Many old or valuable books are often found with a leather cover or jacket to keep them protected for a long time. Leather is a long-lasting and durable material that can keep precious diaries and journals safe and offer a beautiful old-school aesthetic.
Many people love the style of old leather-bound books and prefer to buy new journals with luxurious leather exteriors. However, these books are much different from regular books and need to be cared for accordingly.
This guide will help you learn how to care for leather-bound books with infallible do’s and don’ts. We’ll also share some best practices and useful tips that you should consider if you have leather-bound books.
1. Keep Your Leather Books Clean
Cleaning your leather-bound books is important if you want to protect the leather for longer use. However, different leather cleaning methods depend on the type of leather of your leather-bound book. If your leather book is made of suede or nubuck leather, you should use a clean cloth or clean brush to remove dirt and dust thoroughly from the cover.
If you want to clean any other leather material, you can use saddle soap or a dedicated leather cleaning solution. Using a run-of-the-mill cleaner (containing alcohol) can discolor the leather or cause it to crack or peel, so avoid those. Instead, use a leather-friendly cleaning product.
Take a small amount of leather cleaner or saddle soap on a slightly damp cloth and rub the product on the leather. Use gentle circular motions to clean the entire leather exterior free of lingering impurities. After thoroughly cleaning the exterior of leather books, wipe the excess product away with a dry lint-free cloth and leave it to dry.
We have an entire guide on this, so make sure to read more about how to clean your leather-bound books. In this guide, we take you through a detailed step-by-step process.
2. Condition Your Leather Books
Leather conditioning solutions have unique ingredients that nourish leather with essential natural oils. Conditioning leather books once a year can prevent them from drying out and becoming brittle. It can also help avoid any cracking in the material and make the leather supple and malleable.
To condition your leather books, you’ll need to choose a leather-friendly conditioner. Next, pour a small amount of leather conditioner on a clean and lint-free cloth and rub the product onto the leather book cover.
Apply gentle pressure to meld the conditioner using circular motions over the entire leather exterior. After a complete application, allow the leather binding to dry. We suggest letting your leather books dry individually before placing them back on the shelf.
3. Use Protective Gloves When Handling Them
A great precautionary measure for handling old and valuable leather-bound books is to wear light cotton gloves. Since leather often becomes fragile over time (especially when it comes to antique books) and without proper care, it is best to use protective leather gloves to prevent further damage.
The reason why cotton gloves are recommended when handling leather books is that they inhibit the transfer of body oils from your fingers onto the leather cover. They also soften and ensure that your leather books don’t get damaged.
4. Keep Them Out of Direct Sunlight
Leather books can fade when in direct contact with sunlight. It can also cause them to become brittle and dry, losing their natural oils. If a leather book is kept in direct sunlight over a prolonged time, its spine will begin to fade, and you’ll also notice the stiffening texture.
Therefore, it is best to keep your leather books out of direct sunlight as much as possible. If you’re working with limited space then we recommend lowering the blinds or placing the bookshelf with leather books further away from the windows.
5. Store Them in Ventilated Locations
Leather is a natural and highly porous material. It absorbs moisture easily, which can trap within the leather’s pores if kept in an enclosed space for a long time. This can cause the leather to develop mold and mildew.
Mold is a highly destructive type of fungus that is extremely tough to remove and can permanently damage your leather books. Therefore, we recommend storing your leather books in a clean, dry, and ventilated place.
If you have bookshelves in rooms with windows, open them from time to time to let in fresh air. This is particularly important if you live in humid and damp environments.
6. Avoid Using Bookends
When bookends press against the front and back cover of a leather book, it may leave an imprint, especially when they are pressed against it too hard or when the environment is damp.
Instead, it’s best to store your leather books on shelves that have closed ends. This doesn’t require you to use any book ends and also ensures that the books don’t topple over.
If you have open bookshelves and require bookends, make sure that they don’t press against the leather cover. Leave a small gap between the bookend and the leather books.
7. Don’t Drag Your Leather Books Off the Shelf
If you want to keep your leather-bound books safe and protected for a long time, you should avoid dragging leather books off the shelf. Pulling a book off the shelf with its end cap can damage its spine, especially if the books are stacked together tightly.
You should always push the other books on either side of the book to expose the desired book and then pick it away from the middle. Once it’s exposed, lift it from the shelf, so that the bottom of the book doesn’t slide across the shelf.
8. Don’t Stack or Store Your Leather Books Too Closely
Although we recommend you to store your leather books closely together for support, you should never stack books too tightly or close together. This can apply excessive pressure on the hinges, which causes them to crack and get damaged.
Moreover, leather book bindings can also stick together if they’re pressed against each other, especially in humid environments. Leaving a small gap allows the leather to breathe.
9. Avoid a Damp Environment If Possible
Damp environments can promote mold growth in natural materials, and this is also true for leather-bound books. If you store your leather books in humid or warm conditions, without maintaining them, they are likely to develop mold and mildew or get brittle over time.
Mold can spread quickly over the entire leather surface and be highly detrimental to the book cover. Removing mold is excessively difficult, especially on older leather books that have visible damage.
It can be difficult in warmer or more humid countries, but there are ways to maintain and store your leather books adequately. Remember to keep them in an open, dry, and clean area.
10. Handle Them with Care
Proper book handling is one of the most important aspects of caring for your leather-bound books. If you don’t actively keep your leather books away from moisture, food, or other impurities, they may absorb odors, discolor, or get damaged.
Always wash your hands before handling leather-bound books and regularly give them a wipe using a soft dry cloth. This ensures that you don’t transfer any oils and dirt onto your leather books.
To clean leather-bound books, ensure always to use leather-friendly care products to keep them supple and nourished for years. When cleaning or handling antique, valuable, or damaged leather books, it’s best to use fine cotton gloves.
Co-Founder, Researcher & Writer At Leatherskill
I’m a leather enthusiast who spends most of his free time crafting, researching, and writing about the many facets of this versatile material. Thanks for reading!