Barb asked: How do I clean smoke damage from books? These are good books I salvaged after my place caught fire. The slick covers and jackets wipe off pretty well, but the edges of the pages are really smoked up. I don’t know if this can be helped or not, but would sure appreciate some ideas. Thanks
When books become smoked damaged, there are a couple of common problem areas. The bindings and top typically receive the most build-up, because the rest are protected when stored on a bookshelf. When the pages become smoke damaged, there are a couple of steps that can be taken to remove the discoloration.
Cleaning Smoke Damaged Covers
You Will Need:
- Mild detergent
- Soft cloths
- Oil-based furniture polish
Steps to Clean Smoke Damaged Covers:
- Fill a small bowl or sink with warm water.
- Add a small amount of mild detergent to the water and mix well.
- Moisten a soft cloth or sponge with the soapy water.
- Wring it out well so it is only slightly damp.
- Gently wipe the soot from the covers of the book. Do not scrub the surface, or you risk damaging the cover.
- Wipe with a dry, soft cloth or sponge.
- Allow the book to air dry completely.
- If the cover has become dulled, apply a light layer of oil-based furniture polish. It may not make them look as shiny as the original, but it will help.
Cleaning Smoke Damaged Pages
You Will Need:
- Art gum eraser
- Hard rubber eraser
Steps to Remove Light Smoke Damage:
Light smoke damage can be wiped away.
- Use a dry sponge to gently wipe the edges of the book.
- Do not apply moisture as this will only make the stains more difficult to remove.
Steps to Remove Moderate Smoke Damage:
If the smoke damage cannot be wiped away, a more abrasive approach may be needed.
- Start with an art gum eraser. Hold the book firmly together as you rub the eraser along the edges.
- If the art gum eraser does not remove the damage, use a hard, rubber eraser. Again, rub it back and forth along the edges as you hold the book tightly shut with your other hand.
Steps to Remove Heavy Smoke Damage:
When the first methods prove unsuccessful, its time for the advanced methods.
- Hold the pages in the center of the book, and allow the covers to open to the sides, supported by a surface to keep them from opening too far.
- Use a clamp to hold the pages tightly shut. To prevent the clamp from damaging them, you may want to add some thin wood sheets or similar on either side to spread out the clamping pressure over a large area.
- Take a piece of fine sandpaper and gently rub it along the edges to remove the smoke damaged layer.
- Take your time and keep the strokes even to avoid causing waves in the pages.
- Use a dry sponge to remove any dust that was created during sanding.
Removing Smoke Odor
You Will Need:
- An odor absorber (choose one):
- Baking soda
- Fresh coffee grounds
- Activated charcoal
- White vinegar
- A plate or bowl
- A box or bag
Steps to Remove the Odor:
- Select an odor absorber from the list above.
- Cover a plate or fill a bowl with the odor absorber.
- Set the plate/bowl in a box. If you don’t have a large enough box, a trash bag can be used instead.
- Put the books in the box next to the plate or bowl. Be very careful if using white vinegar that it does not spill on the books.
- Close up the box and let it sit for several hours or overnight.
- Remove the odor absorber and if the smoke smell has not fully disappeared, repeate the process using fresh odor absorber. It may help to rotate the books within the box so that they other side is closest to the odor absorber.
- This process can be repeated as many times as needed.
Additional Tips and Advice
- Some smoke damage may not be removable. In these cases, use a felt tip marker to color the edges of the book. This will cover up the stains. Craft stores sell a product called gilding that can be used to paint the edges gold, offering a more attractive way to cover up the damage.