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Collecting Mania: Caring For Baskets & Books

Updated on May 30, 2010


A basket is imagination woven from nature - and there may not be a more versatile, more practical item around the home. Baskets hold fruit in the kitchen, bills in the office, towels in the bath. And sometimes they do nothing but look good. Simple dusting is the most important way to keep baskets in top shape. Use a feather duster, a soft bristle brush, or the gentle suction of a vacuum cleaner.

Experts caution against the common method of piling up baskets and hosing them down outside. While that might be a fine way to clean some types of baskets, it would ruin many others. There's particular danger of bleeding if the basket has color accents. Direct sunlight will also affect colors, causing them to fade. Rotate baskets regularly to prevent an uneven finish.

Many baskets develop a smoother, refined patina the more they're used. The material your basket is made from should dictate its care. Baskets made of reed, an imported product made from rattan plants, are functional but need a gentler approach. They tend to mildew if left outside, even in a sheltered area, but a light finish of tung or mineral oil will help protect reed baskets from dirt and moisture. Willow baskets, on the other hand, are strong, and can be washed down and left out to dry.

A polyurethane finish is not generally recommended for any type of basket. Polyurethane seals up fibers so completely that the basket can't breathe. In time, it will turn brittle. Protect baskets from food stains by using a plastic protector or cloth liner. Most spills will come clean by dabbing with a clean, damp cloth. If you have a question about an heirloom basket or one of unknown origins, check with a professional basket maker as most are happy to share their knowledge.


Whether your shelves are lined with rare editions or current best-sellers, it pays to keep them in good condition. After all, few things in our home reveal as much about ourselves as our books. Here's how to preserve these treasures:

  • Books are highly susceptible to mildew, something that thrives in damp, dark places like your basement, so keep your book collection in a heated, dry room.
  • Be careful not to expose books to direct sunlight as it will fade the coloring on spines.
  • If you store your book collection on shelves, take care to allow plenty of ventilation in order to prevent condensation. Lining up books in a loose manner will increase  air circulation between the covers and minimize the chances of harming the bindings.
  • Be as gentle as possible when when handling your books. Never never grasp it by the top of the spine, which will weaken over time. Instead, free the volume first by pushing the two adjacent books in, then pull it out from mid-spine.
  • Use bookends to prevent warping.

Experts in book preservation at the New York Public Library recommend inspecting books regularly for insects, dampness, and mold. If you do find mold, lightly spray a soft cloth with disinfectant and carefully clean the book. Otherwise, a simple dusting may be enough to do the trick.

For leather-bound books, use mild soap and water on a soft cloth. Rinse soap off with another damp cloth. To prevent leather from drying out, apply a fine coating of lanolin or petroleum jelly. You need only do this every couple of years or so. Protect the pages by first covering them with wax paper.

Safeguard all rare books in acid-free paper or Mylar and take care to keep dust jackets in good shape. They are an important part of a book's worth. But even those new best-sellers deserve a little TLC. They may wind up being tomorrow's sought-after treasures in an age of iPads and Kindles.


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