Annual book cleaning strategy


What a tremendous site! Thank you. It will be a while before I seriously get into repair but glad to know this resource exists.

I have two unrelated questions so I’ll post them separately. I am getting started on the annual cleaning of my library and wondered if you have any efficiency tips. I have close to 4000 books (dating from 1840s on) and few of my selves are enclosed. As we live on a farm, the biggest problem is dust/pollen.

For a run-of-the mill book I use a hand-held vac with a brush attachment to clean the head, tail, and fore-edge. Depending on the cover material and other considerations, I use either the dust-buster, or a cotton cloth to wipe the cover and spine.

For valuable/fragile books I use my book brush– which is really an artists’ brush for sweeping away charcoal (I think; It’s very soft) to dust the head, etc.  and either the cloth or brush on the cover.

As the books are re-shelved I give each a good flip through. I figure they need some fresh air!

Does this sound right to you? And is there anything else I should be doing? Thanks!

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User Avatar Posted by (Questions: 2, Answers: 1)
Asked on January 5, 2021 2:03 pm
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Hi Marica,

I am so glad you like this site. :) You are totally on the right track! The single biggest thing that people get wrong is that they use those swiffer dusters which are no good because they are full of mineral oil which can damage a book over time. The most important thing is to avoid damaging the books as you dust them. Cleaning your books once a year is a wonderful goal.

If there is serious dust on your books, I would take one shelf at a time to a covered outdoor area and one at a time grasp the books shut at the fore-edge and actually just blow the dust off with your breath. Then, if the book is intact,  softly dust spine to fore-edge with a soft brush. You shouldn't have to go over every surface of the book. If the book is fragile you could vacuum with a bit of cheese-cloth tied over a brush attachment. You wouldn't want to lose any pieces by accident.

Opening the books and fanning the leaves is a great idea to catch any strange acidic additions like flowers or news clippings. Plus you will get a chance to reconnect with the text and illustrations. :)

Also, it gives you a chance to look for any insect activity!

Good luck with your 4000 books! You might consider dividing this up and do a rotation over a whole year.


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User Avatar Posted by (Questions: 1, Answers: 280)
Answered on January 5, 2021 5:39 pm
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    "You might consider dividing this up and do a rotation over a whole year."

    I've contemplated this. But I'm in Mississippi. Once March hits, I'm outside.

    "reconnect with the text and illustrations"

    Which is why it always takes me longer to clean than it should. ! 

    The cleese cloth covered brush idea is excellent.  thanks.


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    User Avatar Posted by (Questions: 2, Answers: 1)
    Answered on January 5, 2021 7:20 pm