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Why Do Old Books Smell?

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by Avatar of Mark Rocco Mark Rocco 2 years, 5 months ago.

Viewing 9 posts - 1 through 9 (of 9 total)
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  • #2648

    Here is a succinct explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUaInTfrDnA

    Members of the C2C Online Community have suggested “removing odors from collections” as a useful topic for a future live chat webinar. We are looking into online resources and speakers for this subject and we welcome your suggestions!

    #2990
    Avatar of Jennifer Heinzelman
    Jennifer Heinzelman
    Participant

    That would be a great topic! In the mean time, does anyone have a method of removing diesel order from a book?

    #2991
    Avatar of Tara Kennedy
    Tara Kennedy
    Participant

    Removing odors from books: http://www.loc.gov/preservation/about/faqs/disaster.html#smoke

    You can also purchase something called Microchamber paper. Wrap the item in this paper and the smell will disappear over time. Microchamber paper is available from Conservation Resources.

    #2992
    Avatar of Jane Nicoll
    Jane Nicoll
    Participant

    I am trying a method now for removing musty smell from old Life Magazines. I made the reverse of a humidification chamber. I am using a large Rubbermade box. I bought a coated wire shelf at Menards to hold the magazines up several inches. I have put baking soda in the chamber below. Since these are expendable items, I have also put baking soda on the magazines. I bought activated charcoal in a jar from Walmart. I have put some of that in the chamber. The first batch came out nicely. I have another set in now. I am a volunteer, and I have the chamber outside my collection area. I will have to bruch them clean and use a Hepa vaccuum, then evaluate what can be kept.

    #2994
    Avatar of Janice Klein
    Janice Klein
    Participant

    One conservator I worked with suggested unperfumed cat litter. We tried it at home with mixed results. I’m not sure I would try it on museum collections without checking with the conservator again.

    #2995
    Avatar of Janice Klein
    Janice Klein
    Participant

    One conservator I worked with suggested unperfumed cat litter. We tried it at home with mixed results. I’m not sure I would try it on museum collections without checking with the conservator again.

    #2996
    Avatar of Janice Klein
    Janice Klein
    Participant

    One conservator I worked with suggested unperfumed cat litter. We tried it at home with mixed results. I’m not sure I would try it on museum collections without checking with the conservator again.

    #2997
    Avatar of George Schwartz
    George Schwartz
    Participant

    Actually new books also smell, but the odor is more pleasant. Virtually everything smells to some degree because some of the molecules escape from the object into the air. The technical term for this is outgassing. If an object is kept in a tightly sealed space such as a document under glass in a frame, over time, the image of the document is discernible on the inside surface of the glass, caused by outgassing deposits.
    All the previous suggestions are valid, baking soda, activated charcoal and zeolites (kitty litter) will absorb the guilty molecules, but when they are replenished by continued outgassing it will be a continuous battle. Other helpful things are lots of circulating fresh air, indirect UV light, ozone(?!), hydroxyl radicals but they all have downsides as well. So long as paper (especially acidic paper)keeps self-destructing and printing inks and glues keep breaking down and chemically changing, there will always be outgassing and that “old book” smell.
    Try hanging the magazines on wire clothes hanger so the pages are somewhat fanned, fill the box with zeolites and put in a small fan inside to provide gentle air circulation. Take care not to cause a fire! Consulting a conservator is an excellent idea!
    George Schwartz, ConservArt

    #2998
    Avatar of Mark Rocco
    Mark Rocco
    Participant

    George is right on with his anaylsis and recommendations. We remediate books and papers due to fire and water damage. Sometimes we deal with special collections for historic archives. From a practical standpoint what makes ozone work is the extra molecule of oxygen ozone gives of to breakdown the hydrocarbons that are the root cause of the problem. However, it is aggressive and has to be used cautiously.

    The older the paper the greater the problem you will encounter. Lignin and rosin were used in old paper for sizing which are very acidic. After 1990 US papermills switched to a more alkaline process due to the US Permanent Paper Law.

    These chemicals do out gas which is another name for VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds). This is a continuous process. The odor is indicative also of the continuous aging or degradation of the paper. The permanent solution would be to de-acidify (which we don’t do).

    Your most practical solution is to allow for a generous amount of air exchange. That will reduce the odor. But if you enclose them the odor will return.

    I have a paper from the American Chemical Society (2009)that goes to minute detail if you are interested. Just e mail me and I will send it to you.

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