Removing Musty Odors From Books

Discussion in 'Horological Books' started by FDelGreco, Apr 26, 2011.

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  1. FDelGreco

    FDelGreco Registered User
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    Those of us who read this forum of the MB are probably book collectors or at least interested in books. Occasionally, each of us acquires a rare or old book that we just have to have, but because of age and lack of previous care, it often has a musty odor. What I’d like to do here is to collect a list of remedies that readers have found that successfully remove that musty smell from books.

    I recently acquired Camus’ “A Treatise on the Teeth of Wheels,” published in 1869. Although the book is in fairly good shape, it has a musty smell. That’s what got me thinking about starting this topic.

    The research I’ve done so far shows that you must start with a dry book, as mold, fungus, and bacteria need moisture to grow – and that creates the odor. Suggested ways of drying books are listed in references on the Internet, but some are good and some are bad. Suggested ways to remove odor are equally diverse – the use of kitty litter, activated carbon, charcoal briquettes, clothes dryer sheets, coffee grounds, sheets of newspaper, and so forth. Again, some may work, and some may do more harm than good. I’d like to hear what remedies our members have found that work, and those that do not work.

    Best regards,
    Frank Del Greco
     
  2. darrahg

    darrahg Registered User
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    Super topic, especially, if a solution to the removal of tobacco smoke odor is addressed.
     
  3. Tinker Dwight

    Tinker Dwight Registered User

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    Hi
    Some is from the paper itself going bad. That is
    why you see the term "acid free paper". If the
    paper is turning yellowish or brownish, it is
    just the paper going bad.
    I would think, putting it in a sealed container
    with silica gel and some activated charcoal
    would stop more damage. The only issue is
    that if the pages are too dry, they tend
    to tear easier.
    Tinker Dwight
     
  4. darrahg

    darrahg Registered User
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    You might want to try dryer fabric softener sheets and see if it will reduce the mold odor. I tried it on a 'smoker's' book, rubbed it on all 366 pages of it, that I commented on above and it reduced the odor. It did not completely remove it though. It does not appear to have covered the odor up as I checked it later and the odor was still reduced quite a bit. I wanted to try fabreeze (sp?) but I believe it is to 'wet' for the application. I have not tried spraying it on a cloth and letting it dry first and do not know if it comes in sheets like the fabric softener.
     
  5. Barb B

    Barb B Registered User
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    Going a bit further with the comments . . . .

    Try putting the book & fabric softener sheets in a zip lock bag for 24 hrs or longer. I'd even place several between the covers and a few randomly within the book itself.

    Charcoal makes sense because it absorbs odors.

    How about baking soda? If baking soda was sprinkled on the pages, would there be any adverse effects?

    ;)
     
  6. Bill Ward

    Bill Ward Registered User
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    Although assiduous housekeepers, especially those who require that everything be absolutely new, abhor all "old" odors, antiquarians frequently adore them. In fact, they often use that "musty old book smell" as a touchstone of authenticity, if there could be any doubt. Think of it as the patina of an old book. Book dealers (unlike antique dealers) never attempt to remove this patina.
    That said, there are certainly good reasons for attempting to get rid of some odors; allergies, for example. But it's not always so easy.
    Covering the odor up with another, hopefully less objectionable smell (like fabric softener) is one approach. This isn't usually smiled on by librarians or curators, as the perfume might be deletarious to some component of the book, or, even more likely, might decompose into something bad. This approach certainly won't solve an allergy problem, nor address issues of mold or other deterioration. Don't forget that a smell deemed pleasant to one person might be nauseating to another.
    Use of an absorbent, like activated charcoal, is usually not effective either, unless the book is submerged in it. Absorbents only remove the smell from the air; they don't squelch it at the source.
    Killing the odor at the source requires identifying it.
    Almost all books printed between the mid 19thC and the end of the 20thC are on wood pulp paper, made by freeing the fibers from the binding lignin with sulfuric acid. Some of this acid always remains in the wood fibers. With time, the remaining acid attacks the fibers, making them yellow and brittle, and producing a characteristic odor, like that of old newsprint. Stopping this attack, and the odor, requires de-acidifying the paper. That is usually accomplished by dis-binding the book, soaking each page in a liquid buffering solution (or a series of solutions), drying the pages, and re-binding the book. Of course, this destroys much of the value of an antiquarian book, as it won't be in its original binding. And there is no way to reverse the damage already done to the paper- it remains brittle and very fragile, which often makes it impossible to rebind the book, so there is great risk. Also, the cost is very high- certainly several hundred dollars per volume.
    There is a proprietary system for buffering which doesn't always require dis-binding. It's a spray which is used to soak the individual pages. It's quite expensive, and sometimes stains the binding, or warps the book, or swells the pages so the book won't shut without splitting the binding. Nothing's perfect.
    Fungi frequently infect old books, especially in damp climates. In addition to a musty odor, they cause "foxing" or brown spots. Perhaps worse, the fungi make a delicious meal for insects, which then chew through the binding. Historically, bookbinders have prevented this by adding various poisons, such as mercury or arsenic salts, to the paper or binding glue (often "library paste" made of wheat flour, or mucilage, made of animal protein). In more modern times (the latter 20thC) bookbinders have used small amounts of thymol, which is found (in small amounts) in mouthwash.
    Since thymol will sublimate at reasonably low temperatures, it can be used to kill book mold. Just place a few crystals in a ziplock bag with the book slightly open and the pages splayed, and leave for a few weeks. Be forewarned that it doesn't kill all molds, and, of those it does kill, might not kill the highly resistant spores. And, of course, it leaves the book with a slightly medicinal smell (like Listerine.) Don't let the crystals touch the book itself; they might burn a hole through the paper, or stain the binding. Thymol is poisonous to humans in larger quantities, and is thought to be carcinogenic.
    Perhaps you'll learn to like the smell of old books.
     
  7. FDelGreco

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    Most common ways to remove odors (activated carbon, baking soda, dryer sheets, and such) probably aren't effective -- or at least don't do the job correctly. Although activated carbon and baking soda might work, they actually have to touch the pages -- carbon may turn them black, baking soda, unless completely removed, might be a little hygroscopic, absorbing water from the air and dampening the pages. Dryer sheets just perfume the pages. Killing the bacteria and fungus is the only way to do the job. Here is my latest thought:

    Ozone is an oxidizing gas that kills bacteria and fungus, and can deodorize and sanitize most anything. Most of you may recognize the smell -- from lightning after a thunderstorm, or from an electrostatic copier or laser printer. I've been thinking about how to expose a book safely to ozone. While on a plane to Europe, I was looking through a Skymall magazine and found a device about the size of a microwave. It is claimed to deodorize and sanitize stinky sneakers, children's toys, cell phones, and so forth, on an 8-minute cycle. It uses ozone to do that along with some other proprietary technology. It doesn't use any heat. It sounds like it might work, and costs $299, although this sort of thing may be cheaper elsewhere. I'm going to shop around and get one -- or something similar -- and give it a try; I'll report back on my success, if any.

    Frank Del Greco
     
  8. darrahg

    darrahg Registered User
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    I will verify that dryer sheets do not work at removing tobacco smoke odor from books. I placed the book, noted above in my previous comment, in a zip loc bag with a dryer sheet for a couple of weeks and there is no change. Do different brands of dryer sheets have different chemicals in them:???: I have found that , over time and with use, the odor tends to go away. However, the odor does rub off on to the hands and washing is required. It is not pleasant to a non smoker.
     
  9. RJSoftware

    RJSoftware Registered User

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    The oldest thing I own with an actual date on it is a book. Paradise Lost 3rd edition 1727.

    The binder is shot to Hell. But, I am a conservative and had not mustered the courage to have it rebound. Put it this way, the back is gone and one has to hold the outside covers in place.

    It is still however an awsome book.

    In it's beginning is dedication to the King for allowing the book to be published allong with explanation of it's need.

    Takes a while to read, allot of refferences to things I have not had the patients to look up. Lots of refferences to what looks like Greek mythology and Pagen gods of the stars. But I certainly am no expert.

    A curious thing also is the use of the letter f in place of letter s. It's a slightly different font and you get use to it in a while.

    The prints are absolute beauties. The depiction of the devil and contrast of good and evil is fascinating artistic wise. It is easy to get lost in a trance of thought when viewing them.

    Surprizing that they are not preeceded by protective tissue. I guess that idea came later.

    On the covers are the proof of being passed down from preacher to preacher for I think 8 generations.

    Before I sell this book or I hope before I die, I hope to find a suitable solution that promotes the books longevity.

    RJ
     
  10. RJSoftware

    RJSoftware Registered User

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    Enjoy..!
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    -> posts merged by system <-
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    rj
     
  11. RJSoftware

    RJSoftware Registered User

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    13th edition not 3rd. Ooops my bad...
     
  12. Bill Ward

    Bill Ward Registered User
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    #12 Bill Ward, May 29, 2011
    Last edited: May 29, 2011
    I should add that, although toxicologists have previously presumed thymol to be carcinigenic because it's a phenol, and many phenols ARE carcinogenic, the EPA & FDA do not agree, and have approved its use as a pesticide and a food additive (since it's a component of thyme, which is presumed safe.) See:
    http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-PEST/2009/March/Day-25/p6262.pdf
    It's a major component of thyme oil, and is found in many other plants.
    Ozone might be dangerous to old books because it's such a strong oxidizing agent.
    For example, even at the very low levels of ozone in normal air, it causes "ozone cracking" in rubber, unless the rubber is specially protected (as are modern tires).
    Also, although ozone kills many bacteria, mold spores have evolved to spread in the air, and so they are often resistant to ozone and UV. For example, tuberculosis, (even though it's actually a mycobacterium, and might therefore be expected to be susceptible) has light & ozone-resistant spores.
    And, although ozone is sometimes used to kill molds and deodorize, say, fabrics, the EPA has stated that (at least some) consumer devices sold for the purpose are ineffective unless they produce levels of ozone above the permitted maximums, and have even filed suit to prevent the advertising claims on these.
     

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