At some point in every book lover’s life, they find themselves wondering how to clean bookshelves and care for books, so they are free of dust and mildew and don’t become a home for insects.
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.
How To Clean Bookshelves
Regular, Light Cleaning Reduces Dust
1. Dust the case. Once a week, wipe the top and sides of the bookcase with a microfiber cloth.
2. Dust the books. Using a fresh cloth, dust the tops and spines of the books and the part of the shelves that stick out beyond the books.
3. Tidy up. Remove any items that don’t belong on your bookshelf and put misplaced books in their proper location.
Annual, Deep Cleaning Protects Books
1. Remove everything from the shelves. Don’t bother sorting at this point, just clear the shelves.
2. Clean the bookcase. Pull the unit away from the wall and dust the back of the case and also the wall behind it. Now is a good time to vacuum the floor beneath the bookcase, too.
3. Clean books individually. Dust them one at a time, both outside and inside the dust covers where debris builds up. Dust along the tops of the pages, or use a hand-held vacuum.
4. Organize them. Sort your books in the method you plan on displaying them. I alphabetize fiction by title and non-fiction by subject then author. Some people arrange books by color while others turn them around, so only the page edges display. Those people are strange.
5. Shelve them. Return your books to the shelves based on your chosen organization. Do not overcrowd them.
Tips To Care For Books
Store books in a dry location. Humidity breeds bugs and mildew, so don’t store books in a basement or attic. While that “old book smell” is charming, it can also be a health hazard.
Avoid direct light. Direct sunlight fades book covers and can destroy leather bindings.
Give them space. Storing books too tightly together warps their covers. Warped covers break book spines and cause pages to fall out.
Take them off the shelves properly. Don’t grab books by the head cap or top of the spine — this eventually ruins the spine. Remove books by gently pushing 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.
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!
Rehome them properly. If you decide it’s time to part with a book, don’t just throw it away. Sites like BookMooch let you swap books with others for just the cost of shipping. Or cultivate your karma with BookCrossing, where you register books and leave them in public locations for others to find. When someone stumbles on your book, they mark it as found and someday, when they’ve read it, they pass the love along.
Note: This post first appeared on March 13, 2012. It has been revised and updated for republication.