How Do Conservators Remove Crayon From Books?

Updated February 21, 2017

The job of a conservator is to repair damage to a book, returning it to a condition where it may be consulted by a patron without causing further harm. Unlike basic book repair (repairing torn pages and general cleaning), which occurs in libraries, book conservation techniques typically apply to rare or valuable manuscripts and require specialised training. Using a professional conservator to remove crayon and other marks from books involves considerable expense and time.

Conservators and Book Repair

Before attempting to remove marks from books and paper, a conservator assesses the item. He takes into account several aspects, including the value of the item and its overall condition. The conservator must determine whether it is appropriate to repair the item due to its intrinsic or historical value and rarity, or whether it is replaceable. If he determines the book is valuable only for the information it contains, he may decide to preserve the information in another format. It is unlikely a professional conservator will agree to repair a mass market or popular publication, including children's books.


A crayon is a stick of coloured wax used in drawing. While most commonly used by children, crayons are artists' tools also. Various waxes, including paraffin and beeswax, and dry pigments are combined during the manufacturing process to create brightly hued sticks. Crayons wear down through abrasion and use on paper and other writing surfaces.

Crayons on Paper

Crayon marks in books occur frequently, especially in books handled by children. When applied to paper, crayons leave a waxy, coloured mark on the surface of the paper. The Crayola Company, one maker of crayon products, suggests using a kneaded eraser to gently rub the mark off the paper's surface. Kneaded erasers are made of a malleable rubber that erases without damaging the surface while picking up residue.

Tools for Removing Marks

A conservator employs a number of tools for removing marks from paper. Various forms of erasers are selected. Kneaded erasers and vinyl erasers are the least abrasive and leave less debris and fewer crumbs to fall into the book's gutter, or binding. The conservator also uses a soft brush to remove loose dirt and eraser crumbs.

Technique for Cleaning Paper

Pencil marks and crayon may come up readily with the application of erasers if the mark is not embedded into the paper, or if it has not left a stain. The conservator uses gentle rubbing motions to remove the mark, rubbing softly and randomly from the centre of the mark outward to the edge. This prevents further damage to the paper. He examines the paper frequently to ensure that the erase is not marring the finish of the paper. He also brushes the crumbs from the paper frequently, ensuring that crumbs are not entering the spine edge of the book and not becoming sandwiched between the leaves.


Using erasers will smudge pastel, pencil and charcoal drawings. This technique is not recommended for artwork. Removing crayon from photographs through erasing is not appropriate for conservation. Photographic paper, especially old photographs, require very different types of handling techniques and equipment in order to avoid damaging the paper and the image. Photographic conservation encompasses a different field of paper conservation.

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About the Author

Stephanie Maatta has been a writer for more than 10 years, with articles published in professional journals including "Library Journal" and "Reference Librarian." Many of her publications focus on professional development and career advising. Maatta holds a Ph.D. and Master of Science in library and information science from Florida State University.