• Malcolm Fernandes



“If you cannot read all your books…fondle them — peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.” — Winston Churchill


It’s now known (as of March 25, 2020) that the COVID-19 coronavirus may be able to survive on surfaces for up to nine days. Electronics are some of the most frequently handled objects. Many of these devices are often handled close to our bodies for extended period of times, which means that dust, microbes or other particles that make their way onto your device or its case can easily transfer to your skin. This article lists some simple ways on how to clean and sanitize your phone, tablet, eReader and other devices. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of information listed (particularly in regards to dealing with pathogens and handling the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus), it’s important for readers to stay updated with the latest information, stay alert against fake news, run your own checks, and get your information from certified doctors / credible sources.

For the latest on the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic and how to prevent it from spreading, please refer to the official websites for:

The World Health Organization (WHO): https://www.who.int/

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/


Why Clean and Maintain Books?

There’s nothing like looking at a shelf of old books and seeing them in pristine condition, especially if you’re an avid book lover or consider yourself a bibliophile. Now, of course, ageing isn’t 100% controllable and no matter what you do, things will deteriorate, materials age, front-board and back-board corners can fray, square edges can get dented or chipped, and paper will fade or yellow (and if you have children are pets, worse things can happen, too). But books that are cleaned regularly, stored correctly and carefully used can not only last a long time, but can bring you and those around, a lifetime of joy.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

The Crime and the Culprit! :( You may absolutely despise any harm coming to your prized possessions, but when the little offender is this cute, you just can't help but accept it, and move on, and that's OK... :)


Anatomy of a Book

Before we begin, here’s a quick reference diagram that shows the various parts of a book...

Avid Book Lover?? Click here to check out

the above graphic print on mugs and other fun stuff!


“Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.” — Napoléon Bonaparte


Properly Storing and Handling Books

Here are some general best practices, book storage ideas, tips for storing books, and handling them correctly:

  1. Always handle books with clean, dry hands. A good habit is to wash your wrists and hands thoroughly before and after you handle your physical books and eReading devices (or any prized belongings for that matter)

  2. NEVER use saliva to turn pages. If you must, you can keep a slightly damp sponge in a tray and dab the tip of your finger on it to flip pages over.

  3. Keep food and liquids (yes, these include snacks and beverages) away from your books. Of course, there are several things you can do to clean spills, blots, smudges and stains (and we’ve covered some of them here), but stained paper can rarely be restored to its 100% original condition. And if you snack and read at the same time, always keep a box of paper napkins nearby to help in emergencies

  4. Dry dust your books regularly

  5. Use cotton gloves if you are handling a rare, old, or fragile books

  6. Keep your books away from direct sunlight. Visible and ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can cause fading or discoloration of the printed material, as well as deterioration of paper.

  7. Always store your books upright. You can also use bookends to keep them held up.

  8. Store large, heavy books flat if they don’t fit upright on the shelf

  9. Do not store books on the slant, titled or leaning against each other as this could bend the spine and cause the front and back boards, or the book block itself to warp and get bent out of shape

  10. Avoid storing hardbound or heavy books on their fore edge with their spine facing upward

  11. When removing books from shelves, avoid pulling on the head cap/top of the book spine as this can cause the top of the spine to break and detach over time. A good idea is to push back the books on either side of the one you want, then firmly hold the book by the middle of the spine ensuring you have the book block in your grip before gently pulling it out.

  12. Avoid using bulky bookmarks, or storing thick bookmarks inside the book. These can put pressure and damage the book binding if left over long periods of time

  13. Ensure your paper book marks are made of acid-free paper as these can yellow over time and stain you book pages

  14. Avoid storing books using rubber bands as they can tear into the pages, as well as deteriorate and stick to book pages

Store books upright.


Selecting a Location for Your Book Shelf

  1. The ideal temperature to store books is around 60–70º Fahrenheit (15–25º Centigrade) with minimum fluctuation, and in 40–50% relative humidity. The general concept is if you are comfortable in the room/spot, it’s most probably OK for your books.

  2. Invest in a bookshelf: If you love your books or are serious about building a collection, consider investing in a bookshelf. A sturdy, rust-proof bookshelf not only looks great but will ensure your books are kept safe for a long time to come.

  3. It’s recommended that bookshelves should not be kept along exterior walls as those are exposed to strong temperature and humidity changes. Instead, place book shelves along interior walls of your home.

  4. Also avoid storing books in places susceptible to temperature and humidity changes – these include the basement, garages, attics and locations near the kitchen. As mentioned before, avoid a spot that gets direct sunlight

  5. Ensure your bookshelf gets a decent amount of air flow

  6. While indoor plants look pretty, keep plants a distance away from your bookshelves

  7. Use Silica Gel packets to protect books from humidity

  8. You can also use Mothballs, also known as naphthalene balls, to prevent moths and other insects from coming near your books. If you’re storing books in boxes or containers, place a few mothballs around the box before sealing it. Remember to wash your hands after touching the mothballs and keep them away from children and pets.

  9. Keep your books lined up about an inch behind and away from the front edge of the shelf bottom. This will help in spotting insects and other crawly creatures that tend to look for corners and crevices to live in.

Keep your books lined up about an inch behind and

away from the front edge of the shelf bottom.


"Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities," said Mr. R. David Lankes
"What about home libraries?" I asked.


Book Cleaning Basics

Common Cleaning Materials:

  • Two soft microfiber cloths (one used wet and the other used dry)

  • Soft toothbrush

  • Soft paintbrush

  • Small spray bottle + Water

  • White Vinyl Eraser to rub out pencil marks and other stains

My book cleaning kit!

There are generally three types of cleaning routines you can follow with your books:

  1. Regular Cleaning (daily/weekly): where you dry dust your books on the shelf. It’s a good idea to clean your books regularly by dry dusting. With plenty their crevices, gaps and narrow spaces between them, book shelves can be superb dust magnets. Regular cleaning maintains a healthy level of cleanliness around the house.

  2. Deep Cleaning: This is normally carried out once every six months to a year

  3. Restorative Cleaning: This type of cleaning is carried out to remove stains, blots, marks, Mildew, Mold etc., and usually uses water, detergents, chemicals or other cleaning compounds. This is best carried out by a professional, especially when dealing with rare or valuable books.

Foxing is an age-related process of deterioration that causes

spots and browning on old paper documents such as books,

postage stamps and certificates. It's said the name is derived from

the fox-like reddish-brown color of the stains, or the rust

chemical ferric oxide which may be involved. Paper so

affected is said to be "foxed".


“We can fill our lives with ‘stuff,’ but as we do we’re concurrently filling our lives with the obligation to maintain that ‘stuff.”―Craig D. Lounsbrough

Cleaning Physical Books

Cleaning is a big part of maintaining your books and keeping home libraries in order, and it does not have to be complicated. Here are six general approaches to cleaning your books:

  1. In general, you should avoid bringing moisture in contact with paper. Dry dusting is dusting without the use of water or other liquid products. It can be carried out with the help of a soft cotton cloth, microfiber cloth (preferred) , duster, or vacuum cleaner, and should be the first step in the cleaning process. While dusting individual books, always hold the book block closed tight and wipe the covers and edges with a soft cloth.

  2. If further cleaning is required, wet cleaning can be carried out with the help of a soft cotton cloth, microfiber cloth, or document cleaning pad. This is done along with small amounts of water or other solutions applied to a localized area.

  3. Always remove books from their shelves/ boxes/ containers when deep cleaning

  4. Clean the shelves/ boxes/ containers first (keep the books a safe distance away, especially if you are using cleaning sprays, chemical solutions or compounds to clean shelf surfaces)

  5. After carrying out any wet cleaning routines, always open the books and set them in to dry BEFORE returning the cleaned books to the clean shelf

To dry recently cleaned books, place them with their front boards, back boards, and pages fanned out, for an extended period of time. Dry them in the shade where there is plenty of air circulation. Books are usually dried in direct sunlight to kill mold and to remove odors, however, this should be only done for short periods of time as direct sunlight and UV light can cause printed ink to fade quickly.

The dirt particles on the surface of this cloth-bound book cover were removed with a cotton cloth slightly-damped with water. The cloth was wrapped around a finger and lifted off the surface (not wiped by a pressing down action) and were removed with several short strokes. The book was then left to thoroughly dry in the shade. This process can be repeated if required, but be sure to only apply the wet cloth to the spot that needs it.

Hate when the dust jacket of your book gets torn, bent and folded on the edges? Tip: When reading a book with a removable dust jacket, it's a good idea to take the jacket out and keep it away. Slip it back on when you're done reading the book and ready to store it on your shelf. The dust jacket of this 50+ year old book has seen natural wear and tear, but it did its job of keeping the cover of the book safe from, well... dust!

Always wipe individual pages from the spine out to the edges of the book.

Additional Tips and Tricks When Cleaning Books

  1. Do not use the same cloths/ material used to clean the shelf on the books. This will only transfer dust and dirt back to the books.

  2. Always air and dry your books immediately after cleaning.

  3. Clean the top edge of the book first as it is usually the dirtiest

  4. Hold the book by its spine, with its fore edge facing downward and gently fan through the pages a few times to let dust, bugs etc. fall off

  5. Use a water-dampened cloth to soften sticky dirt and lift it off from the surface of the paper

  6. Carefully wipe the front, back, spine, edges and square of the book. You can also open it up and wipe over the end papers and over each page.

  7. Always wipe or brush books starting from the spine and away from it. This method prevents pushing dirt down into the spine of the binding and causing damage to the end caps

  8. When wiping individual pages, always start from the gutter and move to the outside of the paper

  9. You can also use Baby Wipes to clean your books. Baby Wipes can help clean and sanitize without leaving any residue

  10. When done, stand the book on its base, fan out the pages and allow it to dry completely

  11. To remove stickers on books: warm it up with a hair drier (set to its lowest temperature setting) and it should peel right off

  12. If you live in a tropical or humid region and have valuable books you want to maintain, or you want to keep your prized book collection safe, consider investing in a dehumidifier. A dehumidifier is an electrical appliance which controls the level of humidity in a room — usually for health or comfort reasons. It is also used to eliminate musty odor and to prevent the growth of Mildew and Mold by extracting moisture from the air.

  13. Always keep books away from sunlight

  14. For books with leather bindings and half leather corners, use a small cotton ball to carefully apply specialist polish (do not allow the polish to touch the papers) to keep the leather in good shape. Tiny drops of petroleum jelly can be used as a substitute on books that aren’t that valuable.

  15. If your book has Mildew spots on its pages sprinkle some cornstarch on the spot and let the book sit for about 20–24 hours. Once done, brush off as much of the cornstarch as you can using a dry paintbrush. The stains and spots can then be removed from the pages with a white vinyl eraser used in short lifting motions

  16. For hardcover books with stains on covers, use a small amount of rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and carefully wipe the surface of the book using small circular motions. Once done, use a dry cloth to remove any and all excess alcohol/marks left behind.

Labels and their sticky residue can be tough to remove,

but sometimes, price stickers and labels on books,

when neat and intact, offer a unique perspective

about the life of the book. I picked this used book

up at an old book store. This book was printed in 40's and

as the label indicates, somehow passed through

the inventory of OXFAM... and I reckon I'll keep it there.


Cleaning eReaders and Electronic devices

Note: Please ensure that you consult your device manual and/or device manufactures guidelines PRIOR to implementing any of the below suggested cleaning tips and techniques.

Before cleaning any electronic device:

  1. Switch off your device

  2. Disconnect it from any power source

  3. Remove batteries, if needed

  4. NEVER spray water or cleaning liquids (these include rubbing alcohol, kitchen cleaners, vinegar, detergents, soap or any other chemical), directly onto electronics

  5. Remove the device from its case and clean it separately

Follow the below steps to clean and remove dust, lint, makeup, fingerprints, sticky grime and other dirt from eReading devices:

  1. The safest way to clean these electronics is to wipe them gently with a water-dampened microfiber cloth

  2. You can use a soft-bristle brush to get into crevices, grooves and the edges of the screen and buttons on your device

  3. Baby wipes can also be used to wipe down your device and sanitize it

  4. You can use an isopropyl-alcohol and water mixture with a microfiber cloth to sanitize your device. Pour one part alcohol and one part water into a spray bottle. Then lightly spray your cloth with the solution, and wipe down the device to get rid of dirt and germs. This solution can be used on most of your other electronics as well.

  5. If your device has a plastic or silicone case, remove the case, then dust/wipe it on the inside and the outside with a water-dampened microfiber cloth (warm water and a tiny drop of soap works well, too),

  6. Wipe your case gently starting from the center and moving out towards the edge by lifting off the dirt (rather than spread it out)

  7. Change the side of the cloth used in each swipe to ensure the dirt does not go back onto the surface of the case

  8. Once done, wipe the case with a fresh dry microfiber cloth to remove excess moisture and left over dust particles

  9. Leave the case to dry completely putting it back onto your device

“Buying a book is not enough... You must absorb the knowledge it contains. Your personalized knowledge is not what's on your shelf, but how much you put into yourself!”― Israelmore Ayivor, Daily Drive 365

Listen to Audiobooks? Here are some simple guidelines when cleaning your earphones or ear plugs

  1. Always unplug your earphones from its device before cleaning them

  2. Use a water-dampened microfiber cloth to get rid of any buildup on headphones, earphones or earplugs

  3. A soft-bristled brush can be used to ease out dust and particles from any crevices or grooves

  4. Use a water-dampened microfiber cloth to wipe down the rest of the earphones and the cord. Make sure all connector plugs are dry before inserting them back on your device.

  5. Bluetooth headphones, earphones or earplug should only be cleaned with a dry cloth to prevent damage to the electronics inside

  6. Do not share earplugs, earphones, eReaders and electronic devices with others

  7. If your earphones have removable rubber caps, take the tips off and clean them separately with a water-dampened microfiber cloth. Then dry them in shade completely before slipping them onto to your earphones again

Can books really save the world? click here to find out

In Conclusion

If you love reading books, be it physical books, or eBooks on your Kindle, eReader, tablet or phone, chances are that you spend a lot of time on them. If you love listening to audio books using earphones — especially while traveling, working out or when you’re on the move, it’s critical that you clean and sanitize your electronics regularly. Of course, with the current Covid-19 pandemic, it’s now also critical that we all take extra precautions and maintain a clean and healthy environment around us. The good news is that, these precautions aren’t difficult to implement and with a little attention, they can be incorporated into our lives as regular practice.

And yes, wash your hands before and after long sessions of handling your books, tablets, phones, eReaders and other devices.


Further Reading

American Institute For Conservation: https://www.culturalheritage.org/

The British Library Preservation Advisory Centre: https://www.bl.uk/conservation#

University of Washington Libraries: https://www.lib.washington.edu/

Identify, Prevent, And Remove Mold And Mildew From Books: https://www.biblio.com/book-collecting/care-preservation/prevent-remove-mold-mildew/

More about Foxing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxing#Repairing_foxed_documents


Do you have any secret tips or tricks to clean and maintain your books and eReaders? What did we miss? Don't feel shy! Go ahead and enter your comment below or send us an email to malcolmfernandesbooks@gmail.com

Happy cleaning!

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