College tips for avoiding the mess of used textbooks

Part of college life is dealing with ripped bindings, coffee stains, doodles of skulls, entire pages highlighted in pee-colored yellow…. yuck! Yup, dirty used textbooks are just plain gross. Sure, they might be cheap, but there are plenty of places to find quality college textbooks that won’t break the bank. Check out our list of the top 8 grossest things found in used textbooks.

Just daily use of textbooks can get them dirty. “Textbooks can get dirty in multiple ways. They can attract dust if left on the floor. Spilled beverages can dampen pages, eliminating it’s like new condition. Eating foods like Cheetos can make your fingers messy. Turning the pages will obviously stain them,” reported Joshua Huffman in “How College Students Can Keep Textbooks in ‘Like New’ Condition,” August 11, 2010.

Top eight egregious problems with used textbooks:

1. Highlighting – Used textbooks have either too much or too little, or the previous student didn’t grasp the lesson and highlighted the wrong material. When you read already-highlighted text, your eye and brain focus on the colored text, rather than filtering the material yourself. In “How to Read College Text,” Professor John Weber of Ocean County College offers tips on highlighting your own work: “When you have completed reading the paragraphs after each subheading, try to state in your own words a summary of what you just read…Write notes in the margins. Underline or highlight what you think are key points.”

2. Missing pages – You can never be sure the used book is intact. It would be just your luck that a crucial page is missing (one with a pertinent homework assignment). Then you’re stuck scrounging around for a friend to lend you her book so you can photocopy the pages you need. In addition to missing pages, your used textbook may also be missing an accompanying CD, study guide or other supplement.

3. Torn pages – Folded and torn pages abound, too. People rip off parts of the pages to use as bookmarks or to write notes to each other. Sometimes pages are folded into abandoned origami projects or as something found in a Mad magazine back-page puzzle.

4. Damaged spine – It may not seem like much, but a cracked, worn and damaged spine means the pages inside are not secure and could fall out (probably as you’re running across campus toward a late class).

5. Dirt and germs – Even a non-germophobe would be grossed out with some of the things sticking to, dangling from and infesting used textbooks. Who knows how much dribble from bottles of sports drinks, drool from sleeping students, mud from sneaker prints, oil from greasy pizza fingers and god knows what other bodily fluids could be lurking on those pages.

6. Doodles – Doodles cleverly denote which pages of the textbook have the most boring content. But I really don’t want to get into the mind of the previous owner when I see skulls, ponies, twenty tiny hearts around the word “Tyler” and parts of unmentionable anatomy strewn across my calculus lessons.

7. Bad odor – Ever open a book and get a whiff of stale cigarette smoke? What about that moldy, water damaged smell? Not something you want to stick your face in while you’re studying.

8. Damaged used books cannot be resold – If you buy a cheap, badly damaged used textbook, you can’t resell it afterwards. And you probably won’t want to hang onto it for future reference over the years. Most “unacceptable” qualities include: cover and binding are either badly stained, moldy, or otherwise unclean. Books with severely damaged covers and spines are also not acceptable, nor are those with missing pages, multiple torn pages, or stained or illegible pages.

If you’re worried about textbooks that are marked up or coffee stained, go to All the textbooks available are brand new so they’re clean and ready for you to make your own notes or highlights. And they smell great like brand new books do! At you can browse categories or search for author, title or ISBN number.

Will you buy a used book or a new book this semester?


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