Book Care Book Repair General Knowledge/FAQ About Books

Simple Book Jacket Makeovers: How to clean, repair and protect book dust jackets and covers

Learn how to clean, repair and preserve the dust jackets on your treasured tomes.

The Able McLaughlins

This was a listing for a dust jacket only,
no book included!

It’s spring here in New York City, and people are hurrying off to work weighed down with more than the usual laptops and cell phones. Spring — and the related notion of spring cleaning — has these folks carrying garments they’re not wearing, things in need of cleaning and repair. Many of these are what designers call jackets.

Which, of course, is what another species of designer calls the attractive and informative attire books wear. Those jackets are meant to be protective, too. And, like our clothing, they need care now and then.

There’s no need to cart book jackets to your neighborhood cleaners, nor make arrangements for that urban indulgence, pickup and delivery. You can do the job yourself, at your convenience, using household products and clear plastic dust jacket covers.

We like spring for book cleaning because of the longer periods and quality of daylight that we prefer over artificial light, for the clearest view of a problem leads to the best course of action and the most successful outcome. Natural light illuminates our favorite space for book care best at this time of year. Your first task, then, is to find the place nature and the calendar make ideal for you.

Next, select the books whose jackets need care. One objection we’ve heard to do-it-yourself book repair is “I’ve got so many books!” Counter this classic procrastinator’s aid by making a plan that conforms to the time and effort you’re ready to spend and the most pressing needs of your collection. Choose one particular shelf of books, the top-ten worst-wounded jackets among the books you love best, your mysteries or cookbooks — it’s up to you. It’s a start, and manageable.

The surface on which you work can affect the outcome. If you use a kitchen counter, take care that the surface is neither damp nor coated with residue of breakfast or cleansers. Doubts about its cleanliness for book care? Cover it with plastic wrap or paper towels. Surfaces such as Formica can be wiped with rubbing alcohol, that great cleaner of the coated dust jacket. Similarly, a wood tabletop may be perfect in terms of size and light, but when did you last use lemon oil or other wood-care products on it? A dust jacket, especially one of uncoated paper, must be kept free from the slightest hint of oily substances. Again, a clean covering makes the wood surface a safe workspace.

Why all this attention to the surface on which you’ll work? Simple dust jacket cleaning, such as the gentle wiping with a soft cloth that can be done with the jacket in place around its book, is just the start. For true spring cleaning and repair, the dust jacket must be removed from the book and placed face down and open, its exterior exposed to whatever it rests on. No reason to risk one side while improving the other!

What does the inside of the book jacket look like? Dirt loose or firmly adhering often collects there, especially in the creases that allow the jacket to fold around a book’s covers. A soft brush or cloth can move loose dirt; an Artgum eraser usually removes all, or enough, of firmer accumulations.

A dust jacket in this open, inside-out position is ready for the most basic of repairs: the simple tear. If the tear closes neatly, which you can judge by laying the jacket right side up and noting how well the damaged parts meet, the remedy is easy. Flip the jacket over, use your finger or a bone folder to hold the tear closed, and apply a small piece of invisible [acid free] tape** , or several pieces if the tear is longer than an inch or so. A jacket torn in half can usually be made whole by the same method. A tear that involves fraying may be more of a challenge but can be fixed. Take care that the frayed areas are in their original positions before applying tape or toothpick’s touch of glue.

Missing pieces (chips) can be similarly positioned and secured if you have them; if not, does the surrounding area need reinforcement? Again, small pieces of tape may help the jacket hold its shape.

Protecting the repaired and cleaned dust jacket with a clear plastic cover is the final step. A jacket with large chips or of delicate, aging paper can be made stable by careful placement in clear plastic. Covers with paper backing are often ideal when you have a partial jacket.

Before altering your dust jackets (or any other part of a book), ask yourself what its value is to you. If it’s an investment-quality volume, it’s wise to make no alterations; a clear plastic dust jacket cover will secure a jacket weakened at its creases or badly frayed. As a general rule, do nothing to affect a book’s authenticity, which affects value. But the repairs you do undertake will make your books look better and last longer, just like the split seam well sewn preserves your favorite tweed jacket.

Biblio Edit:  Many concerned booksellers have written encouraging an edit to this article, so we will share it here without changing the text above.  Please beware of using invisible tape or any kind of tape to repair dust jackets.  The adhesive and acids can cause just as much damage as the original tear.

35 Comments

  • I am looking to replace the binding on a 25 volume set of “The Historian’s History of the World” it was published in 1905. I can’t seem to find a bookbinding company that does this. I might add reasonably.

    • I doubt very much that you will find one for a price your willing to pay , people have no idea how long and how much work goes into binding one book let alone 25 !!

    • We used Norris Bookbinding Co. of Mississippi to rebind my husband’s favorite Bible, and they did a wonderful job! But I don’t know about their prices. They will give you an estimate. Call and talk to the guy…

  • tape!? not cellotape or “scotch” tape. not any kind of “transparent” tape off a roll from any stationery supply store – it is all highly acidic and will make the paper brown and will fall off. it will leave its glue behind. If you want to ruin your dust jackets, use tape.

    it is better to do nothing than to use tape.

    • I have a book with a delicate book jacket, and my book jacket is not have dust on it and it doesn’t have dust or debris on it. the book jacket of my book is dented a little bit and i thought this website would tell me how to protect dented book jackets and how to fix them? Because dented book jackets are really common with other people. Also I don’t think people should use tape for their book jackets/covers protector (especially scotch tape because the thing itself is a residue to the non related tape and will damage the book cover over time. And just to give extra advice put your book jackets away from direct sunlight when there’s tape on it or it will be more damaged. And please make a website about how to protect books and their jackets and covers and how to fix them. And how to repair books with bad quality from the start and how to remove it from dirt and how to make the font in the book more readable! Please help me and my book! Ive lost a lot of books and I think they’re all in danger! ive used tape before and it completely ripped out my whole book jacket. Are these things a scam just please help my book. Though thiis website was very helpful for my friends’ books though. thanks i guess it was a bit helpful! 🙂

  • Re “tape” – I think he means opaque, matt surface invisible-type tape that is gently sticky. I’ve seen this on jacket repairs on books belonging to respected collectors I know. Think you get in art supply stores and it’s very different from normal Sellotape/Scotch tape.

    • I have used so called archival tape on fine Japanese style paper. It can’t be removed without tearing the surface away and the glue has shown through – so beware of any tape!

      • Many people have spoken up in concern, so we have added an edit to the article to warn people against using tape to repair dust jackets.

  • I cover all my hardbacks. What i haven’t been able to find is vacuum made to vacuum the top of books that are sitting on a shelf. I would think there is one somewhere made especially for this?
    Thanks for your support.

  • I like to do moderate repair to my books. For dust jackets I use clean,well worn flannel cloths, starting at center and directing motion toward edges. Never saw back and forth. Lighter fluid will lift most discolorations. It won’t lift up some food stains,so try a drop of saliva, which has a mild solvent quality. Lighter fluid will, when allowed a few drops to soak, allow a label, or price tag to lift off. Use a little more fluid to clean away glue residue. Exhale close to a coated surface and wipe with clean cloth, it works wonders on smooth surfaces. I agree, shun almost all tapes, except archival tape which can be purchased in many Art Supply stores. Don’t be in a hurry. Sawing back and forth cleaning a jacket can start a wrinkle which cannot be removed. You may weep. Do not tape any jacket on the display side. Inside only. Book edges: Grip volume tightly closed and use a clean makeup to brush dust, stroking from spine to fore edge. Even before that,open book, spine cupped in hand, and fan pages blowing from center of interior toward edge to remove loose dust. Make sure your lips are dry. Wash hands and dry thoroughly before starting any of this. Sharp scissors for the archival tape, which has a backing,and comes in several sizes. Get a few feet of each size and experiment on a book which will not bring you to tears if it is botched. Never use Acetone. Get lighter fluid and see whether you like it better than rubbing alcohol.I do. It’s very good and safest to use a light rubber glove for the lighter fluid so as not to absorb any. With the glove on, wrap the clean cloth around cleaning finger, put a few drops on cloth, and stroke gently toward the corners. Little can be safely done for remainder marks. Read what your library has on book cleaning. If you weren’t trained, don’t try to rebind. Hope this helped. Jim

  • Just about anyone could have written that. What about archival tape, book repair adhesive, the various proprietory book cleaning products, touching in with coloured markers, treating mould? Get a bookseller to write one next time. Tsk

    • Thanks for the comment, and sorry that it was not as in depth as you hoped. Mr. Marcowitz shared this article with us in 2008, and we thought folks might enjoy the reminder.

      We do accept articles and posts from experts – we certainly do not know it all ourselves! I am indeed constantly learning more about the care of books, myself.

  • This is bad advice, telling people to use “invisible tape” on the dj. This is no better for paper than regular scotch tape. If you use any tape, it should be archival quality Document Repair Tape – costs about $30 a roll. But you shouldn’t feel you have to “fix” anything. One of the advantages of covering the dj with a mylar protector is that you can stabilize the dj without undertaking possibly harmful repairs.

    • Many people have suggested the same, so we have added an edit to warn people against using tape to repair dust jackets.

      Thank you for your advice!

  • The only tape I use is the special Document Repair Tape that is sold by Brodart (and possibly elsewhere). Scotch tape, electrician’s tape, duct tape, painter’s tape, ankle-wrap tape are all not a good idea (and I’ve seen all of them used before). Some people may have access to professionals who can do archival paper repairs. I have access to a friend of mine who does archival repairs involving no tape and his work is quite nice. Some number of years ago these kinds of repairs were pretty much frowned upon, but for the last few years one comes across dust jackets that have been restored professionally and that are sold by reputable dealers. I have more comments about this if anyone is interested.

    • Thank you for the advice and clarification on a good tape to use!

      Many people have spoken up in concern, so we have added an edit to the article to warn people against using tape to repair dust jackets.

  • Was in the used book business for many years and worked with many DJs in various conditions.
    1) Never-EVER-use any form of tape unless absolutely necessary (actual separation of DJ sections, chips at edges hanging on by a fiber, etc.). If there are chips on the edge that do not look in danger of detaching, just make sure that you gently flatten them before you use a plastic cover.
    2) I discovered that glass cleaner sprayed onto a paper towel-not onto the book directly-is a good way to remove dust, smoke stains (that wonderful brown residue that accumulates from years of tobacco use) and most residue while not harming the book. This is my standard procedure with books that are older and do not have the more recent undercoating most of today’s books use. For newer books spraying lightly onto the book to remove stains is ok, and things like Lysol wipes also work well. For stickers and tape work on the outside, lighter fluid is a Godsend.
    3) For older books and first editions, I use only archival/acid free plastic jackets.
    4) Bro-Dart makes a wonderful book glue that is elastic and will flex with the book so you don’t hear cracking when it opens. Don’t EVER use plain white glue-it dries much more stiff and if you use it to fix a place where the spine has separated from the book, many times it will re-separate and cause further damage.

  • Check the type of paper used before using any type of cleaner on a jacket. Most jackets have a glossy finish which can be cleaned; others have a matt finish which can absorb the cleaner and be discolored forever! The same goes if the glossy cover has worn through or frayed. Test any cleaner in a small, inconspicuous area before proceeding. I found out the hard way!

  • “Goof-Off” and similar products are better than lighter fluid (no residue) and can even be used to clean silk neckties.
    (Higher fraction of hydrocarbon distillate.)

  • Use a hair dryer for stickers. Hold dryer up close…start on reverse side…works like a charm….suggested to me by a lady who had nothing to do with books. Bless her.

  • So tape is horrible for paper? Why do so many stores put stickers on their book covers, then? Is the damage incurred over time, if the store stickers aren’t removed? Do they use a book safe adhesive?

    Really, I’m just complaining about removing stickers and that annoying residue.

  • If you have to remove tape or stickers of any kind, first try using heptane, which is available from art supply and craft/hobby stores, or from Amazon, as Bestine’s Solvent and Thinner for rubber cement. It is also sold at a much higher price per ounce as the commercial product “UN-DU,” which comes in small bottles with a handy plastic spatula for getting under tape and stickers. Once it soaks in, about 5 to 20 seconds, this product relaxes the glue in any self-adhesive item and lets you remove it gently. The glue regains its stickiness after the tape or sticker is removed (in another minute or so). Heptane dries quickly and leaves no stains or spots, but should be used in a well-ventilated area, as you would with any organic solvent. Stamp collectors have used heptane for years to remove stamps. Here is a link that may be informative: http://www.librarything.com/wiki/index.php/Sticker_Removal

  • This really helped thanks!! My book jacket fell on the ground and got a bit dirty and is sticked to it. I can’t seem to get the dirt out, and my whole book jacket looked yellow for so many days, and was also very pale. I used tape on my book jacket before it fell on the ground, and when I tried to rip the tape from my book jacket, my book jacket was completely. Now not only is it dirty its also in weird shape. I hope you can solve my problem. But everything really helped so thanks

  • I have other book jackets as well and they’re good as new. I cant afford much in books– but I know there are super easy ways to protect them because the book jackets I have are extremely delicate, and if you put water onto it, it becomes soggy and dusty. What should I do?

  • In a few words best way to repair jacket that has split at fold lines It’s my cook book would like to keep jacket as old as it is not valuable just sentimental

  • I have a first edition book that came from a local library. Dust jacket had a clear plastic cover over it but sadly they used regular clear tape. Book is from the ’60’s & i was totally floored because the tape turned yellow!! Grr. Carefully removed tape & cleaned sticky residue off but that tape left a sad mess on the blank pages front & back. Also they taped the clear cover to the book. Another dumb move from a library! Is there anything i can fo to somehow get that residue off of the outside of the book itself. So upset that someone would ruin a book, any book, like this. Just careless. Please help or at least give me consolation (). Thank you.

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