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Is Your Library Stinking? Learn How to Get the Musty Smell out of Books from A Nerd!

I was literally over the moon when my Nanna dropped off his detective book collection last week. But just as I opened the box, a strong moldy smell flung on my face. You could only imagine how old and neglected these books were (Damn Nanna)!

Call me a cleanliness prick! But you can’t stop me from dusting my library at least twice every month. So, there was no freaking way those stinky books were getting to the shelves so easily.

They would need to drop off that antagonizing odor before entering my library (Oh! Aspiring library. IYKYK).

See, it was not my first time dealing with moldy books. I knew exactly what to do.

But unlike me, the new book enthusiasts struggle when they encounter this same mildew smell in their book pile! Hey, if you are one of them, worry no more! Your savior is here with the magic tricks. I will tell you exactly how I get the musty smell out of books.

My Ways of Dealing with Smelly Books

There are no GODLY rituals for deodorizing the books. All the tricks I know are quite simple and on-point. You will find the required supplies in the pantry or kitchen cupboard. So, do not stress about shopping.

Moving to the main method, allow me to share all the techniques one by one. You can choose the one that suits you the best.

1. Let’s Start with Baking Soda!

If you google how to get rid of musty book smells, 90% of the search results will suggest you use baking soda. We can’t blame its popularity after all. This bicarbonate is available in all households and does a great job of de-stinking the books.

I learned this baking-soda-deodorizing technique from my Nanna. He would place his books with an open baking soda box in a sealed container for 2 to 3 days! The next time we opened the lid, the stink was gone. It always seemed like magic to me!

Does this method sound boring? Why don’t you sprinkle the baking soda over the cover and pages before locking the books in the airtight box? Apparently, his little moderation is more effective and more time-consuming.

Don’t forget! You have to dust off the soda from the book cover and in-between pages afterward!

2. I Tried Coffee Ground Once!

Coffee grounds are excellent deodorizers (No doubt). Walk into any perfume store, and they insist you sniff strong coffee grounds before testing a new fragrance. It neutralizes the air and masks the previous scent.

Inspired by those fancy stores, I tried to remove the musty smell with coffee. I sprinkled coffee grounds on an old book and put it in an airtight bag. In a separate ziplock, I placed another old book with premium coffee grounds just to check which one worked better.

To my surprise, baking sodas do a better job. I could still sense the musty smell lingering in the background. And between the average and premium coffee grounds, the latter one won.

However, my suggestion would be not to use coffee grounds at all (unless you sleep on money). Instead, look for a cheaper alternative.

3. Do You Have Pets? Use Litters

The primary function of cat litter is to mask the putrid smell of your pet’s poop. It means these mineral-rich granules can absorb and neutralize the mildew odor of our old books, too.

Just fill an airtight container halfway with the litter and bury the book inside. Cover the box with the lid, and the books will smell fresh within 2 to 3 days.

4. Charcoals Are Not A Bad Idea Either

Honestly, I haven’t tried out this hack myself. But I saw a lot of recommendations.

The idea is simple and similar to the ones we have discussed above. Place the charcoal at the bottom of the airtight box and lay the book on the briquette bed. The stinking should be gone within 2 to 3 days.

However, charcoal can leave black marks on the hardcover and pages (if fanned out). Hence, it is better to avoid this method if you are handling expensive books.

5. The Essential Oil Also Helps

Oils can leave stains on the book cover and pages. So, be very careful if you want to proceed with this method.

Who does not love the sweet fragrance of essential oil? I would never mind if I opened my books and this floral scent tickled my nose instead of that old mildew odor. Actually, it is quite easy to make the pages smell like flowers.

First, take cotton swabs and pour a few drops of essential oil on them (my favorite is lavender). Then, put the cotton balls in a sealable plastic bag along with your old books. Wait a few days, and now enjoy the pleasant floral aroma.

6. The Ultimate Dryer Sheet Technique

Yes! The fabric softener or dryer sheet can be your savior! I personally prefer a dryer sheet to neutralize my books over baking soda or charcoal.

With dry sheets, there is absolutely no extra work to do. Just cut the sheet into small pieces and place them between the pages. Ziplock the book in an airtight bag, and after a couple of days, the books will smell fresh.

7. Newspaper as A Deodorizer?

Dryer sheets are not expensive. Yet, if you do not want to spend any extra buck, use today’s newspaper to get rid of the musty odor. I heard that papers do a nice job of absorbing the stink.

The process is similar. Crumble the newspaper and put them inside the vacuum bag with the books. You can place the papers between the pages, too. Wait for 2 to 3 days and Voila! I don’t think you will find any trace of the mildew smell!

8. Why Not Silica Gels?

From my wardrobe to the shoe closet, you will find silica packs everywhere. I am such a fan that I would have personally thanked the inventor of this gel if possible. The silica packs serve multiple purposes. They absorb moisture, musk foul odor, and scare off the insects (3 in 1 combo).

The idea of eliminating book stinks with silica packs is rather brilliant. Add a few packets of silica gels to a ziplock bag along with books and wait for a few days. The pages will smell like new by the time you open the seal.

9. The Commercial Way

Nowadays, special papers and gels are available in the store. The best part is that these are designed to remove the musty book odors. I have tried a few of the brands, and they actually work nicely. I might talk about those in another of my articles.

The application process is not very different from the ones we have discussed so far. You lock the books with the chemical in a container for a few days, which will do the magic.

However, why spend money on a product when you can destink the books with soda or dryer sheets?

10. The Air & Light Therapy

Dust, zero ventilation, less access to light, and high moisture promote mold growth. No wonder this organism starts to take over when the books sit in the library or boxes for months or years. This explains the mildew smell.

Of course, any of the above hacks work to eliminate the stink. But those are economical when you are dealing with a small book collection. What if your entire library is smelling?? What to do then?

Well, cleaning will be the perfect solution in this scenario. It might be time-consuming, but the end result is always satisfying (at least for me).

I start by fanning out the pages and dusting them. Black or white mold patches are common on the side of the old books. I use alcohol or peroxide-damped cloth to wipe the spots off.

Next, I put the books in an upright position and fan the pages with a hair dryer. I always end the session by sunbathing the books. Exposure to the sunlight and air kills the mold and the musty smell.

While cleaning the books, always wear gloves and a mask. Otherwise, you can suffer from severe allergies and respiratory issues.

I Don’t Want the Musty Smell in My Library

My Nanna was too careless with his books (you can smell that)! Obviously, I do not want that stink in my library or I have to donate those books. Even though I dust every corner twice a month, I feel this is not enough. So, I am thinking of upgrading a few things. Such as,

  • I will knock off the small window of my existing library and install a large glass window. This will allow enough sunlight inside the room. Molds hate light, and this is my first attack on them.
  • Too hot or too cold, both the temperature can ruin the books. I hope my hot and cool air conditioning system will help me here.
  • I heard humidity can damage the pages and spread that mildew odor. Hence, I have bought a dehumidifier to control the moisture percentage of my library room.
  • Proper ventilation is always recommended to get rid of the damp smell. I usually keep the doors and windows of my library open as much as possible.

Finally, I Want to Say

Getting the musty smell out of books is rather a simple job. You can use baking soda, coffee grounds, essential oil, and even newspapers to de-stink the books. I personally prefer the dryer sheet technique because I find it more convenient.

Surprisingly, people have claimed that cigar smoke, cornstarch, and board fumes can also remove the mildew smells of books. I haven’t tried them myself.

But sure, I might come back with a review of these odd techniques someday. Till then, do not let molds take over your library. Stick to the prevention tricks I have taught you here. Peace out!