Book Cleaning Tips

8 Ways to (SAFELY) Clean Your Books

Safe book cleaning habits are essential to book care, especially when dealing with rare or antiquarian books. Whether you’re a book collector, seller, or casual reader you’ve undoubtedly  come across dusty, dirty, marked up, sticky books. Sometimes these so called “flaws” add character or history to a book but, more often than not, used books comes with many unwanted imperfections.There is something comforting about that familiar, “old book” smell. Unfortunately, a dirty book can quickly cause this intoxicating aroma to dissipate.

Trust us when we say that taking a soapy towel or smudgy eraser to your coveted library will end in disaster.

This post offers general book cleaning solutions that are simple & safe. This is a precursor to a series we will be posting on how to clean your books.

Why do we need a whole series???

Because the way you clean books depends on a variety of factors including:

  1. Book Binding (hardcover, softcover, etc.)
  2. Type of Book Cover (Cloth, Leather, Vellum, etc.)
  3. Presence of a Dust Jacket/Wrapper
  4. Added Protection (Such as a Mylar or paper covering)
  5. Collectability – A rare or valuable books should be handled & cleaned differently than a reading copy.

There are many articles available that offer tips & tricks to clean your books. Some ideas showed amazing results while others were quite destructive. [stay tuned for a post on how NOT to clean your books]. Before opening our shop we read & watched countless articles & videos with solutions to common book cleaning problems & tested them on what we like to call our “burner books”.  We’ve done our research & below is a generalized list of some easy, SAFE, cleaning solutions for problems & imperfections commonly seen in used books.


#1) Pen & Pencil Marks On Book Pages


Book Cleaning Tool: Handheld Pencil Eraser
Book Cleaning Tool: Handheld Pencil Eraser
  • An inexpensive pencil/pen eraser is invaluable and inexpensive. Erase in one direction only, towards the edge of the page. I have made the mistake (many times) of erasing back and forth. You will, inevitably, bend the page or tear a whole in the page you are working on. Spending a few extra minutes to properly erase marks will keep your books looking their best and save you from a lot of frustration.

#2: General Dirt & Soiling On Book Cover


  • A soft cloth can be used to wiped down surfaces of the book. Be sure to use one that won’t leave any cloth residue behind.
    • Tip: Buy a bed sheet from a thrift store and cut it up into small, usable pieces.

#3: Loose Dust & Eraser Remnants On/In Books


Book Cleaning Tool: Soft Toothbrush or Paintbrush
Book Cleaning Tool: Soft Toothbrush or Paintbrush
  • A small, soft, toothbrush or paint brush – Either tool can be used to access small crevasses and fine detail as well as to brush off eraser residue. Brush lightly in one direction, towards the edges. You might be tempted to use your hand to brush off the residue. Doing that will likely rub it into the page and create more of a mess.

#4: Stubborn Pencil Marks (Especially on more valuable books)


Book Cleaning Tool: Artgum Eraser
Book Cleaning Tool: Artgum Eraser
  • Artgum erasers crumble as you use them and do a great job of absorbing graphite. They are inexpensive and are gentle on the paper. Simply brush away the crumbles at the end with your paintbrush.

 #5: Sticky Residue On Book Cover



Book Cleaning Tool: Baby Oil or Olive Oil
Book Cleaning Tool: Baby Oil or Olive Oil
  • Apply a small amount of oil to a soft cloth to reduce or eliminate sticky areas. This is a gentle method to get rid of sticker residue. It will leave behind an oily film which can be removed with a dry, soft cloth.
    • Suggested: Baby Oil or Cooking Oil

#6: Stubborn Stickiness On Book Cover


Book Cleaning Tool: Glue Remover
Book Cleaning Tool: Glue Remover
  • If oil doesn’t work, you can try Goo Gone. It can also be used to remove price tags or other stickers. Soak a cotton ball with the Goo Gone and place it on the offending sticker. Let it soak for a few minutes, then gently remove it with small scraper or knife. This is a strong cleaner and can cause damage so you should use it with care. Use this as a last resort, not first effort.
    • Suggested: Goo Gone or, the cheaper, Goof Off

#7: Smudges & Dirt on Book’s Mylar Cover



Book Cleaning Tool: Soft Household Cleansing Wipes
Book Cleaning Tool: Soft Household Cleansing Wipes
  • Soft, household cleansing wipes, work wonders for smudges & dirt on clear, Mylar book covers (like the kind you would see at the library). Gently wipe them over the book cover and the will make the book sparkle. Don’t use them on any other book surface.
    • Suggested: Lysol Wipes, Wet Ones

#8: Inky Book Edges

**Make sure this isn’t a decorative top stain before removing**


Book Cleaning Tool: Fine Sandpaper
Book Cleaning Tool: Fine Sandpaper
  • A fine sandpaper with a high grit number (180-320) can be used to smooth out surfaces, eliminate trace pen/pencil markings, or smooth edges of book’s pages. Using sandpaper can be tricky as there is a possibility of sanding through the page. Use the “Less is More” approach.
  • After I erase a pencil or pen mark I will often use sand paper to even out the area I was working on. This will often serve to lessen the faint marks that are remaining.

For more tips on caring for your books check out our post on how to Safely Ship Books

If you’re cleaning books to sell then head over HERE to learn how to take great book photos for your listings!

2 products that we’ve heard great things about but have yet to try…

1. Clean Cover Gel

2. Absorene Book Cleaner

We’ll be testing these two products soon & let you all know our experience with them. If anybody has used these we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have a book cleaning problem? A simple solution that was not mentioned?
Please leave us comment below!