Why Do Old Books Smell?
April 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm #2648
Jenny Wiley ArenaParticipant
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!April 19, 2012 at 3:09 pm #2990
That would be a great topic! In the mean time, does anyone have a method of removing diesel order from a book?April 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm #2991
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.April 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm #2992
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.April 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm #2994
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.April 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm #2995
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.April 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm #2996
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.April 20, 2012 at 8:45 pm #2997
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, ConservArtApril 20, 2012 at 10:22 pm #2998
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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