Re: Why Do Old Books Smell?


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.