How To Rescue Your Favorite Cookbook from Spills and Stains

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Some cooks like to keep their cookbooks pristine. Others consider those blotched, wrinkled pages an homage to all the wonderful meals they’ve enjoyed. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, there are a few practical reasons you’d want to minimize food spills on your cookbooks. “Coated stock has a layer of clay on its surface, and when it gets wet, if the pages touch they will stick together more or less permanently,” says Bonnie Slotnick, owner of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in New York City. Dark-colored spills can obscure a recipe, and putting away a book with food remnants in it can attract vermin, too. “You don’t want mice or roaches eating your book!” says Slotnick.

The key to rescuing a book is to act quickly and work gently. And if you do all the following steps and the stain still shows, try adjusting your attitude. “Remember that signs of use are what endear our old cookbooks to our heirs! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened a book to show a customer, and there’s a stained, wrinkled page, and one or both of us says, ‘Well, you can see THAT’S a good recipe!'” says Slotnick.

With that in mind, here’s how to rescue your favorite cookbook from whatever spills get on the pages while you’re cooking.

How To Rescue Your Favorite Cookbook from Food Spills

What You’ll Need

  • Butter knife or spatula
  • Parchment paper
  • Paper towels
  • Baking soda
  • Paintbrush
  • Fan


  1. Scrape up what you can: If the spill is something thick or chunky — like cake batter or marinara sauce — use a butter knife or spatula to carefully remove as much of the sauce or food as you can.
  2. Separate the soiled pages: Carefully separate the soiled pages, and slip a piece of parchment paper between each soiled page and a few of next-in-line dry ones, as well, to avoid transferring the spill.
  3. Blot with a paper towel: Fold a paper towel in half twice to get it four layers thick, then blot (don’t rub) both sides of each soiled page to absorb as much oil or moisture as possible. Continue to do this on all soiled pages until there’s nothing else for the paper towel to pick up.
  4. Sprinkle with baking soda: If there’s still residual oil or moisture, with the parchment paper in place, sprinkle baking soda to completely cover the stain. Let sit for a few hours or overnight, then gently brush off the baking soda.
  5. Let dry: Once you’ve removed as much of the stain as you can, allow the page to dry. Leave the cookbook open in a warm, non-humid spot until it dries, ideally with a fan blowing on it to slowly dry it out.


  • Results will vary, depending on paper material and makeup of the stain. But this will almost always get things better than they were and totally okay to put back on your shelves.