View Full Version : Getting the musty smell out of an old book

7-12-11, 9:42pm
I finally tracked down a copy of the original Pelican Complete Shakespeare ($9!) I've wanted for a long time, but when it arrived today, I discovered it reeks. The book is about 40 years old.

Any thoughts on how I might minimize the mustiness?

7-12-11, 10:11pm
I have sold a lot of old books on Ebay, many of which were musty. I used baking soda, placing the book in a closed container with baking soda in it, the book resting on something that would keep it out of direct contact with the baking soda itself. Although I have seen it suggested that baking soda could be applied directly to the book without harm, that seemed messy to me, so I kept it above the baking soda itself. Leave the book in there for about a week and that should do the trick.

Also, there is a product made just for that purpose, although I haven't tried it myself - http://sicpress.com/book-deodorizer/

7-12-11, 10:20pm
How about sealing the book inside an airtight container with a dry potpourri mix? I'm thinking something strong like vanilla, cinnamon, maybe a mint type extract, or even something from the licorice family.

7-12-11, 11:12pm
Kfander and Mrs-M, thanks for your ideas.

The baking soda one is cheap and already done! I took a large plastic storage tub and placed the book inside, on a large jar of peanut butter. I added the baking soda, in a plastic cup, and the lid. We'll see how that works!

7-12-11, 11:50pm
Also, if that does not completely work set the book outside to air out for a few days. That has worked for me in the past. Good luck!

7-12-11, 11:59pm
Well, since I rent without a balcony, the sitting outside isn't an option. But I guess I could leave the book in my car in the hot sun.

Miss Cellane
7-13-11, 8:24am
If the baking soda doesn't work, you can try activated charcoal. Just put the book in a container with the charcoal and seal it up for a few days.

7-13-11, 8:34am
Tradd. Please don't do the car thing. I'm no conservationist, but heat and paper don't mix. I'd hate to see you age, discolour, and yellow the pages needlessly and still have a book with odour.

7-14-11, 3:27pm
When I was selling books on Amazon, this was a common problem. What you've done is probably the best option, but it will work best if you stand the book on it's bottom edge, spread out, with the pages kind of fanned out open, for best results. You want the baking soda to be able to permeate as much as possible.

Mildew and musty smell is really the KILLER of books, and the one thing rare book dealers fear above all. If the musty smell is mild, the baking soda will work, but if it is really "reeking", probably won't do much more than just calm it down a bit.

Sad Eyed Lady
7-14-11, 6:09pm
I sold old musty magazines on ebay, but hopefully the musty smell was gone before they left my house. I kept them inside at night in a box with a bowl of baking soda, then outside in the sunshine in day. Seemed to work pretty well.

7-19-11, 10:13pm
I would seal it in a bag with an ozone tube running into the bag--ozone kills mold. I would leave the book open so the leaves are as available to the ozone as possible.

pony mom
7-21-11, 1:31am
I think I read somwhere to put a dryer sheet between each page. Dunno if the chemicals in the sheet would ruin the paper.

7-31-11, 9:16pm
Not sure if this will work for a book, but when I opened a decades old cardboard trunk from college and discovered it clean but musty smelling, I sprayed Febreze all through the inside, and it worked perfectly. I don't know how that would work with books, however.

Now, I did have one odor problem with a book. This was a brand new, expensive textbook that my son had not used. It got set on the carpet, and when our dog was given too much turkey skin at Thanksgiving, she threw it up on the floor, partially covering one end of the book. Gross. Well, a friend asked for that book, and I decided to see what I could do.

I carefully wiped all the solid material off every part of the book, including individual pages. Obviously, there was a small amount of page warping due to the moisture, but it wasn't too bad surprisingly. I fanned the pages open and let them dry outside in partial sun. The book was barely stained with a faint light brown on those pages, almost not visible. I took a bleach solution and carefully dabbed the spots where staining was visible. This removed the color.

Unfortunately, the book had absorbed the horrendous smell of the vomit. It looked clean and almost perfect except for slight warping where it had been moistened. So, I took one of those deodorizing cones you get at the grocery store, the one that says it's for very strong odors, and I put that and the book into a small box that I put into a garbage bag and sealed up for two weeks. I made sure to assemble this someplace where it wouldn't get disturbed so that the blue of the deodorizer wouldn't get onto the book by being overturned.

When I opened the garbage bag two weeks later, I could smell the strong deodorizer but no bad smell. I put the book outside in partial sun again and and fanned the pages. I did this for two days to be sure. After two days, I did not smell anything on the book at all. It looked clean and the warping was not at all noticeable.

I fully admit I never told the mom about the dog vomit. I'd bleached those spots very carefully, so I didn't think there was any health risk. I'd also sat the book in the sun on hot dry days, which likely would have killed any lingering bacteria. The family was thrilled and planned to use this book to homeschool three younger children.

The takeaway for the mold might be to try putting the book in a bag with the strongest deodorizing cones you can find for a couple of weeks. Let me know how that works. I love old books and find that if they are musty I must keep them in the garage which in my location tends to bake away any live molds. I don't remember bringing any of those old books in and still having a molding smell if they were in there for at least a year. For me, the smell was less of a problem than the allergies they triggered if kept in the house. Not sure if dry heat actually kills mildew but this worked for me somehow.