Skip to content

Why wearing gloves can damage precious books

A pair of hands holding the edges of an old open book
Using clean hands is a safer way to handle old books than wearing gloves | © National Trust / Paul Harris

We're often led to believe that wearing gloves is essential when handling precious books. In fact, it poses a serious risk of damaging them. Our experts explain why, and share their tips for handling books safely.

How can gloves damage books?

Even clean and well-fitting gloves can interfere with our extraordinarily sophisticated sense of touch. Individual edges of pages that can be felt by the naked fingertip tend to clump together when we use gloves.

When you look at them up close, gloves are not as smooth or gentle as you might think. Cotton gloves are made of tangled fibres that can easily catch on small tears or rough areas in weak and degraded paper and leather.

They also hold onto dust and grit, making them abrasive.

All of these factors mean gloves can damage these delicate and precious pages.

Three books with fore-edge titles at Townend, Cumbria.
Books from Townend's collection | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

How to handle books safely

Our advice follows guidance from the British Library and National Archives and reflects how our book and paper conservators handle the books they care for:

  • Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling books, and at frequent intervals afterwards
  • Handle books without gloves and without using hand cream
  • When washing facilities are not easily available, use disposable alcohol-saturated wipes that do not contain skin lotions, then dry your hands thoroughly with paper towels

In short, handle all books with care – but never with gloves.

Two conservators rehanging the Knight with the Arms of Jean de Daillon Tapestry in the Dining Room at Montacute House after four years of conservation work, with the full tapestry visible against the wood-panelled wall

Preserving the past

From conserving historic works of art and delving into archaeology to supporting urban heritage and parks, find out about our vital conservation work.

You might also be interested in

Terracotta and black plate in Hamilton 'Collection of Etruscan Greek and Roman Antiquities' (Naples: 1766-1767), part of the Library collection at Tatton Park, Cheshire.

Great books in our collections 

Explore a selection from more than half a million books and manuscripts in the collections we care for. Libraries Curator Tim Pye takes a closer look at some of the most significant works.

Conservator vacuuming a tapestry chair seat using monofilament screening to protect loose threads from the suction of the special museum upholstery tool in the Long Gallery at Osterley Park, Middlesex

How to care for your precious objects 

National Trust conservationists know a thing or two about protecting valuable items. Get some top tips to protect your precious objects.

Four bookshelves filled with books of the second-hand bookshop at Paycocke's House, Essex

Second-hand bookshops 

Pick up a book from a second-hand bookshop to keep or share. Every purchase will raise funds for conservation projects at the places in our care.

A close-up of a hand gently brushing a dusty surface with a specialist brush, at Tyntesfield in Bristol

Tackling dust in historic houses 

Discover why the issue of protecting historic surfaces from dust is important to conservation work.

Sevres Wine Cooler, showing nymphs worshipping the bust of Pan, from a service made for Louis XVI, dated 1792, in the Porcelain Lobby at Upton House, Warwickshire

Art and collections 

The art and heritage collections we care for rival the world’s greatest museums. Learn more about the collection of paintings, decorative art, costume, books, household and other objects at historic places.

Man and woman looking at large historic globe in gallery lined with Greco-Roman statues

Celebrating 125 treasures in our collections 

Discover the stories behind some of the greatest artworks and artefacts looked after by the National Trust, as told in a dedicated book, 125 Treasures from the Collections of the National Trust.

The painting Penelope and Euriclea by Angelica Kauffman, on display at Stourhead

Our latest collection acquisitions 

Discover some of the most recent acquisitions and the stories behind them, from paintings and objects kindly donated to the National Trust to those purchased with funds raised thanks to the generosity of visitors.

Servants bells, above the door to the study, for Lord Grey's room and dressing rooms at Dunham Massey

Country house communication through the ages 

Learn how innovations in country house communication technology, from sprung bells to early telephones, transformed the ways servants could be summoned.