Tips for Cleaning Used Books

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These cleaning tips are meant for books that are not antique or collectible, but for books that you would pay $1 or less for at a library sale, thrift store, or garage sale.

Paper and Matte Finished Dust Jackets

Dry cleaning pads are available at art supply stores. They are a small cloth bag filled with eraser dust.

You twist the bag a bit to loosen some dust, and then rub that around gently on the surface of the jacket with your clean fingers. If that doesn’t work, then use the pad itself to rub the surface. This should remove any dust and grime which isn’t actually ground in. Dry cleaning pads should be safe, so long as you don’t cause any mechanical damage with rough handling.

Glossy Dust Jackets

•    Windex, 409, Fantastic, etc.

•    Goo Gone

•    Pre-moistened cleaning wipes

Use a small amount of cleaner to remove dust and grime

Adhesives can sometimes be removed. Price stickers on glossy dust jackets should come off with a careful application (use a Q-Tip) of Goo Gone or lighter fluid, and the very cautious use of a thin flat knife like a palette knife or very thin butter knife. Do not use an extremely sharp knife as it’s too easy to slice off the glossy surface of the paper. This falls into the category of stuff that shouldn’t be done to a rare or valuable book.

Bookplates Do not use Goo Gone or lighter fluid to attempt to remove a bookplate. It won’t work. Bookplates usually have a water soluble paste rather than glue. Only water will remove a bookplate, and it’s a very tricky procedure. Some things can never be removed, and it’s best not to try: ink, water stains with any sort of color, and anything wet which has been absorbed by the paper and is now dry.

Musty Odor Another frequent problem is the musty odor that old books sometimes get. It’s actually mold, and it’s caused by storing books in a humid environment. The first cure of course, is to rescue the book from the humidity. If stored in a dry environment, the musty smell usually fades somewhat. Keep in mind though, that if you add a musty book to your library you are introducing mold and could pass it on to other books.

Cigarette smoke odor can be treated in a similar manner, although drying won’t usually be necessary. Make sure to clean the binding really well though, as the smoke leaves an oily film.

Consider how much time you spend to clean a book versus the amount of money you will make selling it. Sometimes damaged books are beyond salvaging and go in the recycler. If you are only paying $1 for your books, it is not a big loss. Remember that time is your most valuable resource.

 

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