was then thin enough to squeeze out the opening. In retro spect, immediately after typing this I realize that there might have already been some work done on the package. I can’t be sure (the package is in the trash) but I wouldn’t be surprised if the UPC had already been taken off for rebate purposes. We’ll assume the best and say the package was 100% in good condition.

    Personally I hate opening audio CDs, the shrink wrap never seems to want to come off, and sometimes when you get it open there’s a tape strip in there as if to make you think one more time about if you want to listen to the CD.

  41. For me, my good old kitchen sheers work wonderfully well. I’m not sure in the grand scheme of things how "heavy duty" they are, but they handle small bones and electronics packaging equally well.

  42. TomS says:

    Along the same lines, my son got a couple of rescue heroes for Christmas and I thought I was going to need a Rescue Hero before I was done getting them out of the packaging. They use this coated metal cord that is twisted in the back of the box and then it is taped over, so you essentially wind up destroying the packaging to get it out.

  43. Zer0 says:

    Remember there is no problem so great that it cannot be solved through the simple and proper use of high explosives.

  44. Adrian says:

    At Home Depot, in the impulse buy area, I saw a tool designed to open those heavy plastic blister packs. It was packaged in–you guessed it–a heavy plastic blister pack. They were clever though, the packaging proclaimed, "This is the last plastic package you’ll ever struggle to open."

  45. TSH says:

    I am part of a team that develops software that is used (among other things) to construct said packaging, so on behalf of the dev team to all who have suffered here: SORRY!

    But if you’re morbidly interested in the technical process of blister pack creation-

    http://www.surfware.com/PA-200406-flexpack.htm

  46. James Hunter says:

    If I remember correctly, on a visit to Wal-Mart some months ago I saw some plastic packs that were even larger than normal– in the Wal-Mart I visited, electronics are isolated inside a fenced off area of the store, with cash registers at the entrance. (So you have to pay for what you take before leaving this section.)

    Products inside the electronics area were in normal-sized plastic packs; products hanging from the fence outside the area were in the giant plastic packs.

    So, yeah, the packs are there to deter theft. If they’re easy to open then they’re easy to open inside the store, which defeats their purpose.

    James

  47. Scott says:

    Last Xmas, I had an interesting experience with these things. I bought a Garmin GPS online and also bought one in Target, because I didn’t think it was going to come on time. The online one had a nice box with a little plastic cover for display. The Target one had the same box, same cover, but the whole thing was wrapped in a super-size blister pack.

    I’m surprised they bother to have different versions of the packaging, but apparently they do.

  48. I highly recommend box-cutters/xacto knife, with a sharp razor blade. The sheath will protect your fingers, and you can punch through the plastic at an appropriate place (preventing injuries on the cut plastic).

    I love how so many things (CDs, DVDs, software, gadgets, etc.) come triple-wrapped in plastic. Is this for freshness? Do the plastic companies bribe the manufacturers to use more plastic? This can’t all be there just to prevent theft.

  49. BradC says:

    I have a pair of scissors that can cut a penny in half, so that works good for the blister packs.

    For the infinite plastic-coated twist-tie children’s toys, I used to open them from the back, peel off the tape, and unwrap the ties. This year, I just grabbed my wire cutters, and cut the twist ties from the FRONT of the package–snip, snip, had them out.

  50. Markus K says:

    Use a Chinese Chopper.

  51. RyanE says:

    Maybe it’s overkill, but since I have one handy I use a bench grinder to grind the seal off three of the edges of the package. This creates a rather nasty plastic dust as a by-product, but I haven’t injured myself or damaged the enclosed product since I adpoted this method. Quick, relatively safe, and even a little fun [or perhaps "grimly satisfying"].

  52. Dan says:

    I use the scissors I got with my little telcom kit when I started working. These scissors http://www.kleintools.com/ can cut a car attenna in half.

    d.

  53. There may be another reason besides theft deterrence that Costco has such large packages: they’re a warehouse store and part of the appeal of buying things there is to buy things that are *big* — giant vats of mayonnaise and 50-pound bags of rice, etc.

    The shelves are huge, the ceilings are thirty feet high: products needs to be in big packages to be noticed.

  54. Ole says:

    The best way to get those d.. packages open is:

    Get someone else to do it for you.. But be sure to standby with a bandaid or two…

  55. My trusty old Rio Carbon died the other day when it fell out of its little carrying case and was abruptly

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