How to Clean Books

Cleaning books is a big, once-a-year task. But hey, it’s also a fun one, because the best way to keep books clean is to open them up and turn the pages! If you haven’t the time to leaf through your entire collection every year, set aside a day once a year to clean out your bookcases.

If you can, enlist a helper so that whilst one person transfers a wedge of books onto a Table to be cleaned, the other cleans the empty shelf. Incidentally, it’s worth the extra work of cleaning your books away from the bookcase. That way you know the same dust you wipe off now won’t just settle back on the books later.

Where dust has gathered on the top of books, take each one out individually. Be sure to keep the pages shut as you gather up dust with a cloth or, better still a soft paintbrush. If you have packed your bookshelf tightly, there won’t be any dirt inside the pages. So the tops and sides are all that needs doing.

If you feel there may be dirt inside, just hold a paperback by its binding and give the pages a gentle shake. For hardbacks, open up the book, then fan through.

Bookworm isn’t simply a term of endearment. Plenty of small, otherwise-harmless bugs love books. Sweep away any tiny specks you find in your books. To kill all traces, wrap affected books in plastic then pop them into the freezer overnight.

Vacuum the shelves of your bookcase with the crevice tool of your vacuum cleaner. If you’re completely pressed for time leave the books where they are and just vacuum the fronts. Remember to do above the top shelf and also at floor level.

Old books need special care. Bits of binding can flake off and brittle pages can tear. Always consult an expert about cleaning if the books are also valuable.

Leather-bound books can crack if kept in rooms that are too dry. Store books away from radiators and add humidity to the room with a small saucer of water. (Keep this well away from the books of course, to prevent accidents). Annually apply a specialist polish to keep leather covers in good shape (you can use petroleum jelly on books that aren’t that valuable).

Cotton wool (a cotton ball) moistened with milk cleans fabric vellum bindings. Leave to dry fully before returning to the shelf.

Give a paperback that’s falling apart at the seams a blast in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds to give just enough heat to melt the glue so you can tweak the pages back into place.

You can also use heat – this time from a hairdryer on its coolest setting – to remove price labels from book jackets. If that fails, use a paste of flour and water. Coat the label with a teaspoon of the mix, then peel it away when it’s almost dry. As you pick up the paste, the label comes up too.

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