How to Clean Leather Books

Written by daniel holzer
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How to Clean Leather Books
Care for your leather books so they do not fall prey to red rot. (penna e libro image by ale_s from

Some of the most prized books among bibliophiles are the thick leather-bound volumes from the world’s best authors like Shakespeare, Rumi and Sun Tzu. Leather books are made to look good and to last for generations, which is why most family Bibles are often leather-bound. Caring for these books requires more attention than the typical novel as leather needs maintenance to last without serious deterioration. The most infamous book deterioration is called “red rot,” a condition that leaves the leather delicate and crumbling into particles that come off on the hands like red dust.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Vacuum cleaner with brush attachment
  • Soft toothbrush
  • 2 soft cotton or microfiber dusting cloths
  • Saddle soap

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  1. 1

    Wash and dry your hands thoroughly.

  2. 2

    Dust the book thoroughly using either a vacuum with brush attachment or a soft toothbrush. Clamp the book closed in your hands and firmly hold the book with the spine facing the ceiling. Use either a vacuum’s brush attachment or a soft toothbrush to gently remove dust and particles from the book. Move first along the spine, then in downward motions along the front panel, back panel and page edges.

  3. 3

    Wipe the leather panels with a soft cotton or microfiber dusting cloth. Use the same motions to wipe down the book as you did dusting it: across the spine, downward along the panels and page edges.

  4. 4

    Apply a bit of saddle soap sparingly to a particularly dirty leather book with a soft cotton dusting cloth. Gently massage the soap into all of the leather in small circular motions.

  5. 5

    Carefully wipe the leather book clean of any excess saddle soap or dust before storing it in a cool area away from direct sunlight.

Tips and warnings

  • Always store your leather-bound books in cool, medium-humidity areas away from direct sunlight to preserve the leather.
  • Always wash your hands before handing leather-bound tomes.
  • Do not use oil on your leather books: The Library of Congress recommends against it because it can do more harm than good if not expertly applied.

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