FAQ: What Chemical Makes Old Books Smell?

What Causes the Smell of New & Old Books?

The origins, like all aromas, can be traced back to a number of chemical constituents; however, because of the variety of chemicals used to manufacture books, the aroma will vary from book to book; add to that the fact that there are literally hundreds of compounds involved, and it eludes attribution to a small number of chemicals.
‘New book smell’ is derived from the chemical degradation of cellulose and lignin in paper, which includes the paper itself, the inks used to print the book, and the adhesives used for book-binding. Not all new books will smell the same, so research has not yet attempted to definitively define the aroma.

What makes old books smell?

The smell of old books is caused by the organic materials in books (such as cellulose from wood pulp) reacting with light, heat, and water and releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) over time.

Why do old books smell so good?

The majority of what we smell comes from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which books emit as they decompose over time. University College London researchers extracted VOCs from a 1928 French novel they discovered in a used bookstore.

How do you get rid of the smell of old books?

Remove the old newspaper and place it in the plastic zip bag with the smelly book. Seal the bag and let the newspaper absorb the smells overnight. Remove the old paper the next day and replace it with fresh newspaper, allowing the book to sit for another 24 hours.

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What chemical causes books to decay?

The breakdown of lignin, a polymer found in plant cell walls as well as paper, results in the conversion of vanillin, a chemical naturally present in vanilla beans that accounts for the hints of vanilla flavor.

How do you remove the musty smell from books?

Place dry books in an airtight container with an open box of baking soda, and keep them there until the musty odor goes away, which could take up to a week for hard-back books.

What’s the smell of old books called?

Hexanal, which is produced by the disintegration of cellulose and lignin in paper, can give books an earthy, musty, “old room” odor, which can be exacerbated by mold from exposure to the environment.

What is the smell of rain called?

Petrichor is a term coined by Australian scientists in 1964 to describe the distinct, earthy odor associated with rain, which is caused by rainwater, as well as certain compounds such as ozone, geosmin, and plant oils, in the atmosphere and in soil.

What do you call a person who loves the smell of books?

A bookworm is referred to as a ‘biblioophile,’ a word that first appeared in print in 1824, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, or a ‘bookworm,’ which has a much older pedigree, first appearing in 1580.

Why do I love the smell of new books?

The presence of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds in paper is the reason why we love the smell of a new book; however, the combination of chemicals used in the manufacturing of paper, ink used to print the book, and adhesives used in the book-binding process is the reason why we love the smell of a new book.

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Are old books a health hazard?

Dust, mites, mold, and mildew can all be found in hardcover and paperback books, which can be borrowed from your local library, purchased at a secondhand bookstore, or simply sitting on your shelf at home.

Why do old books turn yellow?

However, lignin, like cellulose, is prone to oxidation, which means it readily absorbs extra oxygen molecules, which alter the polymer’s structure and give it a yellow or brown color.

What does lignin smell like?

According to the International League for Antiquarian Booksellers, an old book’s common smell is a hint of vanilla: “Lignin, which is present in all wood-based paper and is closely related to vanillin, gives old books that faint vanilla scent as it breaks down.”

Why do books smell different?

When it comes to books, different people seem to prefer different smells: old books have a sweet smell with notes of vanilla flowers and almonds, which is caused by the breakdown of chemical compounds in the paper, whereas new books have a smell that is caused by the carious chemicals used during the manufacturing process.

Why do books smell like vinegar?

The chemical process of decay converts acetate to acetic acid (the acid in vinegar), causing the film to shrink, warp, and become brittle, as well as emitting a distinct vinegar odor, indicating that the film is decaying.

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