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How to Clean and Care for Your Books

17 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

Keeping your books clean generally requires little more than patience and a few common household items. If you want to invest a small amount of time and money, you can protect your books and keep them in good repair.

What You Need

  • A soft clean cloth. I prefer soft cotton, such as flannel, or soft terry cloth.
  • Rubbing alcohol.
  • Dry cleaning pad. Also called document cleaning pad. Library supply companies, such as Brodart, sell these.

Books with Laminated Covers

If the book has a laminated cover, pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol on the cloth. Do not pour the alcohol directly on the book. Then gently rub the cover until it is clean. Use this method to clean softcover books or dust jackets protected with a layer of laminate.

Hardcover Cloth Books

For books without dust jackets, or books consisting of cloth-covered boards, rub the dry cleaning pad over the boards. As long as the cloth hasn’t begun to fray, you don’t have to be particularly gentle. Some stains may require a bit of hard rubbing.

I do this outside because the dry cleaning substance breaks down during the rubbing process – as it should. You’ll have to brush it off the book when you are finished.

Books without Laminated Covers

Some old paperbacks or old dust jackets do not have a layer of laminate. You’ll also see books where the laminate is peeling away. In this case, do not use rubbing alcohol because it’ll eat the color. It may even destroy the cover.

For dust jackets, protect them from further dirt and wear with a plastic book cover. Library supply companies sell these.

Books that Smell of Smoke

Despite what you may read elsewhere, nothing absorbs the smell of smoke from a book. At best, you may cover up the odor with a stronger fragrance – perfume, for instance. But you’ll never rid the book entirely of the smell.

What You Need

  • Box with airtight lid.
  • Room air freshener.

If you prefer a strong odor of perfume to the smell of cigarette smoke, for instance, find a box with an airtight lid. You can buy a plastic box with an airtight lid at most department stores.

Stand the book up in the box so that the lower page edges are the only part of the book touching the box. Place the air freshener in the box with the book, but make sure it isn’t touching the book. Keep the book in the box for 2-3 days.

Cleaning Gunk from Pages

If you have ever opened a used book to find a dead fly, or worse, stuck to the pages, then you know what I mean by “gunk.” If the gunk is thoroughly dry, take a small piece of light-weight sandpaper and rub it gently over the gunk until it falls away. This is a fairly gross job. You may want to wear rubber gloves.

Protecting Your Books

If you want to protect your books from dust, dirt or just day-to-day handling, store them in a bookcase in an upright position. Never store hardcover books in piles or place them so that the spine is horizontal rather than vertical. Doing so may weaken the spine and may cause it to break.

Use a feather duster often to keep them free of dust. Protect book jackets with plastic covers.

One final thought: If you use Glu-B-Gone, or a similar oil-based product, to remove sticker residue, take care. Do not use it on a book you want as a collector’s item. Rubbing alcohol – assuming the surface is laminated – will work to remove glue eventually. These products leave an oily residue that can stain the book.

Do you have any book cleaning or repair tips? Please leave a comment.

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