If you’ve dropped your book accidentally into a pool of water or spilled coffee on it, don’t despair. There is an inexpensive way to restore your wet book, although don’t expect it to be as perfect as it was before. Ideally, wet books – especially sopping wet ones – should be brought to a preservation expert for restoration and repair, but if you don’t have access to one or find the service too expensive, here’s a way for you to do book drying by yourself. If your book is a rare and valuable one, we suggest that rather than attempting this you should bring it to a preservation expert instead.
Air drying or book drying through the use of air is the cheapest method of bringing wet books back to their dry state, and does not require specialized equipment. This process takes a fair amount of time and is labor intensive, but if your book is one of your favorites, the time you put into this process will be well spent. Air drying works best for books that are damp and only mildly wet. If your book was dunked into a pool of water and is really wet, expect the book drying time to take much longer. One other thing to remember is that this process is recommended and works best for books that are made of plain paper, not coated ones.
1. Prepare your book drying environment and equipment.
To carry out your book drying process, you will need the following equipment:
· A book press (if you don’t have one, you can use heavy objects such as bricks or a telephone directory)
· Press boards (these hard paper boards in between which you will sandwich the book to reshape it)
· One or more electric fans
· Paper towels
· Blotter paper
· Wax paper (for books with coated paper)
· Disposable gloves
· Wax paper or freezer paper (in case you need to put the book in the freezer)
Find a place that is clean, dry, spacious, and where the temperature and humidity is low. If you work in places such as your basement, the humidity might be quite high and could result in the growth of molds and distortion of your books. Make sure the temperature in your work area is below 70°F and humidity is below 50%.
Position your electric fans so that they are facing upwards and not directly towards the books to be dried. You want to do this because if there are any loose pages in your books, direct air will make the leaves fly off the book.
2. Prepare the books/sheets to be dried.
If you are drying an entire book, place unprinted paper towels, blotter paper, or blank newsprint in between the pages of the book. Do this very carefully so as not to tear the wet book paper. Wet paper is very fragile, so it is important that you handle it gently. Use both hands to support the book when you move it. For better book drying results and to minimize tearing the book’s leaves, wear gloves while you are handling the book. Don’t use printed paper for interleaving, because the print on that paper will stain your book’s pages.
When placing interleaving sheets, remember to handle both the book and interleaving paper gently. Lay the book flat on the table or lean it against a bookend while doing this. If the book is very wet, you may have to do this process in stages, because adding too many interleaving sheets at a time may damage the book’s binding.
If the book you want to dry is made of coated paper, we advise you to use wax paper as interleaving sheets. Coated paper, such as those you find in coffee table books or glossy magazines, is different from regular book paper because they have been coated with a clay coating, a process that isn’t done with books made of newsprint or regular paper. When books of coated paper become wet, once they dry they tend to stick together – permanently. Wax paper used as an interleaving sheet for book drying coated books will help to minimize this adhesion. We don’t suggest using paper towels, newsprint or blotting paper as interleaving sheets for books made with coated paper, because the shiny pages will stick to them. The process of using wax paper will take longer than the time it will take you to dry a book made with regular paper because the moisture will have to be allowed to evaporate naturally. In this case, the wax paper is used to prevent the leaves from sticking together.
If the book is saturated with water, don’t try to forcibly separate the sheets. Place absorbent paper only on the sheets that separate easily. When the book is partially dry and the stuck sheets have separated, you can then place additional interleaving sheets in between the pages.
Don’t forget to place paper in between the covers too. After you’ve done interleaving all the pages, position the book so that it is standing up, with the pages fanned slightly open. Place extra paper towels or newsprint below it to absorb the moisture.
If you are going to dry single book pages, lay each page flat on the table or work surface, in between paper towels or unprinted newsprint. You can buy newsprint at the local bookstore, and paper towels at the grocery.
3. Dry the books with a fan.
Now that you’ve got your books interleaved and your book is standing on absorbent paper, you can turn the fan on. Remember, always position the fan upwards and away from the books that you are drying. You don’t want your books’ pages to come off and go flying all over the place.
Never use a regular oven, a hair dryer, or a microwave oven for book drying. This will result in your book’s pages becoming crispy and therefore crumbly.
Note that drying with the fan will take several hours at the very least, and could even last for days. This is a slow process, but necessary. If the book isn’t left long enough to dry, mold could still grow and the pages could become warped. Patience is important.
If you can, avoid drying your books outside under direct sunlight because this could fade the inks on the book’s pages and accelerate the aging of the paper. In addition, breezes outside may cause the sheets of your book to fly away.
4. Periodically check on the book drying.
Check on the books regularly, maybe every hour, and replace the blotting paper with fresh dry ones. Inspect the books for mold growth. Molds usually grow within 24 to 48 hours. If you find mold starting to grow on the pages of the book, you can lightly and gently swab it off with some alcohol on a piece of cotton.
Let’s say that you’ve got other things to do or somewhere to go and cannot stay home to periodically replace the absorbent paper. If this is the case, you will have to put the book in the freezer – the freezer compartment of your home’s refrigerator will do.
Before you freeze your book, however, loosely wrap it in wax paper or freezer paper and put it in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator. Place it so that it is laid flat then put a brick on top of it to help it keep its shape. The reason you have to do this is because freezing will help to stop the bleeding of the inks, prevent the formation of mold, and reduce the physical distortion of the book.
Once you get back home and have time to do the book drying process again, take the book out from the freezer. Leave it out for sometime to thaw it out. You will have to go through the process of putting interleaving paper in between the pages again.
5. Replace interleaving sheets often.
The actual book drying process is the longest and most labor-intensive part. We suggest that you replace the blotting paper often so because new, dry ones will absorb the moisture from the book faster.
Each time you replace the interleaving sheets in the book, stand the book on its other side so that the book drying process will be distributed evenly. If you stood the book on its tail the first time, this time stand it on its head. Doing otherwise – like standing the book on its tail every time you replace the interleaving sheet – will dry the bottom faster than the upper part, and will make the pages warp.
6. Press the book.
Once the book is dry but still cool to the touch, place it on a flat surface. Gently form it back into its normal shape. Then, place a weight on top of the book. We advise that you use a book press, if you have one. Alternatively, a brick or telephone directory covered with an unprinted paper towel or newsprint will work fine. For better results, sandwich the book in between press boards before placing the weight on top of it. Leave the book pressed under the weight for several days.
Do not stack the books that you are drying on top of each other. Also, do not place the books back on your shelves right away until they are thoroughly dry. Doing this may cause molds to grow.
7. Store the books carefully.
After you have completed the book drying process and your books have dried, you can now put them in clean boxes or back on your shelves. Remember to check these books periodically for mold growth. If you see mold starting to grow on the pages, gently swab these out with a little alcohol on a piece of cotton.