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

December 21, 2022

Whether you’re a collector of rare or antique books or simply enjoy reading, knowing how to clean books is an excellent skill to have. Rare or not, cleaning books safely requires a delicate approach and proven cleaning methods. Unlike many other surfaces in your home, the paper, cloth, and leather in books typically don’t mix well with conventional wet cleaning.

When you know how to clean books correctly, you can keep paperback and hardcover books looking their best and protect old and rare books. Our handy guide gives you proven book-cleaning guidance for removing dirt, mold, and stains from book covers and books without causing damage. Unless your books are fragile collector’s items, these book-cleaning tips should work for most of your home library.

It’s essential to understand that learning how to clean old books or rare collector’s editions isn’t your usual DIY cleaning project. Older books often have fragile page edges and intricate book covers, as well as dirt, dust, and mold. If you have valuable books that need cleaning or mold removal, it may be best to have them cleaned professionally. For the not-so-valuable books in your collection, we’ll begin on the outside and work our way through a book cleaning using safe, natural cleaning products.

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How to Clean Book Covers

When you’re cleaning books or book covers, always spot-test an inconspicuous area before you dive in. If your cleaner passes the test, proceed carefully and take your time, especially when cleaning leather or cloth book covers.

How to Clean Books With a Leather Cover

  • Brush off dust and loose dirt from the cover, page edges, and spine.
  • Dampen a microfiber cloth and apply some saddle soap.
  • Wipe down the book cover and binding.
  • Use a dry microfiber cloth to remove any remaining moisture and buff the leather.

Cleaning Books With a Cloth Hardcover

  • Use a soft-bristled brush to remove loose dirt and dust.
  • Remove any stains with a gum eraser.
  • Dampen a microfiber cloth with water only.
  • Wipe down the fabric and give soiled areas a bit more scrubbing.
  • Use dry paper towels to remove any moisture.

How to Clean a Paperback Book Cover

  • Brush off loose dirt and dust
  • Use a microfiber cloth and rubbing alcohol to remove stains and buildup.
  • Rinse the cloth, wring it, and apply a drop of liquid dish soap.
  • Wipe down the book cover and spine without getting the page edges wet.
  • Use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe away any residue.

How to Remove Stains and Grease Marks From Books

Grease and other stains on books may look permanent, but with a bit of patience and know-how, you can remove them most of the time.

How to Remove Oily Stains From Books

  • Place a dry paper towel over the grease stain.
  • Press the paper towel with an iron on the lowest setting to warm the oil.
  • Remove the paper towel when it stops absorbing the grease.
  • Dab the stain with a dry paper towel.
  • Use a rubber eraser to scrub away any residue.

How to Remove Water-Based Stains From Books

  • Dampen the stained area with a few drops of water.
  • Use a damp microfiber cloth with a drop of dish soap to scrub the stained area gently.
  • Wipe off the soapy residue and extra moisture with a clean, damp cloth.
  • Use rubbing alcohol and a paper towel for more stubborn stains.

How to Remove Mold From Books

Mold can easily develop on porous surfaces such as fabric, leather, and paper. Once established, mold spores can contaminate other books and the air inside your home. Here’s how to remove mold from books safely and naturally. When you’re cleaning mold from books or anything else, wearing a mask and disposable gloves is recommended.

How to Clean Books With Mold

  • Use a soft-bristled brush to brush off the visible mold.
  • Attach a dryer sheet over your vacuum nozzle to remove mold from fabric book covers.
  • Wipe mold off paperback books and leather book covers with a cloth dampened with denatured alcohol.
  • Dry the book with a clean microfiber cloth.

How to Clean Book Pages With Mold

  • Slide a sheet of waxed paper underneath the moldy page to protect the pages behind it.
  • Use a soft brush to carefully remove any visible mold.
  • Dampen a soft cloth with hydrogen peroxide and apply it to the mold.
  • Dab the stained area with a paper towel until the paper is dry.

After cleaning mold off your books, dispose of paper towels, the mask, and gloves in an outdoor trash can. Immediately wash the microfiber cloths in hot water to prevent mold from spreading to other laundry.

How to Remove Musty Smells From Books

The same conditions that allow mold to grow are also ideal for mildew growth. Mold and mildew are different fungi, but neither do your books or your health any favors. Mildew is what makes your bath towels smell sour and can give books that familiar old book aroma. In small doses, the smell, and the mildew that can cause it, isn’t much of a problem. But if the scent is overwhelming or you see a powdery white or black residue on a book, it’s time for some mildew remediation.

Removing mildew when you’re cleaning books is done the same way as removing mold. A problem you may encounter after cleaning mildew is a lingering odor that won’t go away. When your books still have an unpleasant smell even after cleaning, baking soda can save the day — and your nose. Simply fill a container or bag with a cup of baking soda and your book and let it sit overnight. In the morning, remove your book, shake off the baking soda, and enjoy that fresh book smell!

Use these tips for cleaning books to keep your home library looking good and to keep mold and mildew at bay. Whether you follow our handy cleaning guides and do it yourself or invest in healthy cleaning services, we want your home to be a cleaner, healthier place to live. Get a free house cleaning quote today and say goodbye to dirt and dust tomorrow.

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