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Whether you scored some hand me down treasures, hit the jackpot at a garage sale, or just had a chewed goldfish cracker incident, you may be wondering how to clean a board book. I know you’re not about to load your story collection in the top rack of the dishwasher with the plastic toys, but board books can definitely be cleaned and disinfected by hand without risking any wrecked pages.

board books standing upright

What Are Board Books?

Board books are pretty much exactly what they sound like – books with cardboard pages. These heavy-duty books stand up better to the destructive nature of babies and toddlers who tend to have a preference for ripping and eating paper pages over gently thumbing through them. Board books are perfect for baby paws because they’re usually small in size and have rounded page edges, lest your little get any big ideas about poking themselves in the eye with their storybook (and you know they will).

If you’ve got a favorite children’s book that you’d love to share with your baby but worry they’re not old enough for the real deal, take a peek around. Many board book adaptations of popular books can be found floating around in bookstores and online; these books are often condensed versions of the originals.

How To Clean Board Books

As it turns out, there’s more than one way to clean a board book. It just depends on exactly what kind of cleaning you need to do.  

How To Clean Scribbles And Mystery Gunk

It’s just a matter of time before your sweet little angel takes a pencil crayon, unsupervised sticker set or jam-covered hands to the pages of their board book. You may not get the book back to its former glory, but there are a few things you can try.

had cleaning board books with a damp cloth

Removing Sticky Messes

For sticky stuff on your book covers or pages, a slightly damp cloth with a little bit of dish detergent may be a good place to start. Just make sure you dry everything with a cloth or paper towel, or air dry with the pages spread apart when you’re done. Having a fan nearby can speed up the process. If you skip this step, you’re likely to find the pages stuck together the next time you go to read your book.

using an eraser and a blow dryer to remove sticker from board book

Getting Rid of Sticker Residue

If your kiddo decides to repurpose their board book into a sticker album, you can try peeling them off and removing leftover residue with a rubber eraser. If the adhesive is a stubborn mf’er, try heating the leftover glue and paper with a hair dryer and gently scraping it off with the flat edge of a knife.

Removing Gum

If the sticky mess was left by chewing gum, popping the book in the freezer for a bit before scraping off the leftovers is recommended.

markers and crayons around board book

Eliminating Artwork

Erasers can also remove unwanted pencil marks but don’t scrub too hard or there’s a chance you could discolor your book’s pages. Unfortunately, if your kiddo has marked up their book’s pages with ink, you’re gonna have to learn to love their creative additions. I’d skip the Magic Eraser as it’ll probably remove the finish and ruin the colors in your book.

hand pouring cleanser out of white jug

How To Eliminate Viruses, Bacteria and Mystery Illness (Fingers Crossed)

Before you reach for the nearest bottle of cleaner, it’s important to recognize that some products out there are intended for cleaning, while others are meant to disinfect (and yep, there is a difference). According to the CDC, while disinfectants kill germs like viruses and bacteria on contact, cleaners physically remove dirt and some germs, but don’t actually kill them. Here are a few popular ways to go to war against any nastiness that may be festering on your kid’s book collection.

container of bleach, spray bottle, board book, disinfecting wipes and yellow rubber gloves

Bleach and Ammonium

(Disinfects)
Clorox or Lysol wipes are one option for giving board books a quick wipe to disinfect them. If you’d rather save some dough and mix your own bleach solution, open a window and throw on some gloves and clothes you don’t have an attachment to. Start with 2 cups of cold water in a bucket and add 2 teaspoons of bleach (do it in this order to limit splash back from the bleach). Pour your mixture into a spray bottle and sponge the bleach solution onto your books. Make sure the sponge is damp, but not wet. Then wipe with a damp (water only) cloth and wipe dry or let air dry. It’s important to remember that after 24 hours, bleach and water solutions lose their disinfectant properties, so only make as much as you need and use a fresh batch every time.

hand using cotton ball with rubbing alcohol to clean a child's book

Rubbing Alcohol

(Disinfects)
Rubbing alcohol is another option for getting your board books clean again. Squirt a little on a cotton ball or paper towel and rub gently. Books with glossy surfaces are safe to clean with 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol, which does a way better job of eliminating any virus or bacteria lingering on surfaces than 90% isopropyl rubbing alcohol does (I had no idea until now.)

honest company alcohol wipes and disinfecting spray

Chemical Alternatives

(Disinfects)
If you’re feeling hesitant to hand over books you’ve wiped down with traditional cleaning products to your baby, there are also products out there that don’t contain harsh chemicals such these sanitizing alcohol wipes and multi-surface cleaner from The Honest Company.

bottle of vinegar and spray bottle next to hand cleaning board books

Vinegar

(Cleans but doesn’t disinfect)
If you want to use vinegar to clean your board books, it’s important to recognize that it acts as a cleaner but not a disinfectant. Vinegar does have the ability to kill some pathogens like E.Coli, Listeria, and Salmonella, so if you’re just worried about grime and foodborne illness, spray away with a vinegar/water solution that’s equal parts of both ingredients.

Help! My Kid’s Book Got Wet And Now It’s Growing Mold!

Sometimes board books get wet and don’t dry properly, making them a potential breeding ground for mold and mildew. If the book has sentimental value, use 70% isopropyl alcohol to wipe it down and then allow it to dry. If the book can be replaced because it’s not a first edition from your grandma’s pile of antique books, I’d probably just toss it, knowing that there’s a good chance your baby will use it as a chew toy at some point.

blue recycle bin on street

Can Board Books Be Recycled?

Wondering what to do with old books that you can’t donate or pass along to another family because they’re in rough shape? Although paperback and regular hardcover books (with the covers removed) can usually be tossed into the mixed paper bin, board books sometimes aren’t recyclable because of their hard, coated cardboard. It’s best to check with your city’s recycling program to find out what they’ll accept.

assortment of indestructible books

Alternatives To Board Books

There are a couple of book alternatives you may want to check out if cleaning board books seems like too much of a pain in the butt to deal with. Cloth books are soft, easy for babies to hold and snuggle with, and can be thrown in the washing machine to eliminate stains and germs.

Indestructibles are printed on a 100% nontoxic, paperlike material that falls into the category of rare books that are totally chew, rip and drool-proof and can also be washed with water and soap. They can even go in the tub! These books have fun illustrations and very few words to encourage natural conversations and observations between parents and their kiddos.

Do you have any recommendations for cleaning board books?

Do you want to share some of your favorites? I’d love to hear all of your thoughts in the comments!

You might also like: Best Books for Babies (Including Some Hidden Gems)



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