Disaster Recovery and Planning
- I have an infestation. How can I get rid of bugs in my books?
- How can I remove the smell of smoke from my books/documents?
- We recently had a fire. How can I remove soot from books/documents?
Never spray pesticides directly onto your books. The array of chemicals in these products can stain or discolor your object irreparably.
First, identify the bug if possible (trap one with sticky pest strips) and try to answer the following questions: Is the insect dead or alive? How many insects are there? How many books have been affected and with what kind of damage? Have you seen insects like these elsewhere in your home? Where have the books been stored, and are they damp or moldy? How valuable or old are the books?
Next, isolate the affected books by placing them in a tightly sealed plastic bag. Seek assistance from an entomologist; a local university or state extension service should be able to put you in touch with one. Any fumigation must be performed by professionals under controlled conditions.
To help prevent future infestations from occurring:
- Seal entry points, including windows and doors, and put filters on vents.
- Keep room temperatures and humidity levels low — insects need water, too.
- Keep the environment clean, dusted, and free of food or trash.
- Desiccant dusts, like diatomaceous earth or silica, can be used around the perimeters of a room. However, they will not be effective for insects with a winged portion of their life cycle.
For more information, refer to:
- 'Bugs' Are Eating My Family Treasures! [PDF: 20.3 KB / 6 p.] (Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii)
- Controlling Insect Pests: Alternatives to Pesticides [PDF: 953 KB / 4 p.] (National Park Service)
- An Insect Pest Control Procedure: The Freezing Process [PDF: 562 KB / 4 p.] (National Park Service)
- Integrated Pest Management (Northeast Document Conservation Center [NEDCC]).
The odor from smoke is hard to eliminate, but the following tips may be helpful in removing it from your materials:
- Carefully wipe books with a soft cosmetic brush to remove any dirt or other particles. Dirt holds the smell to the pages.
- Stand books on a table, fanning the pages open. Run a dehumidifier or fan close to the books to help remove moisture, which will also reduce the smell.
- If all else fails, place each book in a sealed container such as a plastic garbage bag. Place a box of baking soda in the bag (some also recommend cat litter or charcoal). Tie the bag closed and let it sit for a day or two. Remove the book and repeat if the smell seems to decrease. You may need to repeat several times. Caution: Attempting this procedure in high humidity areas, or in a damp part of your library such as a basement, could lead to mold growth.
- A short exposure to sunlight and circulating air outdoors also may help to rid the books of the smell. Remember, though, that light damages paper-based materials; such damage is irreversible. Placing materials in the sunlight may result in some darkening or fading of book materials and paper, so select this approach only if the resulting material damage would be acceptable.
Soot can easily penetrate paper and some bindings, so use extreme caution if you attempt surface cleaning yourself. First, try to clean surfaces with a vacuum; if at all possible, use a HEPA filter vacuum. If the surfaces to be cleaned are fragile or consist of loose-leaf paper, you should cover them with a piece of screen (like window screen) to keep the suction from damaging the paper.
Several tools geared toward cleaning soot from paper are also available commercially. A groomstick cleans paper and books using a non-abrasive, tacky natural rubber; the kneadable material picks up dust, dirt, graphite, crayon, grease, fingerprint oils, and more. Sponges made of vulcanized rubber or latex have unique pore sizes that help to effectively remove dirt, soot, and smoke residue from a variety of substrates, including walls and wallpaper, books, wood, paper, textiles, and metal. Powdered rubber products are also available from archival suppliers to assist in lifting soot and other debris; these can reduce the smell of smoke and other odors as well.
For more information, refer to:
- Surface Cleaning of Paper (Northeast Document Conservation Center [NEDCC])
- The Fire at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, Part 2: Removal of Soot from Artifacts and Recovery of the Building (Journal of American Institute of Conservation)
- Save Family Treasures from Soot (Heritage Preservation)