Domestic Cleaning Tips – How To Clean Books

updated: 24/05/2024

A close-up shot of an open book

Despite the drive towards paperless offices, the fact remains that most are still full of paper files and books. While the files usually have a defined life after which they may be thrown away, books are things that are kept. But they are also susceptible to decay and damage and must be looked after. You never know when you will need information only in a book and not on your hard drive. While your domestic cleaning company will clean the bookshelves as part of their cleaning service, cleaning old and valuable books is something you should do yourself.

There are two steps to cleaning books.

Cleaning the Outside

Wipe the surface with clean paper or a soft, dry cloth to remove dust. Do not allow any dampness or chemicals to touch the paper, as it may damage it irreparably. If the book has a glossy cover, you can apply a little window cleaning spray to a soft cloth and then wipe the cover. Never spray the cleaner directly onto the cover. If the cover or the pages get damp, place the book in the sun to dry. Do not place it near a fire or use a hair dryer – these could damage the paper.

For leather-bound books, apply a little petroleum jelly to a soft cloth and rub it to a shine. Then, use a dry, soft cloth to rub it to a shine. Do not use any cleaning sprays or polishes on leather-bound books. Not only could they damage this delicate leather, but the spray or polish, if it gets on the pages, can damage the paper.

An old leather-bound open book

Cleaning the Inside

Use a piece of dry white bread to clean the edges of the pages. Keep the book closed and wipe around the sides of the pages with the bread, which will absorb the dirt. You can also use a vacuum cleaner to suck the dirt out of the books. Be careful when doing this with old, fragile books, as the suction force could tear the old paper or damage brittle covers. Do not use any sprays of liquids on the paper. If there are marks or stains on the pages, you can try either:

  • Use a white vinyl eraser to rub at the stains. Always rub from the inside to the outside, careful not to tear the paper.
  •  If the stain is grease or oil, place a paper towel on it and close the book. Lay it flat with a weight on top of it. Leave it for a few days, then remove the paper towel, which should have absorbed the grease.
An old open book

How to Keep Your Copybooks Neat

Copybooks don’t get blotted very often these days, now that fountain pens and dip pens aren’t used in schools, with the result that ink gets all over books, desks and people.

Instead, students use biros, starting a lot younger than they used to (when they’re not using classroom computers for special projects). But books still get grubby, and ink still stains. So how do you clean them? Copybook professional cleaning services? I haven’t heard it yet…

Books will likely get messy if they’re read while eating. Etiquette books will tell you not to read at the meal table at a formal meal, but there’s nothing wrong with a good book to accompany a solo lunch. Or to help a reluctant young eater on the way. But food smears are inevitable, even with the most tidy eater.

Sponge up the excess immediately to clean the liquid mess from books, using whatever is handy. If possible, isolate the page with the mess so the water or other liquid only gets on the one page – grabbing the book by the spine and holding it so the water runs off the pages helps. If the liquid is sticky, use a sponge damp with fresh water to remove the stickiness. Then, dry the book flat, keeping it open on the page where the spill happened. This will stop the pages from drying together and sticking, which can tear them when you try to open them next time. If pages stick together and water is the culprit, you can separate them with minimal damage by sliding a sharp knife between them.

To clear a solid mess from the book, scrape off the excess tomato sauce, porridge or baby food (or whatever) with fingernails and a knife. Then proceed as before, cleaning off the excess with a sponge dampened in fresh water, followed by drying flat on the open page. Unfortunately, if the mess contained oil or grease of any type, the mark will be more or less permanent, leaving the paper somewhat see-through. However, don’t despair and throw the book out. By the looks of some of my old diaries, many of which had candle wax falling on them and leaving a see-through mark, these grease marks on paper seem to fade with time, probably as the fats break down.

Ink can still get everywhere, even though ballpoint pens don’t leak as much as the old fountain pens. Small amounts of biro will wash off hands, wooden desks and clothes with warm, soapy water. Larger amounts need some help in the form of strong alcohol (vodka, methylated spirits, surgical spirit, whisky…) applied to the spot. You may need to soak the ink stain with this to soften it before washing normally. Strong alcohol falling on ballpoint pen ink makes it go all marbly-looking as the alcohol dissolves the ink – this can be worth trying on paper for a special effect.

To remove permanent pen stains from bags, clothes or carpets, strong alcohol is still your best friend. The sooner you get onto the stain, the better. Many people swear by hair spray as the best way to remove permanent pen stains – once again, the alcohol does the job. Alcohol also eliminates filthy graffiti in permanent pens off plastic or vinyl, e.g. on school desks or playground equipment.

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.