General Question

Jeruba's avatar

Anything I can do about a book that smells stale?

Asked by Jeruba (48714points) June 1st, 2013

I purchase a fair number of older used books on Amazon. I don’t mind a little wear. I’ve just received a 600-page paperback volume that looks fine for its 20-year age but has a nasty stale smell about it.

I can’t say it doesn’t fit the conditions as described, but I also don’t think I want to hold this book in front of my nose for as long as it will take me to read it.

The last book I met that smelled like this was a library book, and I took it straight back. So I don’t think this is the result of having been in, say, a smoker’s environment for a couple of decades. Nor does it just smell musty like some of my late mother’s 50— to 100-year-old books. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like it.

Is there anything I can do to air out or otherwise freshen the odor of this volume?
I seem to be unable to force a hyphen after the ‘50’. It insists on overriding the format with an em dash. This is yet another idle, bootless protest.

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13 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

You could try shaking baking soda on every page if you think it’s mildew. Then leave out in sun for days on end. Repeat until you run out of patience.

Frankly, I have had books become mildewed when left in damp basements and had to throw them out.

But with one book that you care about, it might be worth fussing a bit.

Here are some more outré suggestions.

glacial's avatar

I’ve acquired a few books that had acquired a… unique… aroma before reaching me. Eventually, they all lose the smell to fit in with their new companions.

Bellatrix's avatar

My immediate thought was baking soda too. That stuff is so handy for so many things. I also found the link @gailcalled suggested as well. The kitty litter suggestion might work.

This was from the Parks Library too. They had a collection of pongy books they worked with.

Some of the suggestions I’ve heard for removing noxious odors from books include:

Leaving the book, fanned open, under a fume hood for a few weeks to air out. Leaving the book outside in fresh air (climate dependent) to air out. Interleaving the book with paper towels and then putting it in the freezer. Sealing the book in an airtight container along with an odor-absorbing compound (such as unscented clay kitty litter, charcoal briquettes, or a proprietary odor remover) for up to a month. (Parks Library)

YARNLADY's avatar

You can sprinkle salt or rice on every page and set it out in the sun for a day.

Coloma's avatar

I’d put it in a ziplock bag with some perfume soaked paper towels. Not wet of course, but misted and then let it set overnight or for a few hours. Heck, you could just mist the pages as you flip through them. A wee bit o’ perfumed mist won’t hurt a bit.

talljasperman's avatar

Put book in the fridge. Not the freezer . Put a open box of baking soda in the fridge.

Kardamom's avatar

Here is some info on a method (using one or more readily available products) to hopefully rid your book of that Bad Odor

filmfann's avatar

I remember reading somewhere to put it in the microwave. The baking soda sounds good, but you might want to try nuking it too.

Jeruba's avatar

Ok, here goes with attempt #1:

Try baking soda. Place a cup of baking soda into a plastic box or bin. Place the book or books (this method is great for more than one book) inside and seal the lid well. Leave for 48–72 hours, then check. Repeat until the odor has gone.

This comes from the site linked by @gailcalled above.

The book has come from the U.K. in a sealed plastic packet and has been en route for several weeks. My first thought was a former environment heavy with tobacco smoke, but as I said, I had a library book out that had the same odor, so I think it’s something else—and it’s not the musty old-book smell that I know quite well. (Besides, at one time all my old books were in a smoky environment, and they don’t smell like this.) It’s not at all moist, and it doesn’t have the appearance of ever having been wet, but I suppose it could still have been in a damp location.

I’ll report back on how this first suggestion works.

Many thanks for all helpful suggestions.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Fabreze it. Just flip the pages quickly with your thumb while spraying.

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks, but I’m not going to spray it with anything wet. I don’t see how this condition could be helped by moisture of any kind.

Inspired_2write's avatar

I agree with @talljasperman
I regularly order antique books from a site in the UK.
(200 years old).
The supplier recommends placing your book in a refridgeratoe with a box of baking soda which is already in the fridge as a deordorizor.
it works.
I only had it in the fridge for about a day and it is ok now.
I also leave the books on an open bookshelf to prolong the life of the books.

Jeruba's avatar

Update, June 15th:

I’ve just opened the tight-lidded plastic box containing the book and an open cup of baking soda. It’s been there untouched for two full weeks. The book still stinks, and the smell has infused the plastic box it was in.

Meanwhile, I notified the Amazon Marketplace seller, who apologized, asked if I’d like a replacement (I said yes), promised to inspect it before shipment, and told me to discard the first copy.

The replacement volume has just arrived. It has a bit of an older-book aura, but it’s absolutely nothing like the rank odor of the first copy.

Against all my bibliophilic instincts, I’ve just put copy #1 into the recycle bin. All’s well.

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