How to Clean Books

Several books.

You clicked on this article because you had to see what cockamamie solutions I suggest for cleaning books. You’re still reading because I haven’t suggested anything yet. And you’re about to stop reading unless I start in on something related to the article topic. Here it is: You can’t clean a truly messed up book. This means that you’re stuck with the set coffee stains, the yellowing, and the water damage. However, there are some things you can do to clean up the covers of your books. Even if you’ve spilled something on them, there are options, so long as the liquid does not have a chance to set.

A Quick Reference Guide to Cleaning Books

  1. collection of booksMass market. Smaller, more inexpensive paperback book. In years past, mass market paperbacks were all uniform size with varying prices. In recent years, publishers have introduced a larger size of mass market with a uniform price. These usually have a glossy finish. Trade paperback. A larger, more expensive form of the paperback book. Typically finished with more of a matte look, the price varies from title to title. Dust jacket. The covering for a hardcover book that protects it from life’s smaller elements. Hardcover sans dust jacket. A hardcover book without a dust jacket. Hardcover books are typically bound in a paper-like cloth and cardboard.
  2. open bookSpills on the pages. The moment you spill anything on your book, you need to get a towel or paper towel and begin sopping it up as quickly as possible. Be sure to soak up the liquid on the pages—do not press or rub. Get as much as you can off the pages before it sets. Coffee and soda will set in a few minutes. Once you’ve managed to sop it up as best you can, lay the book open to air-dry. If you’ve spilled on the smaller, mass market paperback, you may have to weigh it down to hold the cover open. The book will take a long time to dry if it’s closed, and you’re likely to have whatever was spilled seep through to additional pages.
  3. spraying the cover of a bookSpills on the cover. Depending on the kind of book you’ve spilled on, this could be relatively easy. Most mass market books have a protective, glossy finish that allows liquids (save for hydrochloric acid, in which case just buy a new book) to simply be wiped clean. Use a cloth or paper towel and wipe off the spill before the liquid spreads to the pages. Trade paperbacks usually have a glossy finish, as well, but just as many have a matte finish. A matte finish should wipe clean as easily as a glossy finish, but matte will stain and set faster, so do so quickly. If you’ve spilled on the dust jacket of a hardcover book, simply remove the dust jacket, wipe it clean, and place it back on the book. Should you find that you’ve spilled on a hardcover book without its dust jacket, quickly grab an extremely absorbent cloth. Place it on the cover to soak up the spill. Most hardcover books are bound in a paper-like cloth and cardboard, and stains can be easily spotted depending on the color. Absolutely do NOT rub a spill. Instead, press lightly to soak up any liquid.
  4. used sticker on bookSticky stuff on the cover. On books with a glossy finish, this is not a problem. A multipurpose cleaner like the Seventh Generation Natural Glass & Surface Cleaner, can be sprayed on the spot. Left to soak for about ten minutes, the cleaner will break down the adhesive residue. Use the edge of a plastic ruler to gently scrape the sticky stuff off the cover of your book. This will also work on dust jackets. For books with a matte finish, use a hand sanitizer instead (try Clean Well Hand Sanitizer). Let it soak for no more than three minutes, and then use the plastic ruler method above to scrape the gunk off. Hardcover books sans dust jackets are the hardest to clean in this manner. Take a piece of scotch tape and make a loop around your middle 3 fingers with the sticky side out. Use this to try and get as much of the sticky stuff off your book as you can. NEVER apply a liquid-based cleaner to a hardcover book.
  5. marks on book coverMarks on the cover. A hand sanitizer is the easiest way to remove marks from dust jackets and books with glossy or matte finish covers. Spray or drop a little of this on your book, and scrub gently with a soft cloth. Depending on the nature of the marks, they may or may not disappear. Do not use paper products to scrub your books. Trying to remove marks from a hardcover book will only make it worse. Besides, it adds character.
  6. water in toilet bowlCrap! I dropped the book in the toilet! If you’re reading this, you’re either screwed or curious. The best you can hope for here is to dry the book out. There will be water stains, and the pages will be stiff once they are dry. The text should still be legible. Lay paperback books on their spines and pin the covers down so the pages are open to the air. If you’re clumsy enough to have dropped a hardcover, simply leave it open. You can use a hair dryer, but be warned that this will make the pages stiff and brittle.

A Few Closing Thoughts on Book Cleaning

Cleaning books is tricky business. In specific circumstances, you can restore a book to its original look, but you have to be both patient and gentle. More often than not, you are going to be stuck with a stained book, or be forced to purchase a new one. It is also worthwhile to note that a lot of used bookstores use stickers to indicate the price. The sooner you remove the stickers, the easier it will be. If you leave them on for a while, they will adhere almost permanently.

I’ve worked in books since high school (which is a lot longer ago than I’m willing to admit), and I love the weight of the book in my hand and the smell of the paper. I love a physical book. However, there are some major reasons why to make the switch to an eReader:

1. Paperless. Whether we want to believe it or not, paper comes from trees. And trees are extremely important.

2. Most eReaders are well protected against stains and the like.

3. You can hold literally thousands of books on one device, saving space in your home.

Ultimately, eReaders are the wave of the future. Some economists have theorized that brick and mortar bookstores will be obsolete within 10 years. Others have predicted as soon as 5 years, but that seems a mite fast to me. Ultimately, there will come a day when you won’t be able to purchase a physical book. Or the world will end before this becomes an issue. Either way, good luck!

All-Natural Products for Cleaning Books

spray bottle of seventh generationSeventh Generation Natural Glass & Surface Cleaner.As the name suggest, this product is all natural, safe to use, and does the job just as well as any other cleaner. It is especially good for removing sticky residue from glossy covers.

bottle of clean wellClean Well Hand Sanitizer. This is a natural hand sanitizer. It’s alcohol-free and promises to kill 99.99% of germs on your hands. Plus, it’s good for the environment. Useful for cleaning books with matte covers. It’s quite inexpensive when bought in three packs on Amazon.

brown paperBrown paper book cover. The best way to keep your books clean and safe is a book cover. And while there are several you can purchase at many bookstores across the country, the best, cheapest, most accessible way to cover your books is with brown paper from a shopping bag. When it gets beat up, you just recycle it.