How to clean books.
It’s not hard, but it may take a little elbow grease. First, collect your books and equipment. You will need a microfiber cloth and some Windex for the basic cleaning. Other equipment you might need include Ronsonol (cigarette lighter fluid which is naphtha a very light petroleum distillate and very flammable), a Scotty Peeler, a white art eraser, paper towels, a soft bristle brush and an adhesive eraser.
Decide if it is worth the work to take stickers off. Antique books are very delicate and should be VERY carefully handled. Old Little Golden Books have notoriously delicate covers and can’t tolerate any rough treatment. In a perfect world you would take all the stickers off the instant you bring your new book home. The longer the sticker is on the book, the harder it is to take off. Is it worth the risk to clean your book? Matte paper dustjackets are VERY difficult to clean and react poorly to any kind of liquid. You can try using a dry microfiber cloth and a white art eraser. Pink erasers will leave a pink mark on your paper, do not use them.
1. Step one, take off stickers. Carefully peel the sticker off on a diagonal, moving slowly and scraping up any tearing adhesive with your fingernail. If you can’t get it started or if it begins tearing, stop and move on to the next step. Go slow, sometimes the adhesive can pull the clear top coat of the cover off, sometimes it can even tear the cover itself.
2. If the sticker won’t peel off try the Ronsonol. Protect your work surface with a paper towel, keep a sheet of paper towel to wipe off excess and sticky adhesive. Squirt the Ronsonol on the sticker (this won’t hurt most books, Ronsonol will evaporate before it damages paper). Let it soak in for a moment and then CAREFULLY use the Scotty Peeler to lift a corner and work loose the adhesive. Ronsonol will turn the adhesive into a sticky, goopy mess. A Scotty Peeler is basically a flat three-edged knife. It is very sharp and will cut you if you are not careful. ALWAYS push the knife flat against the cover of the book away from your hands. You don’t want to be waiting on a customer with blood dripping from your thumb (so speaks the voice of experience). Gently but firmly push the Scotty Peeler under the label, carefully widening the loosened area under the sticker. If you are careful you will not damage the cover of the book. It’s not a bad idea to practice this on a book you don’t care about. After you have peeled the sticker off you may be left with adhesive residue on the book. Squirt a little more Ronsonol on the adhesive and use the Scotty Peeler to scrape the adhesive off. Wipe off what is left with a paper towel; you can dampen the paper towel if necessary with Ronsonol. Clean off the Scotty Peeler when you finish with a little Ronsonol or you’ll have a really sticky Peeler.
3. If Ronsonol does not dissolve the adhesive then the adhesive is water based. If the dustjacket of the book is shiny you can squirt a little Windex on the label and use the microfiber cloth to rub the wet label off. When the paper has been rubbed off, try using the Scotty Peeler and a little Windex to scrape off the adhesive. You can also rub the adhesive with the microfiber cloth. Be careful, the microfiber cloth can rub right through the top layer of the dustjacket and create a hole if you aren’t careful. Do not try this method on a matte paper dustjacket, only on a shiny dustjacket.
4. Remove ink or magic marker from shiny dustjackets by using a microfiber cloth dampened by Windex. Ink can disappear like magic if the book gods are with you. Again, be careful not to rub right through the top layer of the book’s cover. If the ink is stubborn, try squirting a little Ronsonol on it and rubbing with a paper towel.
5. With stickers and ink removed clean the rest of the book cover with a Windex dampened microfiber cloth. Coffee stains will usually come off very well along with crayon and chocolate. Use the damp cloth to wipe off the top edge of the pages and also the tops of the inside of the flaps of the dustjacket and of the cover itself.
6. If there are pencil marks on the book they can usually be removed with a white art eraser.
7. If the tops of the pages are very dusty you can use a soft bristle brush to brush the dust off. Hold the book tightly closed and brush the top surface between the covers.
8. Cleaning old library books is possible, but time consuming. Most ex-library books have a plastic or mylar cover over the dustjacket that is taped to the book with strapping tape. Very carefully peel off the tape from the plastic cover and fold over the end so it doesn’t stick to the book. You will remove the entire dustjacket before you remove the four pieces of tape from the book itself. Once the dustjacket is loose, remove it and very carefully peel the tape off of the book. The book cover may tear if you are not slow and careful. Pull the tape off in a diagonal direction to the tape (if you pull it straight I guarantee you will tear the book cover). Most of the adhesive will come off with the tape. If any is left you can use an adhesive eraser (they are flat, tan and bumpy and are designed to rub adhesive off surfaces). Remove the plastic cover from the dustjacket and remove the stickers as above. Some libraries use a foil based sticker and they are the devil to get off as Ronsonol does not penetrate to the adhesive through the foil. Some books will have envelopes or check-in sheets glued to the inside cover or pages. It’s up to you if you want to try to remove them, but there is no way to do it without damaging the surface of the book. There is also no way to remove the library stamps from the pages. Every once and a while you may run across a library that has glued the plastic cover to the inside of the book cover. The only way to deal with this is to cut the plastic cover carefully off the dustjacket and then carefully cut around the area glued to the book. This will leave an area of paper glued to the inside cover, but the dustjacket should cover it when replaced. Some libraries will laminate a paperback or sometimes even a dustjacket for a hardback. You cannot remove the laminate without destroying the book.
9. Torn covers can be taped. Use document repair tape. It’s nearly invisible and pH neutral. You can also use book tape on the underside of a dustjacket. Both are available from Brodart or Demco.
There are a few things that cannot be cleaned. Once the paper on a book has gotten wet, it’s a dead book. The paper will ripple and can’t be corrected without very costly professional repairs. Mold and mildew can’t be removed. A mildewy, musty odor can be alleviated but never removed. Try putting the book in a paper bag with a dusting of baby powder, shutting the bag and leaving it for a few days. I have heard that you can put an open musty book in a box with an ionizer running for a few days, but have never tried it. Ink on paper will never come off.