How to Clean Books to Safely Remove Dirt, Stains and Mold 

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Updated June 3, 2022
Young woman in white apron dusting books

Did you just notice that your books are looking a little dingy? When it comes to how to clean books, you can use several effective methods to dry out pages, remove mold, and clean dirt. Learn the quick and easy hacks for how to clean your old books effectively.

How to Clean Books Effectively

When it comes to cleaning books, it's all about being careful. Books are made of paper, and paper and liquids don't mix--especially when it might smudge the ink. Therefore, when it comes to cleaning your books, think carefully about the best method you can use for your old and new books. However, a few methods that work effectively require:

Smiling Woman Cleaning Bookshelf With Vacuum Cleaner At Home
  • Vacuum with hose attachment
  • Old t-shirt
  • Soft cloth
  • Soft toothbrush
  • Thin cloth
  • Wax paper
  • Vulcanized rubber eraser
  • Saddle soap
  • Baby oil
  • Baking soda
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Paper towel
  • Air filter mask
  • Gloves
  • Gallon size sealable bag
  • Plastic scraper
  • Iron
  • Razor scraper
  • Talcum powder/cornstarch
  • P 100 sandpaper

How to Clean Different Book Covers

You can find an array of different books at thrift stores. These include paper cover books, hardcover books, and leather books. Get the deets on how to clean them all without causing any damage.

How to Clean a Leather Book Cover

When it comes to cleaning a book with a leather cover, you need to use a little more care. This is because leather can react differently to different cleaning methods. Therefore, before trying this leather cleaning method, you want to check a discrete area to ensure it doesn't harm your leather-bound book.

  1. Dip a lint-free cloth in the saddle soap, then dip it in water.
  2. Wring out as much moisture as you can.
  3. Wipe down the cover of the book and binding.
  4. Use a dry cloth to buff the leather cover.

Simple Way to Clean a Paperback Book

Many paperback books typically have a glossy cover. When it comes to these books, you want to reach for the rubbing alcohol. Make sure to try this on a small area of the books first, like a back corner.

  1. Apply a bit of rubbing alcohol to a clean white cloth.
  2. Rub the cloth over the glossy cover.
  3. Pay more attention to heavily stained areas.

How to Clean a Cloth Hardcover Book

When it comes to a cloth hardcover book, you might want to reach for a gum eraser. It's great for removing marks and it doesn't cause any damage.

  1. Take a gum eraser and gently erase any marks.
  2. Repeat until all areas of stain are gone.

For heavily soiled books, you can soak a cloth in fabric softener and wipe down the book, but use the uttermost care. Be sure to test an area.

How to Clean Old Books

Old books can have fragile edges, dirt, and even mold to deal with. But it can be hard to part with books that have been part of your library for years. However, if you are dealing with an antique precious book like a first edition, it's important to consult a professional first before trying any home cleaning methods yourself. You don't want to lower the value. However, to freshen up personal books or something you bought at the thrift store, you need to tackle dirt first.

Antique books in a library
  1. Place a thin cloth over the vacuum hose to lessen the sucking power.
  2. Lay the book flat.
  3. Start at the cover and gently brush the entire book with the toothbrush to loosen dirt.
  4. Go over each page with the vacuum hose.
  5. Use a rubber eraser to remove any marks or dirt.

How to Remove Grease Marks From Books

Grease marks can be a bother on your books. And getting rid of residual oil isn't easy. But there are a few things you can try for this greasy mess.

  1. Put a piece of paper towel over the grease mark.
  2. Place a warm iron on the paper towel for a few moments. This warms up and absorbs the oil.
  3. Remove any remaining stains with an eraser.

For fresh greasy stains, you can put a bit of cornstarch or talcum powder on the stain immediately and let it sit. Then, you can brush it away.

How to Get Sticky Residue and Adhesive Off Books

Another problem you can encounter with new and old books is sticky residue or stickers. For this, you can try baby oil or rubbing alcohol on books with a glossy cover.

  1. Use a razor scraper to slowly remove any remaining sticker.
  2. On a white cloth, add a bit of baby oil or rubbing alcohol.
  3. Rub the sticker residue away. You can also try a little GooGone if you have some available.

How Do You Clean Mold and Mildew off Books?

Once you've tackled the dirt on your books, you need to look for any mold on your page. Mold and mildew can be dangerous because the spores can multiply.

  1. Check the cover and pages for mold or mildew. Typically, you can tell mold and mildew stains by the musty smell.
  2. Put on a mask and gloves to protect yourself from breathing in the mold spores.
  3. Take the book outside in the sun.
  4. Place a piece of wax paper under the page with mildew.
  5. Use the toothbrush to brush off any loose mold and mildew.
  6. Get a cloth very lightly damp with hydrogen peroxide and blot at the mildew lightly.
  7. Allow the area to dry completely in the sun before moving on.

Simple Way to Clean the Edges of Books

Are your book edges looking a little dingy? Not to worry. You can get them back to clean with this simple hack. Grab some sandpaper and get to work.

  1. Using only a small piece of sandpaper, hold the book pages together.
  2. Sand lightly to remove the dinge.
  3. Continue until all the dirt is gone.

If you are worried about sanding your pages, you can always use a rubber eraser on the edges.

How to Get Smells Out of Books

Once you've tackled the mold and mildew on old books, you need to get rid of the permeating smell. This method also works great for non-mildewy books with odd smells like thrift store finds with that smoke smell.

  1. Carefully wrap the book in an old t-shirt.
  2. Coat the bottom of a sealable bag with baking soda.
  3. Place the book in the bag with the baking soda.
  4. Allow it to sit for a few hours to days.

Getting Grime, Stains, and Pests Off Books

Did you happen to spill a bit of food on your book? You might also find that you have a pest problem happening in your book. In these instances, the freezer can come in handy.

  1. Put the book in the freezer for a few hours.
  2. Check all the pages and shake out the now frozen bugs and pests.
  3. Use the scraper to carefully remove any dried-on food you can feel with your finger.
  4. Take the vulcanized rubber eraser to remove any remaining marks or strains.

In addition to a vulcanized rubber eraser, you can use Absorene Paper and Book Cleaner. This pink putty works to absorb stains and grime without hurting the pages.

How to Clean Water Spills on Books

If you spilled water on your book while reading or it got wet during a flood or rain, then you need to act fast to prevent mold and mildew from growing. If you don't have time to deal with your wet book right away, you can put it in the freezer while you prepare. After thawing out or right away, follow these steps.

Books next to each other top view
  1. Place the book in a window, but not in direct sunlight.
  2. Turn on a fan about 5-10 feet away from the book.
  3. Open the window as well if the air is warm enough.
  4. Open the book and flip to the pages at regular intervals. Don't force pages to open, be as gentle as possible.
  5. Once all the pages are completely dry, place several heavy books on top of the book to restore the flatness of the pages.

How to Protect Books From Damage

While books need to be cleaned once in a while and damage can happen, it's better to mitigate damage by storing your books in the right temperature and area. To keep your books clean, follow a few tips.

  • Reduce dust by storing books in an enclosed container or cabinet.
  • Store books upright and remove bookmarks before storage.
  • Avoid storing your books in an area with high humidity.
  • Dust books regularly if out in the open and keep them out of direct sunlight. This can fade the cover and pages.

Keeping Your Books Clean

Books are important. Therefore, you don't want to lose a book you love to dirt. To keep your books clean and smelling fresh or to remove dirt from an antique book, you now have the toolset.

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How to Clean Books to Safely Remove Dirt, Stains and Mold