I love old books, the way they look, the way they smell, and the stories they tell, which go way beyond the words on the pages. But more often than not, old books need a thorough clean in order to look their best. From grubby marks on the inside pages to stains on the covers and mold along the spine, old books inevitably attract some dirt and grime over the years.
And of course, the same can be said for newer books too. Maybe you spilled some coffee on your brand new hardback, or perhaps your little ones attacked the cover of a library book with their crayons. Whatever your book emergency, there’s no need to panic just yet. There are some super effective methods you can use to clean your old books as well as new ones, that will give them a whole new lease of life.
But books are delicate things, and you have to be careful about the products and the methods you choose to clean them up. In this article, I’ll give you a rundown of some of the best ways to clean the various parts of a book. I’ll also share some tips and tricks to tackle tough stains in a gentle way that won’t cause any unnecessary damage.
How to Clean Different Parts of a Book?
#1. Cloth Covers
Book covers made from cloth are often more challenging to clean than covers made from smoother, less porous materials like plastic or polythene. But there are some book cleaning products which work well on cloth covers when they’re used correctly.
It’s best to opt for a dry product to clean any cloth-based book cover. Absorbent, a soft and pliable cleaner that requires no water, is a popular choice that works on any surface you need to keep dry, including books and other paper objects. The cleaning mechanism acts as an eraser and absorbs all kinds of grime and residue, such as dust, smoke, grease, and general dirt. You can also use it on the pages of a book too.
Like most cleaning products, there is a small chance that Absorene can cause color loss or other damage, so always test it on a small inconspicuous area before starting.
#2. Leather Covers
Some types of leather are easier to clean than others, but as a general rule, you can use regular leather cleaner to spot clean stains on your leather book covers. Petroleum-based cleaners are one of the most effective types of leather cleaner, but you can also use saddle soap to remove deeply embedded dirt or grime from smooth leather covers.
Suede is a whole different story, and removing stains from this type of book cover is notoriously tricky. If you’re dealing with a precious suede-bound book, then it’s best to take it to a professional.
#3. Plastic Covers
Cleaning plastic covers is considerably easier than cleaning a cloth cover, as the non-porous surface is easy to wipe clean. But if you have a stubborn stain on a plastic-based book cover, you might need more than a simple damp cloth to fix the problem.
Demco book cleaner is a popular choice. When mixed with hot water, this specially formulated solution has an average pH of 10.5 and is one of the safest ways to clean covers and pages without the risk of corrosion.
But it’s not always necessary to buy a special product to clean a plastic book cover. Acetone, or simple nail polish remover, can banish the most stubborn stains from non-porous surfaces. Simply apply a few drops to an absorbent cotton swap and gently wipe over the surface of the cover. You can also use rubbing alcohol in the same way.
Again, always be sure to test a small area to make sure you don’t inadvertently remove the image on the cover along with your stain.
To clean general dirt and grime from the surface of a page, it’s best to use specialized book cleaning products like the ones I mentioned above. Just make sure to follow the product guidelines carefully, as there are different methods to follow depending on what type of paper you are working with and which area of a book you are cleaning.
Pages are the most delicate part of a book, and applying the wrong product or using the wrong method can further damage a book’s appearance and even make the text illegible.
#5. Page Edges
Page edges are often one of the first parts of a book to appear stained or dirty, especially when the pages are white. Giving them a clean can transform a book’s appearance and make it look good as new.
You can use the specialized book cleaning products mentioned above to clean the page edges of any book. But if you don’t want to spend too much money, you can also use the sandpaper method.
Simply take a small piece of fine-grain sandpaper and lightly rub it down the edges of the pages while the book is tightly closed. This removes a very thin layer, including any dirt, and brings the book’s page block back to its original color.
Common Stains on a Book and How to Remove Them?
What you use to clean any part of a book will also depend on the type of dirt you’re up against. Here are some tips for removing specific types of marks and stains from paper.
Pencil marks are by far the easiest type of mark to remove from paper. Most of the time, you can simply use a good eraser to do the job. However, be sure to test the eraser on a separate scrap of paper first to ensure there’s no color transfer (some cheaper erasers are prone to this). Testing first also ensures there’s no graphite residue left over on the eraser that can further mark and damage your page.
Always go gently and avoid rubbing the eraser back and forth over one spot, so you don’t wear down the paper as you pass over it. It’s also vital to hold the paper as taught as possible to avoid catching the eraser, which can lead to a dreaded tear.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but removing ink from the pages of a book is an almost impossible task. That being said, there are a couple of circumstances where you might be able to improve the appearance of an ink stain by lightening ink markings or writing.
If the ink is water-based, like the kind found in a fountain pen cartridge, you could see some slight improvement by using an ink eradicator. You’ll never fully remove the stain, but it can become less noticeable. Rubbing alcohol, acetone, or simple nail varnish remover can also work when applied with a Q-tip in gentle dabbing motions, but don’t expect miracles.
If you have a precious book that has been damaged by ink, then the only real way to resolve it is with the help of a professional. Some bookbinders and book repair specialists can scan the original page, remove the ink stains digitally, reprint it, and rebind the new page into the book. But it’s a tricky process, and it doesn’t come cheap, so it’s only a viable option if your book is a prized possession.
Coffee and books go together like PB & J, but when the coffee ends up splashed all over the pages of your favorite book, their harmonious relationship quickly turns sour.
The best way to remove coffee stains from any part of a book is to opt for a specially formulated professional product, such as Tann-X Coffee Stain Remover. It’s designed to remove coffee and other tannins, like those found in tea and red wine.
If you’ve spilled coffee on a cloth or plastic book cover, you can also try dabbing out the stain using a clean soft cloth and an all natural solution of water and white vinegar, at a ratio of about 3:1.
Have your kids unleashed their creative spirit across their favorite book? Or worse, your favorite book? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. And while you’ll never get the pages of a book back to their original pristine condition, you can remove a lot of the stain and at least make any text underneath legible again.
Begin by taking a fine craft knife and gently shaving as much excess crayon off as possible. Be careful not to spread the stain around as the wax fillings are lifted off the page.
Once you’ve removed as much of the wax crayon as you can, gently place the affected page between two pieces of blank, white paper (or white paper towel). With the page against a flat, heatproof surface, run an iron on a low to mid setting across the top of the paper stack. This melts and draws out as much of the remaining wax as possible.
#5. Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew are common problems, especially when it comes to old books or books that have been stored in a damp environment.
Before you begin cleaning mold from any surface, it’s essential to wear a dust mask so that the harmful spores don’t enter your lungs.
If the mold problem is only affecting a single page or a set of pages, then first separate the affected area from the rest of the book with a piece of waxed paper. This helps to stop the spores from spreading and contaminating the rest of the book.
Then, take a soft brush, such as a paintbrush, and lightly glide it across the surface to remove the majority of the mold spores. Next, take a dry, soft cloth and gently sweep it across the area to remove any finer particles that the brush has missed.
Avoid using any liquid products on the delicate pages of a book to remove mold or mildew. That being said, if the mold is on the cover or down the edge of the text block, you can use a more heavy-duty product, like Demco book cleaner, to wipe it away.
It’s also possible to banish mold using denatured alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, which both help to kill the spores and stop the problem from returning.
Again, always be sure to follow any cleaning product’s instructions carefully and always test it on a small piece of scrap paper, or an inconspicuous area, before you begin the full cleaning process.
#6. Chewing gum, Play-doh, etc.
To remove anything with bulk to it, for example, a wad of chewing gum or a lump of play-doh, your best bet is to place the book in a clean freezer for a couple of hours. Then, you can gently pick off the offending item as one solid piece with the help of a craft knife or a pair of tweezers.
#7. Grease and Oil stains
Just like with ink stains, it’s almost impossible to altogether remove grease or oil from the pages of a book, but you might be able to improve the appearance of the stain slightly. Similar to the crayon method, place the stained page between two blank sheets of paper or paper towel and gently iron out the oily residue so it absorbs into the blank paper and away from the page of your book.
There are plenty of different solutions that you can use to clean books. Some are specially made book cleaning products, and others are everyday household items you might already have at home.
Books are delicate by nature, so it’s important to tread lightly whenever you are cleaning a book to avoid damaging it in the process.
Do you have any awesome book cleaning tips, tricks, or hacks that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!