How to Clean Books the Right Way, From Dusting Your Collection to Treating Cover Stains

Books can become a hub for dust, smudges, and stains when not cleaned regularly.

Close up of wooden rack with books in living room
Photo: LightFieldStudios / GETTY IMAGES

Whether you have an entire home library or simply keep a few books displayed on a shelf, cleaning your tomes regularly is a must. When not tended to properly, physical books can quickly become a hub for dust, smudges, odors, and other miscellaneous dander. Not only will routine upkeep of your paperbacks and hardcovers extend their shelf life, but adding this step to your cleaning routine will also keep excess dust out of your home.

How Often You Should Clean Your Books

We understand that cleaning your books may feel like a chore—especially if you have an extensive collection—but it is something you should tackle often. While deep cleans are only necessary about once a year, routine maintenance should happen more frequently. "I recommend quickly dusting any bookshelves or books off every few weeks to prevent dust from building up," says Leanne Stapf, COO of The Cleaning Authority.

However, this may change depending on where you have your books displayed. "I see a lot of cookbooks being stored on the kitchen counter next to the stove top," says Melissa Poepping, founder of The Chemical Free Home. "Let's not forget what happens on that stove: grease splatter, red sauce, extra humidity from boiling water, and so on." Books stored in areas where they're susceptible to more damage should get a more thorough clean every other week.

Materials Needed

Make sure you have these tools on hand before tackling this chore. The supplies you need will vary on the type of book you're cleaning and the concerns you're attempting to treat.

  • Microfiber towels
  • Dust wand
  • Leather cleaner
  • Gum eraser
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Vinegar
  • Cotton balls
  • Iron
  • Baking soda
  • Freezer
  • Vacuum with brush attachment
  • Essential oils
  • Blank pieces of paper
  • Paper towels
  • Cornstarch
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Vinegar

How to Clean Book Covers

As the exposed part of your books, the covers are the first area to build up with dust, smudges, and stains. Whether you're working with fabric, leather-bound, or paper, you can clean the covers of your books with some simple supplies.


Cleaning leather-bound books without damaging the covers can be tricky. "First, I recommend dusting the cover to see if that does the trick," says Stapf. If it needs more maintenance, test a small corner of the book with a leather cleaner to make sure it doesn't cause damage. If there is no issue, apply to a microfiber cloth and gently wipe the cover clean.


Like the pages of your book, paper covers are also very delicate. "Wipe it down with a clean, dry microfiber cloth, so you don't damage the cover with any sort of liquid or cleaner," says Stapf.


Although it's less common than leather-bound or paper, some books also have fabric covers. To clean this material, apply a bit of warm water to a clean microfiber towel and gently swipe the surface of the cover.

How to Dust Your Books

Most of the time, your books will only need a quick dusting—target the covers and the tops and bottoms of the pages. "You'll want to take a dry, clean rag or microfiber cloth and gently swipe the book to remove dust," says Stapf. If the pages have also collected dust, use a dust wand and gently swipe it over the pages' edges.

Consider using book covers if you want to protect your tomes from dust and limit the need for frequent cleaning. "I love to save gorgeous wrapping paper and printed tissue paper from gifts and use those as a DIY dust cover," says Poepping.

How to Remove Smudges From Books

Whether you were reading during lunchtime or your kids got into your library, smudges on your books are bound to happen. "To remove a smudge from a book, use an art gum eraser," says Stapf. "Make sure you only use it in one direction only." If the smudge still persists, apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol to a clean cloth and dab the smudge until it lifts.

dishes and cookbooks line cupboards
Pieter Estersohn

How to Remove Grease Stains From Books

Grease stains are especially common when it comes to frequently used cookbooks. "To remove grease stains from a paper surface, mix equal parts water and vinegar, then take a cotton ball or swab and dab into the mixture," says Stapf. Apply weight on the area for about 10 minutes to fully absorb the vinegar. You may need to repeat this step a few times if it's an old stain that won't budge.

Next, warm up an iron and test it on a blank sheet of paper to ensure it isn't too hot to leave a burn; adjust the temperature accordingly. "Finish by ironing the area to smooth it out," says Poepping.

How to Remove Odors From Books

Did you find a few books at an antique store or flea market with a less than ideal smell? Return them to their former glory in just a few steps. "A simple quick fix is putting an open box of baking soda into an airtight container, then placing your book on top and closing the container," says Stapf. "Then, let it sit for a few hours—or overnight—to allow the baking soda to remove any odors."

How to Get Rid of Bugs in Books

Books can sometimes become infested with small bugs, known as booklice. To kill live booklice, place the infested item in a resealable bag and keep it in the freezer for about a day. Next, lightly vacuum the pages of the book with a brush attachment to remove the dead bugs.

How to Prevent Bugs

Booklice typically occurs when your books are kept in humid areas of your home "Make sure to store your books in a spot with good airflow to eliminate these bugs from taking over," says Stapf.

You can also keep pests at bay with essential oils, like tea tree, peppermint, or lemongrass. "Simply add a drop of desired essential oil to your hands, rub your hands together, and smooth your hands across the folded paper so that it absorbs just enough of the aroma of the oil," says Poepping. Place the piece of paper inside the pages of your book. "You will want to swap this paper out with your bi-monthly cleaning schedule if bugs are a constant concern or issue," she says.

How to Remove Moisture From Books

If you get caught in the rain with your favorite book, you can salvage it. Start by immediately drying off any excess water with a clean microfiber cloth. "Then stand the book up and separate out the pages to fan out any additional moisture," says Stapf. "You can also place pieces of dry cloth or paper towels between each page to help soak up any moisture that remains."

Once the book has dried a little, sprinkle cornstarch on the damaged areas and place the book in a well-ventilated space or in front of a fan to dry to prevent the formation of mildew. "Don't place it in a spot that gets direct sunlight," says Stapf.

How to Remove Mildew From Books

As one of the toughest stains to remove from most materials—including paper—some mildew-infected books might not be salvageable. If you only notice a few spots though, you can attempt to remove mildew while exercising great caution.

Start by ensuring the mildew is dry, which will make it easier to remove. Then make a solution of 50 percent hydrogen peroxide and vodka. "Place an absorbent soft cloth under the page, and gently dab the area of concern with the liquid solution," says Poepping. "Once dry, assess the page and repeat if necessary." If you're satisfied with the results, place a sturdy material under the page and press a warm iron onto the paper to smooth it out.

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