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How To Clean Books: Top Tips For Brighter Books!

Last Updated on August 18, 2023 by Louisa

My books are my most beloved possession and so it’s important for me to keep them clean in order for them to last longer.

Since most of them sit on a bookshelf untouched after I’ve read them, they can accumulate dust, dirt, and other debris over time.

Cleaning books may seem like a daunting task if you’re not sure how to do it, but with a bit of know-how and patience, you can learn how to clean them properly.

In this guide, I’ve listed some top tips for cleaning different types of books and the steps you need to take to clean in order to keep your books clean.

Materials Needed to Clean Books

Before you pick up your books and start scrubbing, here is a list of materials you may need to clean your books. Most of these items you will have lying around your home and require minimal effort to source.

The materials will depend largely on the type of book and how dirty your books are, so I will list the materials needed for each book type later.

Here are the materials you will need.

  • 2 microfibre towels. One wet and one dry.
  • Warm soapy water (not hot)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • A clean, dry makeup brush.
  • Cotton swap
  • A small amount of P100 sandpaper
  • Clingfilm or plastic wrap
  • Eraser for removing marks
  • Leather cleaner for leatherbound books

I also recommend you place a towel down on a flat surface so you can catch any drips and dab off excess water where required.

How to Prepare Books For Cleaning

Before you can begin the cleaning process, you need to prepare your books for cleaning. Here are the first steps you must take…

1. Organize your books by type

When it comes to cleaning your books, you must first identify the type of book you have. Each book type, as well as the part of the book you clean, will require you to use different materials and cleaning processes.

Angela, Cleaning Expert from Hellamaid Inc, agrees. She says that “different types of books may require different cleaning methods.”

She goes on to say that, “leather-bound books should be cleaned differently than books with paper or cloth covers. Consider the material of the book and its condition before selecting a cleaning method.”

A top tip would be to organize your books first. Separate your hardbacks, paperbacks, antique books, and old books into piles and identify the correct cleaning process for each.

Related post: How to store antique books

2. Gather the right tools and spot clean first

Before you pick up your tools and start cleaning, you should note that the wrong tools can damage your book.

You should also do a spot test first to ensure you don’t damage the book.

Angela also believes that spot testing is important when clean books. She says “always test a cleaning method on a small, inconspicuous area of the book before attempting to clean the entire book. This can help you avoid causing damage to the book.”

3. Remove dust and debris

Another top tip before you start picking up clothes and cleaning products is to dust your books first.

I suggest you use a hoover to avoid any debris or dirt from getting into the atmosphere and into your respiratory system.

This is especially important when cleaning old or second hand books that are likely to pick up more dirt.

Rachel Rios, from Guelph Maids, agrees. She also suggests using “a HEPA vacuum with a soft dusting brush attachment, as this is a very gentle tool that allows you to clean mold and dirt from old, delicate books without causing any damage.”

When vacuuming, you should also wear gloves and hold the book firmly. Use a low suction setting to avoid causing dust to fly into the atmosphere.

This is the library-approved method when it comes to cleaning old books.

After that, it’s time to start cleaning.

Top tip: Cleaning books with mold requires a different cleaning method. If you have mold or mildew, read our complete guide to cleaning a book with mold here.

How to Clean Book Covers

Book covers are often the part of the book that gets the most dirt and grime because they are the part that is most exposed to the elements.

When cleaning book covers, you should take care and follow the below steps.

Materials required:
– dry microfiber cloth
– clean makeup brush
– warm soapy water (if necessary)
– rubbing alcohol (if necessary)

Step 1

Follow the preparation tips above to remove any dust or dirt before you start cleaning.

Step 2

Dampen a clean cloth slightly and wring out any excess water. Wipe the book cover gently, using circular motions.

When you come to cleaning the spine, arrange the books with the spines facing outwards on a flat surface.

Use a light touch to avoid damaging the pages or book covers. For more stubborn dirt, you can use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to gently remove dirt, stains, or mildew.

Step 3

For more stubborn stains, add a small amount of dish soap to the damp cloth, and repeat the wiping process.

Be sure to use only a small amount of water. If you find that soap is not enough, you can use a small amount of rubbing alcohol but dilute it with water first.

When it comes to cleaning leather books, swap soapy water for leather cleaner or saddle soap. Jennifer Rodriguez, Chief Hygiene Officer of prohousekeepers.com agrees that you should “use a small amount of leather cleaner or saddle soap to clean and condition the cover.”

You should use leather cleaner sparingly, only applying a small amount to a soft cloth and gently rubbing it in a circular motion until the book comes away clean. Wipe away any excess cleaner with a dry cloth.

Step 4

Once the cover has been cleaned, use a dry cloth to remove any excess moisture.

Step 5

Leave to dry in a cool, dark place away from sunlight as this can increase the yellowing of pages. You could use a fan, dehumidifier, or silica gel packets to help absorb the water and speed up the drying process, but don’t put the dehumidifier too close to the book or it may rumple the pages.

Read more: How to dry a wet book

How to Clean Book Pages and Edges

When the pages or edges of books, also known as the fore-edge or the foot, become dirty or discolored, you might be put off cleaning them because they are made of paper.

But there is a delicate way in which you can remove tough dirt and grime. Here’s how you can clean them.

Materials needed:

– Eraser
– P100 sandpaper (if necessary)

Step 1

Follow the preparation steps above to remove any dust or dirt.

Step 2

Use an eraser to rub away any stains or marks on the book. Use a white eraser to avoid transferring any color to the paper.

When it comes to cleaning the edges, hold the pages together and try to erase the dirt with an eraser first.

As a last resort, hold all the pages together and get a fine sandpaper (P100 paper) and gently rub the pages in a downward motion. Do not rub in an upward and downward motion, always rub from top to bottom, following the grain of the paper.

Do not use a colored nail file as the color will pass onto your book. This will essentially sand away the dirty parts.

Here is a great video that shows you how this is done:

Tips for Removing Stains from Books

Some books, particularly older or second-hand books, will have stains and marks from years of use.

If you have stains on the cover, I recommend using a small amount of soapy water on a cloth, ring it out first, and gently rub the cover.

Jennifer also agrees, she says this “is specifically [good] for hardcover books.”

If you have stubborn stains, you can try to use a small amount of diluted rubbing alcohol. Use 50% alcohol and 50% water and do a spot test.

If you have stains on pages, you will want to try the eraser method above. Avoid using any chemicals on the page or it will weaken the structure of the paper.

Tips for Cleaning Used Books

Used books come with their own set of challenges, as they may have accumulated dirt, stains, and most commonly of all, odors.

When cleaning used books, you should follow the steps above for cleaning the cover and pages.

Once the covers and pages have been cleaned, you can sprinkle baking soda on the pages and leave them on for a few hours to absorb any odors.

Then gently brush the baking soda off the pages. You can also place a small tissue with essential oils next to the book to help remove the odor and make them smell nice.

What Not To Do When Cleaning Books

While it’s relatively simple to clean books, should you get it wrong it could be the end of your book.

When cleaning books, you should also ensure not to use water on the book pages as this will cause them to rumple.

Where possible, avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials as this can weaken the structure of the book and cause damage to them in the long term.

Abrasive materials can be anything from steel, wool, or rough towels, which could cause scratches to the cover.

How To Prevent Your Books From Getting Dirty

Prevention is the best method for keeping your books clean. In order to avoid having to clean too frequently, here are some ways to store your books.

  • Books should be stored upright. Books should never be stacked on top of each other as this causes the spine to weaken and bend.
  • Keep books out of sunlight as this will cause the pages to yellow.
  • Keep books off the ground, as they can soak up moisture from the floor.
  • Keep them out of humid areas to stop them from becoming moldy.
  • Use bookends to keep them from leaning on each other. This can cause the spine to weaken.
  • Don’t put them on mantlepieces or on window sills. Despite looking nice, they are areas in direct sunlight that are bad for your books.

Related reading: How to remove sticker residue from books

FAQs About Cleaning Books

Here’s what people usually ask about cleaning books…

What is the best thing to clean books?

The best thing is a damp microfibre cloth and a bit of water. You want to avoid using alcohol or dish soap where possible, but stubborn stains may require it.

Do books need to be cleaned?

Yes, books need to be cleaned in order to preserve them and increase their lifespan.

How often should you clean books?

I recommend dusting your books once a month. Martha Stewart, a well-known cleaner, says to dust them every few weeks to avoid dust build-up, and only clean stains and dirt when required. I usually check my books once a year for signs of this.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, cleaning books may require a bit of patience and care, but it’s well worth the effort to keep your beloved books looking their best.

By following the above tips, you can keep your books clean and looking their best, so that you can enjoy them for years to come.

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About Louisa Smith

Editor/Founder - Epic Book Society

Louisa is the Founder, Editor, and Head Honcho of Epic Book Society. She was born and raised in the United Kingdom and graduated from the University for the Creative Arts with a degree in Journalism. Louisa began her writing career at the age of 7 when her poetry was published in an anthology of poems to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. Upon graduating university, she spent several years working as a journalist writing about books before transitioning to become a Primary School Teacher. Louisa loves all genres of books, but her favorites are Sci-Fi, Romance, Fantasy, and Young Adult Fiction. Read more Louisa's story here.

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