How To Store And Clean Books?

How to store books – Books are surprisingly heavy, so ensure that shelving is strong enough to support them without sagging. A series of short shelves, built side by side, is less likely to sag than one long one. Rare or old books are beyond the realm of this book but should probably be stored behind glass. Antiquarian booksellers should be able to advise on storage and cleaning.

If you have a lot of books, consider some sort of order on the shelves. Putting them in alphabetical order makes the most sense. If you choose another method, such as storing them by size (remember, the biggest books on the bottom shelves) or by color, store them alphabetically within the system.

Shelves and bookcases should be full enough for the books to support each other, but not so crammed that you cannot remove them easily. Store books upright on shelves, but large books such as albums need to be stored flat because they cannot support their own weight.


Do not push books right to the back of bookcases. Instead, line them up so they are flush with the front of the shelves. That way, you allow air to circulate behind them and do not have an irritating little ledge in front of the books, which will need dusting. If storing books long-term, keep them somewhere clean, dry, dark and well ventilated. Cellars, garages and outhouses tend to be damp.

How to clean books – The best way to keep books clean is to read them. When you take them off shelves, dust is dislodged. Otherwise, use a lambswool duster to whisk dust off every now and again – once a month is ideal, once a quarter more realistic. Do not use a feather duster, which will just throw dust around and the hard spines may catch on books and tear them.

Once a year take all the books off shelves. As you do so, dust the top of each one with the upholstery attachment on a vacuum cleaner on a low setting or with a soft brush. Hold the book tightly so that dust does not slip down between the pages. Whisk the brush quickly along the top, from the spine outwards, into a duster or, if very dusty, into the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner. Then clean the covers and the spine. Turn back dog-ears, unless the pages are very brittle.

Very crumpled pages can be restored to a semblance of their former selves with a steam iron on a low setting. Put another piece of paper on top of the page to protect it.


Examine for insect damage. To kill insects and larvae, wrap the book in acid-free tissue paper, put in a polythene bag and freeze for seven days. Allow to return to room temperature slowly.

Brush mildew off in the same way, but track down the source of the damp that has made the book mouldy in the first place. Take care not to breathe in mould spores. Unless a mildewed book is old or precious, bin it.

After taking all the books down, vacuum the shelves thoroughly, using the crevice tool to get into all the corners. If necessary, wipe with a barely damp cloth. Wipe dry and ensure no trace of moisture remains before replacing books.

Use this annual cleaning as an opportunity to cull your books. As you put each book back, ask yourself if you will ever read it again. If the answer is ‘no’, put it on a pile. If there are a lot of them, a second-hand bookseller may buy them from you. Take the rest of books to the charity shop.

Tags: books, how to clean

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