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I just spilled water on my history textbook. It only hit the first 30 pages and the cover, but I still feel bad that it got wet. Any way to restore it completely so that the wet pages aren't noticeably different from the dry ones?

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The passive solution

  • Put paper towels, tissue paper, toilet paper or anything that absorbs water well between every single page that got damp. Make sure that part of the paper towels stick out of the book to transport moisture from inside the book to outside.
  • Close the book and turn it so the damp side faces down.
  • If possible, but a sturdy board that is bigger than the book on top. This could be a (clean) kitchen cutting board, a shelf board or some crafting wood you have laying around.
  • Put something very heavy on top. A stack of 3 books is not enough, it should be 10 thick books, or a big, heavy flower pot (take care it doesn't tip over), or a stack of packs of sugar, flour or whatever is heavy and not perishable. The weight must be enough to force all pages of the book to lay completely flat. Make sure the weight is evenly distributed over the whole area of the book.
  • Wait 3 - 5 days (depending on the relative humidity where you live)

The active solution

Warning! This could damage the printing of the book. Please test this solution on an area of unimportant text first (like a page count or some note on the inside cover).

  • Heat an iron to the lowest setting and make sure the steam function is deactivated.
  • Open the book to a dampened page and lay it on a flat and sturdy surface
  • Lay a paper towel on top of the page
  • Press the iron down onto the paper towel without moving it around. Apply pressure to the iron to straighten out the paper. The heat will dry the page at the same time.

If the book was printed with toner (laser printer technology) then heat might melt the toner and make it stick to the paper towel. Toner melts at approximately 110°C / 230°F. If you notice small black spots on the paper towel, then the heat of your iron is too much.

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    Getting the pages to lay flat is key! If they're wrinkled or wavy at all, they'll end up that way permanently.
    – bta
    Apr 1 at 19:30
  • @bta unless you fancy wetting it again for a do-over of course :)
    – Caius Jard
    Apr 2 at 6:39
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Freeze your book.

I did kind of remembered it, a google search did confirm it, this is the first site I found. This PDF file from a university an other.

If the getting wet was from clean water you should put your book in the freezer as soon as you can, and leave it there for a while. No need to package it, if you leave it in the freezer till it is dry you do not need to do anything about it.

Most people will take it out while frozen and dry it in an other way.

If the water was not clean, like coffee, the book will not become clean from freezing. Taking off as much colored 'water' before you freeze will be better.

Drying a book in the freezer can take long. Think in months for a book gone really wet. Both sites I link to have alternative methods as well, which are basically also what is covered in the other answer.

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  • Indeed, we have the term "freeze dried" and if you ever noticed food left in the freezer for months too long is all dry and horrible when it's thawed..
    – Caius Jard
    Apr 2 at 6:43
  • Well I have put 3 perfectly dry books originating from the library into the freezer for 3 days, out of hygienic considerations (whatever). After removing them from the freezer, as they came back to room temperature — to my shock — they got incredibly damp and the pages had thrown some serious waves. Needless to say, for most of the lending period they were sitting under heavy weights as per Elmy's passive method. So there is something additional that needs to be considered with the freezer.
    – Levente
    Apr 26 at 0:01
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While I support the notions in Elmy's answer I wanted to point out that there's a risk with the passive solution that the pages will end up bound together depending on contaminants in the liquid/whether the pages are coated or impregnated with anything to make them glossy (etc), that is water soluble. If you think about papier-mâché modelling; wet paper with a gluey water soluble substance as a binder might well be what you've effectively ended up with

As such, if you believe that your pages will stick to whatever you interleave them with I would suggest perhaps aluminum foil or sarin (cling) wrap as an interleaving material and relying on some forced airflow on the book edges after it had been considerably weighted down - moisture will gradually diffuse to the dry page edge but it will take a looong time

Also prepare your expectations; your desire of "so I can't tell it got wet" may never be achievable in the same way the MDF wood expands when it gets wet and your Ikea cabinet door ends up ruined, so do paper fibers and you may forever be able to tell where the wet spot was from appearance or feel. You should be able to control some of the waviness that will otherwise occur but an exact reversion will likely be unattainable

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