How To Clean Bookshelves And Care For Books

How to clean bookshelves from
At some point in every booklover’s life they find themselves wondering how to clean bookshelves and care for books so they stay dust- and mildew-free.

Even if your bookshelves aren’t bulging with reading material yet, they’re probably still a focal point in your living room or den, so it’s important to keep them tidy. Caring for your bookshelves will also preserve the life of your books.

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How To Clean Bookshelves Weekly

  • On a weekly basis, it’s sufficient to dust the top and sides of the shelves with a microfiber cloth, then the tops and spines of the books and the part of the shelves that stick out beyond the books.
  • Take this chance to also remove any items that don’t belong on your bookshelf, and to restore misplaced books to their proper location.

How To Clean Bookshelves Thoroughly

  1. Remove everything from the shelves. Don’t bother sorting at this point, just get the shelves bare.
  2. Clean the bookcase: With the bookcase empty, pull the bookcase out from the wall, and dust both the wall behind it and the back of the case. Now is a good time to vacuum the floor beneath and behind it, using an extension duster if you need to. Dust bookcase inside and out, cleaning any grimy spots.
  3. Sort through your books and give (not toss!) away any that no longer interest you. If you want to trade your discards for more books, consider using a free service like BookMooch (you’ll just pay to ship the books you’re giving away; the ones you’re receiving come free of charge.) Or cultivate your book karma by randomly donating books using a site like BookCrossing, where you register your books and leave them in public locations for others to find. When someone stumbles on your book, they register it as found and hopefully pass the love along once they’ve read it.
  4. Clean books individually by dusting them, both outside and inside the dust covers where debris builds up. Dust along the tops of the pages, or use a hand-held vacuum.
  5. Organize your books in the method you plan on displaying them. Personally, I display fiction alphabetized by title in one bookcase, and non-fiction books, organized by subject and then author, in another bookcase. But I’m kind of weird about my books.
  6. Return your books to the shelves, but feel free to play around with how you arrange them. Leather-bound books look lovely all in a row, while colorful, contemporary books become decorative objects when stacked horizontally like book ends. Photography, coffee-table, and art books almost look like paintings when their covers are displayed face-forward.

How To Care For Books

  • Sunlight ruins books. Leather will fade, cloth and paper will corrode. Never place your bookshelf where it gets direct sun.
  • Dust them regularly. Dust acts as an abrasive, destroying both the covers and the printed word. Keep your books dust free through regular cleanings.
  • Choose a proper location. Humidity breeds bugs and mildew, so never store books in a basement or attic or they’ll develop that “old book smell”, which quickly loses its charm when you’re trying to read. Various insects will also nest in books stored where there’s high humidity, particularly cockroaches and silverfish, which love to eat paper.
  • Don’t cram your books together. Storing books too tightly together eventually warps their covers and makes books difficult, if not impossible, to read.
  • Be careful when taking a book from the shelf. Many people select a book by pulling it from the shelf by its head cap, or the top of the spine. This will eventually ruin the spine. The best way to remove a book is by gently pushing its neighbors to the side, then pulling the chosen book out from the middle. Since you’re not cramming them together (see above), this should be easy enough to do.
  • Most of all, read and love them. Books are like secret gardens for our minds, containing places and times to which we can travel without ever leaving the comfort of home. An unread book is a lonely book. Don’t let your books feel lonely.

With regular weekly cleaning and an occasional thorough cleaning, bookshelves can be a true source of pride and beauty in your home. Care for your books properly and you’ll have them to enjoy for years, if not lifetimes, to come.

Equipment I Use To Do This:


  1. Nicolai says

    One of the most pleasing sights for me is that of a well-organized bookshelf. It is a common dream of many avid readers to own a house with one room in it, completely dedicated to books. A room full of books, that is organized to perfection brings with it warmth, relaxation and peace of mind.

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