Already have an account?
Get back to the

Book Pro: The Easy Secrets to Cleaning Books So They Look and Smell Like New

Tips for every kind of smell and stain — even mildew! — using pantry staples

You scored a great deal at a yard sale on a few books you’ve had on your reading list, but when you got home and thumbed through them, you noticed there was some staining on the covers and pages, and a few insects have made a home inside the binding—yuck! Or maybe you ordered a book from an online used book-seller only to realize that it smells so bad there’s no way you’re going to want to relax on the couch with it. The good news: Refreshing books is easier than you might think. The even better news: knowing how to clean books can pay bigger dividends than simply a better reading experience.

Knowing how to clean books can save + earn you money

There’s no need to spend your hard-earned cash on brand-new books when it’s easy to spruce up old ones! The paper treasures you find at yard sales or second-hand stores, no matter the condition, can be restored to their former glory so you can read and enjoy them for years to come, or pass them along to girlfriends for their entertainment. Even old cookbooks can be cleared of food stains and smudges and gifted to someone who will treasure them. And, if you want to sell your books at your next garage sale, clean ones can help up your profits.

Plus, having clean books can benefit your health. Dirty books can harbor bacteria, dust, and mold, which can enter your lungs and potentially lead to respiratory problems, cautions Louisa Smith, founder of

Thankfully, clearing books of stains, mold, mustiness, insects and more is easy with a few tips and tricks using household staples.

How to clean books — no matter what made them dirty

What you use to keep your books clean depends on what it is that’s making them dirty. Read on to find the right method for you.

To clean dusty books: Grab a dryer sheet

box of dryer sheets
Mike Fig Photo/Shutterstock

“The best method for removing dust is to use a dryer sheet,” says Smith. Not only do they leave behind a pleasant scent on your books, but they also have positively-charged ions that attract negatively-charged dust and repel future dust from settling. If you have really dusty books, try using a clean blush brush to sweep away any excess dust before using the dryer sheet. The brush’s soft bristles won’t cause damage or scratches to the book’s cover or pages.

To clean smelly books: Place them in baking soda

Older books or books exposed to moist conditions can take on a musty, unpleasant smell. If your reads smell less than fresh, Smith suggests placing the books in an airtight container filled with 1 cup of baking soda; let it sit for a few days before removing the books and shaking off the excess baking soda. Baking soda absorbs and removes any odors so your books smell fresh and new. Tip: Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the baking soda. The books will absorb the oil’s aroma for an extra-refreshing scent.

Dirty or stained cover or pages? Rub them with sandpaper

If you find dirt or dried-up stains on the edges of book pages, grab a fine-grit sandpaper and rub it gently over the marks in a circular motion, notes Smith. Its texture lightly buffs away any marks with ease. If the dirt is on the inside of the pages, use a pencil eraser to whisk them away gently.

When it comes to removing dirt or stains from a cover, the material it’s made out of determines the cleaning method.

For leather covers: dip a microfiber cloth into leather cleaner, like Leather Honey Leather Cleaner (Buy on Amazon, $16.99), and gently rub the cover, spine, and edges. Its oils dissolve any marks while also conditioning the leather to prevent cracking or peeling.

For cloth covers: These are a little trickier to clean, says Smith. A pencil eraser can be used to buff out small dirt stains, but for larger ones, use a damp cloth to rub the dirt away lightly. “Just be sure to avoid using soap or detergents, as these contain chemicals that can further damage the book,” says Smith.

Grease splatter on the pages of your cookbook? Not to worry! Simply place a paper towel between the stained pages, close the book, and weigh it down by placing heavy objects on top. After a few days, the toweling will absorb the grease, so your page looks good as new.

Watch this YouTube video to see some easy book cleaning tips in action

To clean mold and mildew: Try a hydrogen peroxide and water mix

Find specs of black mold or white powdery mildew on or inside the pages? The spots don’t necessarily mean the tome is headed for the trash, assures Smith. To get remove mold or mildew in a book, grab a protective mask and goggles, then use a handheld vacuum to remove any loose spores or powder from the pages, cover or binding.

Next, prepare a solution of equal parts 3% hydrogen peroxide (the peroxide kills the fungus that causes mold and mildew on contact) and water, and gently rub it over the mold spots with a microfiber cloth. Use a dry microfiber cloth to dry the areas you wipe down, then leave the book standing up in a dry area of your home. Tip: Place silica packets or a bowl filled with rice next to the book to absorb any excess moisture in the area.

To clean pesky bugs in between book pages: Opt for the vacuum and freezer trick

books in a freezer

If insects have made a home inside your tomes, no need to trash them. This two step trick will eliminate them:

  1. Isolate the infected books and place them in an area where the insects cannot reach other books or parts of your home, advises Smith. Next, use the soft brush attachment on a handheld vacuum to suck up any visible bugs, larvae and eggs (Note: If possible, turn the vacuum to its lowest setting so you don’t damage or tear any pages.)
  2. Pop books into zip-top bags and place in the freezer for at least 48 hours. The cold temperature kills any insects or eggs that may remain inside the pages. The books should be completely dry before freezing to avoid moisture damage.  

Now that you you know how to clean books, why not add some more to your shelf? Click below to see the books we recommend:

WW Book Club for July 30 — August 5, 2023: 7 Reads You Won’t Be Able to Put Down

WW Book Club for July 23 — July 29, 2023: 7 Reads You Won’t Be Able to Put Down

WW Book Club for July 16 — July 21, 2023: 7 Reads You Won’t Be Able to Put Down

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.