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How to clean books by disinfecting and freezing them

How to clean books by disinfecting and freezing them
Posted at 5:30 AM, Aug 28, 2023

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Old books can be dirty, and I don’t mean lots of adult content (although that’s possible, too — have you read “Lady Chatterley’s Lover“?).

After years of use, and who knows how many sets of grubby hands flipping through it, a second-hand book can be just plain filthy. If it’s simply dirt or grime that’s plaguing your next read, it may just need to be cleaned. But if mold, mildew or bugs have gotten involved, it may need to be disinfected as well.

Here’s how to get it fresh and ready for its next reader — you!

How To Rid a Book of Dust, Dirt and Grime

Giving a book a simple cleaning is easy, but you need to be gentle. Neither the pages (paper) nor the binding (cloth or leather) responds well to cleaning with water. In many cases, a dry microfiber cloth is all you need. The cloth itself doesn’t kill germs, but microfiber picks up more dirt than most cloths or paper towels.

“Using microfiber rags eliminates up to 99% of bacteria — about three times the effectiveness of traditional cleaning cloths,” Vera Peterson, president of Molly Maid, told the Family Handyman.

Wipe down each page, including the front and back covers. For extra grime and dirt, dampen the microfiber cloth with a bit of water and go over it again.

If there are stickers on the book, or sticky residue left over from a sticker, add a bit of baby oil or rubbing alcohol to the cloth (again, just enough to dampen it) and scrub at the sticky bits until they’re gone. You could also use an adhesive remover that’s formulated for this purpose called Goo Gone.

Book Cleaning Supplies

Microfiber Cloth


These durable, reusable cloths are made of 87% polyester and 13% polyamide. Soft and nonabrasive, they are built to pick up dirt and debris without leaving any lint behind. And the Homexcel brand has a 12-pack on sale for more than half off on Amazon.

Buy a 12-pack of HOMEXCEL Microfiber Cleaning Cloths at Amazon for $7.99.

Goo Gone Adhesive Remover


This cleaner is specially formulated to take care of sticky messes like glue, adhesive residue and grease. According to the manufacturer’s instructions, you add some Goo Gone to a cloth, gently blot the area needing cleaning and repeat as necessary until the stickiness is gone.

Buy Goo Gone Adhesive Remover at Amazon for $8.30.

How To Disinfect a Moldy or Mildew-Ridden Book

The process described above will clean off dirt and grime from a book. But if you’re dealing with mold or mildew, you need to go one step further and disinfect it. Touching or inhaling mold and mildew commonly causes allergic reactions (like sneezing, runny nose, rash or red eyes), so wear gloves and/or a mask while handling the book. The disinfecting process starts by cleaning with a microfiber cloth.

“Disinfectants don’t work if there’s a visibly dirty surface,” Karen Hoffman, registered nurse and immediate past president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), told Well+Good.

After you’ve thoroughly cleaned the surface, then you can apply the disinfectant.

“I would suggest a cloth dampened with 70% alcohol might be the best option as this is a decent disinfectant and quickly evaporates,” Jason Tetro, a microbiologist, told Well+Good. Another tip: Place a sheet of wax paper under each page you’re wiping down so that the alcohol doesn’t soak through the paper.

If the mold is pronounced and quite advanced (you’re seeing lots of fuzzy or flat spots that are green or gray), it’s time to bring in your big weapon: the freezer. Slip the book into a Ziploc bag (to prevent humidity from wrinkling the pages) and put it in the freezer for 24 hours. This method also works to kill insects that may have taken up residence.

Book Disinfecting Supplies

Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol 70%


Rubbing alcohol is a typical household item that works as an inexpensive method to kill germs. It can stop the spread of bacteria and viruses on all kinds of surfaces, including the pages of books.

Buy Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol 70% at Walmart for $8.93.

Ziploc Storage Slider Gallon Bags


If you choose to freeze an old book, place it inside a plastic bag first. Walmart has Ziploc gallon-size bags on sale right now for about 25% off.

Buy Ziploc Storage Slider Gallon Bags at Walmart for $14.03 (was $17.59).

This story originally appeared on Simplemost. Check out Simplemost for additional stories.