Easy ways to keep your books clean

July 28, 2015

Chances are, the only dirty books you'll ever be concerned with are those gathering dust on a forgotten shelf or ones that get splashed with mud on the way home from school. And here are some easy ways to clean them up.

Easy ways to keep your books clean

1. Dusty book covers

  • Dust them, using a vacuum cleaner armed with its soft brush attachment, or wielding a feather duster.
  • Or, dip a clean rag in water, wring it out, wipe the books and then dry with another rag.
  • If the cover of a book is smudged with fingerprints or smeared with food, use a damp rag to remove spots.
  • If you need more cleaning power, mix 125 ml (1/2 cup) of mild detergent, in a bucket of cool water and test it on an inconspicuous spot. (Sometimes covers will come apart if you use too much soap and water, so it's best to test first.)
  • For a cover that appears safe, wipe with a rag slightly dampened with the detergent solution, then dry with a soft cloth.
  • Can't stand that grimy paperback cover? Use a soft pencil rubber to clean it up. But be careful, as too much pressure can rub off some coloured inks.
  • Grime and sticky label residue on covers can be removed by rubbing very gently with a dab of eucalyptus oil on a soft cloth until the residue has disappeared.

2. Leather-bound volumes

  • Use restraint.
  • Try wiping with a clean cloth first, or use the vacuum to remove visible dust.
  • Fine booksellers sell leather cover cleaners, but be careful, as some conservationists no longer favour using products that contain neat’s-foot oil, lanolin or other oils that can permanently darken or stain the cover and give it a greasy feel.
  • Another consideration is that leather-bound books treated with oil tend to mould when they're jammed in close together in a bookcase.

3. How to freshen a musty book

  • Set up an oscillating fan nearby and open the book so that its pages rustle as the fan sweeps over it.
  • Once the book is dry to the touch, sprinkle the pages liberally with medicated baby powder. Use a soft brush to remove any excess.
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