There are a lot of opinions on cleaning comics, so rather than add to the bloviation, I’ll simply point out that CGC offers a cleaning service themselves because they – the certifying body – don’t consider dry-cleaning to be restoration.
And I certainly won’t be that guy in the middle seat of a long flight that misinterprets your politeness as an invitation to talk about his job in industrial fertilizer sales. This isn’t to discuss the “morality” of cleaning comics or the tools you should use, nor are we here to do a deep dive, or offer hot takes, or to be insistent on one correct process.
I’m here to straightforwardly share a few of the simple tools I use to clean my personal comic book collection. As added context, I’m a Chris-Claremont-enthusiast-love-me-some-Shooter-my-Cap-was-a-werewolf-Marvel-zombie, so what we’ll discuss below is my tools and process for Bronze Age books, not pricey or classic Silver Age stuff where I’d be sacred to death to mess with it myself. That type of comic book cleaning is better left to a professional.
Again, we’re talking about dry-cleaning a comic book and as a result, I don’t wear rubber gloves because I want to be able to feel the paper and have a tactile sense of what I’m doing. Besides, wearing gloves is unnessesary because you aren’t using chemicals of any kind and if your hands are covered in Cheeto dust, just wash your darned hands before you touch your comic books.
So, gloves aren’t on my list. Here is my list of comic book cleaning tools:
Makeup Remover Pads
Even Bronze Age books are 30+ years old, so it’s understandable they might accumulate a layer of dust and schmutz that might not be visible like a coffee stain would be, but would nevertheless reduce the shine and sheen of the comic cover.
Make sure the makeup remover pads are 100% pure and don’t have any lotion or solvents of any kind. Remember, we are dry-cleaning here. Then, using small, gentle rubbing motions (that’s what she said), run the pad across the entire front and back cover of the comic.
You’ll be surprised at the dirt you’ll see when you examine the makeup pad. Repeat a few times as your first step in cleaning your comics.
White Eraser Toppers
My kids have erasers shaped into My Little Ponies, but to clean comics you’ll want something white and of a known consistency so you don’t inadvertently chunk up your books. The tried and true eraser toppers are from Helix and come in a 10-pack.
These are used on the white portions of the front and back cover. Using small strokes (that’s what she said!), you’ll gently go over all the white areas of the comic. Don’t bear down; the goal isn’t to bore a hole through the cover of your comic!
I don’t even put my eraser heads on the top of a pencil, I hold them close to the paper because I want to get in there with precision. You’ll be surprised at how many marks and scuffs these babies will remove from the white area of your comics, giving the whole cover more vibrancy by comparison.
An alternative is the “Staedtler Stick,” as I call them. It’s a similar white eraser with a consistency that’s a little more rubbery. The convenience is being able to click down more eraser as it’s used, but the downside is lesser control in your fingertips, in my opinion.
Focused Point Erasers
Used by 4-year-olds, eraser toppers are more of a blunt instrument. But you need precision to get the white areas in places like between the blacks lines of a UPC code. That’s why my final step for cleaning the white areas is to use a focused eraser point.
The Mono Zero clicks down like a Staedler Stick, but with an eraser that is just a few millimeters wide, it’s great for getting into very small white areas. You can buy refill packs, and you must, because these wear down and soil quickly. The Tombow Mono Zero works great, it’s become one of my preferred tools.
An alternative is an eraser pencil with a brush on the top and you should at least give it a try to see if you like it. The brush feels like it would be handy to brush away debris, but I find I don’t use it as much as you’d think I would. And the eraser itself is sharpened like a pencil and I use an X-Acto knife, but can’t match the predicable precision of the Mono Zero.
Nerds, that’s just the white areas of a comic book cover. It’s the colored areas that will cause you to clinch up because the last thing you want to do is ruin a book because you got all ham-fisted with a pencil top (that’s what she said?) and rubbed away some of the color. You want to brighten the book by removing surface build-up, not mute the colors in an ill-advised attempt of trying too much.
Absorene putty is used on archival paper and it used by historians, archaeologists, and museum curators. You don’t rub with this stuff; you dab or roll. You want to handle your first appearance of Moon Knight like Nic Cage handles the Constitution of the Unites States.
Pinch a little ball of Absorene Putty out of the tub, roll it into a hot dog shape and dab color areas or roll it across the color areas like a tube. Unless there is obvious dirt in a color area of the book, I typically stick with just the Absorbene Putty and follow it up with a gentle buff using a makeup remover pad.
If there is obvious schmutz in a colored area, an Absorene Pad is a good tool to see if you can take it off or at least minimize it without rubbing off color. An Absorbene Pad is like a dirt magnet. A pro tip is to use it to clean my eraser heads by rubbing your white eraser toppers over it to brighten them up.
I never wash my Absorene pads with soap and water, I simply toss them out when they looked soiled and get a new one. Some brave souls use a Magic Eraser as an alternative, but strongly consider not doing that. A Magic Eraser is the quickest way to pull color off your book if you aren’t careful.
Dry Cleaning Pad
Color areas are tricky and provide a large opportunity for mistake. Again, I typically tread lightly. But the final tool I use for cleaning the color area of a comic book is a dry cleaning pad.
Dry cleaning bags look and feel like bean bags because they are filled with finely ground eraser material. I’ll tap and dab color areas sometimes if I see an obvious dirt buildup and the dry cleaning pad can sometimes help a bit. It’s not a miracle worker (that’s what she said!), but it’s gentle so it won’t typically do any damage.
I do all of this cleaning by using a backer board. I take the backer board and gently lay it across the area of the book I’m not working on, using it to screen off and steady the book as I work. This might seem obvious but it focuses you, slows you down, and masks off and protects the rest of the cover.
Get magazine sized backer boards here or visit your FLCS.
BONUS: You’ll want to store all your comic book cleaning supplies somewhere, so why not go for a Marvel pencil case. This is the one I use, because I’m cool.
Realistically, you’ll want to go with this larger capacity one, especially if you are investing in a dry cleaning pad or Absorbene sponge because you’ll need the space, but it’s not nearly as fun as a Marvel one, so be a winner.
Take it slow. Practice on some dollar books. And remember that what I described is simply my personal process for my Bronze Age books. You’re mileage may vary.
Happy comic book cleaning!