Books that have been stored or shelved for a long time can sometimes start to smell musty, especially if they have been in a slightly damp environment. This is a guide about removing the musty smell from books.
I have tried many different methods for trying to remove the smell from musty books, and this is the best I've found.
Take the book and place a sheet of newspaper between the pages (need not be every single page, don't worry!), then seal in a tape box surrounded by more newspaper which you've crumpled into balls for three days. The newspapers absorbs the odor, and is better than using cat litter because the litter gets caught in the pages and spines of the books.
By AlaskanAurora from Dutch Harbor, AK
How do I remove the musty smell from books?
By Booklover from Galesburg, IL
May 10, 2011
I use Snuggle dryer sheets when storing books or for moving, so maybe a week or so in a plastic bag with fresh dryer sheets might work. I also use fresh bars of Tone Soap when packing anything including books.
By Nacey 1
What I did was take the book and spread it out, blowing it with the blow dryer. I flipped the pages back and forth to get them all. Then, I sprayed the outer cover (it is vinyl) with some Febreeze fabric spray and then wiped it off. Then, I put it on a table in the sun. A few hours later - the musty is almost completely gone!
I have 4 big boxes of smelly books that were stored in a garage for 19 months. I can't do any labour intensive work as I am sick, can I just set them out on the floor to hopefully air out?
September 10, 2012
The most common solution I have seen is to put newspaper between some of the pages, then wrap the book in newspaper and then put the books in a box full of more newspaper for few days. Some variations use charcoal as well. You read all the way down this page you can read lots of ideas about this subject:
If you have musty books, sprinkle talcum powder between pages, wrap the book in brown paper and store for several days. Remove and brush out powder.
To keep books from becoming musty, pull them out, away from the back of the shelf. Line up the spines along the front edge of the bookshelf. They'll look better, and the air will circulate behind them, so they'll smell fresher. Remember to dust behind them! And remember to READ them, too, so they'll bring you lots of pleasure.
Put the book into a microwave oven along with a cup of water. Microwave for few seconds. Fan the book. Repeat until the book is very warm. This will remove a lot of moisture and smell.
In damp summer weather, keep papers and books as dry as possible to help control mold growth. If you have an enclosed bookcase, keep a small electric light lit continuously in the bookcase or use a chemical dehumidifier, keeping the doors closed as tightly as possible.
Remove any dry,loose mold from paper with a clean, soft cloth. If mildewed paper is damp, dry it first--in an airy place, if possible.
To dry wallpaper, heat the room for several hours or even days to dry the plaster as well as the paper. Plaster should be dried slowly to prevent cracking.
If mildewed paper is washable, wipe it gently with a cloth wrung out of thick soapsuds, then with clear water. Take care not to wet the paper more than necessary. Do not scrub it. Finally pat with a soft, dry cloth. If stains remain, bleach with a solution of a household bleach, then sponge with a cloth wrung out of clear water. For small stains, a commercial ink eradicator may be useful.
Spread pages of books out fanwise to air. If the books are very damp, sprinkle cornstarch or talcum powder between the leaves to take up the moisture. Leave starch or powder on for several hours then brush off.
This article was written by Anne Field, Extension Specialist, Emeritus, with reference from the USDA bulletin, Mildew.
Source: MSU Extension
To get a musty odor out of old books, place the books outdoors in the sun and frequently fan out the pages so that the air can reach them. Brush off any mildew or mold. If the pages are damp, sprinkle cornstarch between them and brush it off after a few hours.
Would anyone know how to take the musty smell out of books?
Loretta from Windsor
Hi Loretta. To remove musty smell from a book, put a sheet or two of newspaper in between every few pages. Also wrap the book itself loosely in newspaper. Put it in a box for a few days. Change the newspaper a couple times every few days. Takes a little time, but it works.
Caution regarding the newspaper tip. The newspaper print might possibly get on the pages of the books.
Another good way to get rid of the smell is to put the offending book in a sealed plastic bag of dry cat litter (dollar stores usually have it).
Depending on how "bad" the book is, it usually comes out good as new without some horrible chemical smell. Try a couple of days for medium smell, maybe as long as 3 weeks for a really bad smell. Lots of other ways, but this one is cheap.
Hope this helps
In a large paper bag put a layer of Charcoal (not quick light) then, lay two sheets of typing paper, then the book, fold over top wait 5 days before opening.
bottom of bag
By AnaLisa Moyers, NMSU Library Tech(08/02/2004)
I really love to read and enjoy buying old books but a lot of them smell really musty! What's the best way to get rid of the musty smell?
Rebecca from Iowa
I've heard that sprinkling talcum powder between the pages before storing will prevent the musty odor. (08/10/2006)
Our neighbors at the Northeast Document Conservation Center say this: There is no guaranteed way to remove the musty smell from old books, but there is a strategy that may be successful. This musty smell is most often noted in books that have been moldy or mildewed in the past. The first step is to create an enclosed chamber. This is most easily done by using two garbage cans, one large (with a lid) and one small. The object to be "deodorized" should be placed in the smaller can, which is then placed inside the larger can. Some type of odor-absorbing material should then be placed in the bottom of the larger can. Odor-absorbing materials to try include baking soda, charcoal briquettes (without lighter fluid), or kitty litter. The lid should then be placed on the larger can, and the chamber should be left for some time. You will need to monitor periodically to see how long the materials need to be left inside the chamber.
I just sprinkled baking soda in between several pages and set (opened) in the sun on our porch for a few days, smells just fine now. This is a book that sat in my mom's basement for 40 years! (08/11/2006)
Wipe down the outside and the outer edges of the paper with a very weak bleach solution and leave the books out in the sun for several days. bring them in at night when they might get dew and back out again in the daytime. the hotter and drier the better. (08/11/2006)
By carla bledsoe
Since I buy most of my books from secondhand stores, I know that smell well! I remove it by placing either charcoal briquets or baking soda into a small paper bag, or tied inside a coffee filter, putting both the book and the charcoal or soda into a ziplock bag, sealing the bag and putting the whole thing in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Since mildew is a plant, freezing kills it, while the charcoal or soda absorb any remaining odor. (08/12/2006)
I use a cotton ball with one drop of citronella essential oil and one drop of eucalyptus essential oil then I place the book and cotton ball in a zip bag and let set for a few days.
Hope this helps,
There seem to be many interesting approaches in removing musty smells from books. However, short of trying those, is there some known spray or air freshener that works well to this end? Granted, its only a cover-up, but may be just enough to make the situation bearable. Thanks.
Bob the Bookman from Chicago, IL
I was told to cut up a grapefruit and put the piece of fruit with the open book in a plastic bag. I never heard how long etc., but they swore that works. (08/31/2006)
I too like to buy old books and found that this works great for me. I buy the sachets in the envelopes that people use to make their houses smell good, (you can purchase them at most gift shops) and I put one in a garbage bag, put the books in and let it sit. The longer it sits the better, say a week or 2. It works, it really does and the books smell awesome. I like the Willow Brook Sachets, but you could use any. Good luck. (12/12/2006)
I often buy used paperbacks books at the library thrift store. To ensure that I don't pick up some unwanted contaminant, I microwave them. The government does this to foods imported to the US and kills living things including mold. (03/18/2007)
tipster123 had a good one. I saw it on "How Clean is Your House", using "used" dryer sheets. But this must be done with books that aren't "valuable" because of oil spots. Seal in garbage bag for 7 days. (05/06/2007)
I buy hamster/gerbil litter (probably cedar shavings). Put the books in a suitcase and sprinkle the litter around them. Close the suitcase. It takes a few weeks, but it works.
Just a heads-up on the freezer method listed below (or above?). From my own info gathering I've seen it much repeated that freezing mildew, or any other mold / fungus, will not kill it. Mildew is not a plant. There's also a seemingly endless number of examples of plant life that do not die in extended freezing conditions, trees, bushes, seeds, etc. It seems that the truly effective part of putting a book in a zip lock bag with an odor absorbing material into the freezer, is just the odor absorbing material part of the equation. (09/29/2007)
By Mildew Dude
I would like to mention that some of these tips might work, but they will also damage the book. Newspaper is an acidic paper, and if it comes in contact with your book, it could speed up the deterioration process. I'm sure you've seen books that have very brittle/yellowish pages, this is because of the acid in the paper. Also, sunlight is very bad for books, since it activates the acid. Although many books are being published now on non-acidic paper, it is still necessary to be careful.
I've found that the Kitty Litter technique works well, but make sure you use a smaller container inside a larger container, so that the kitty litter and the book do not touch. Basically, you don't want stuff touching your books it can be very damaging to them. You may not notice right away, but there are many things like sunlight and acidic papers that can shorten the lifespan of a book.
Hope this helps. Your friendly neighborhood librarian. (10/16/2007)
To really get rid of the mold odor on books you have to get rid of the mold. Spraying any liquid on a book or paper is going to damage the surface. That is why you need to use a gas product. Unfortunately most of the gas products are very toxic, and corrosive.
There is, however, a new product on the market that I have used that gets both mold and smoke odors out of books. Its called OdorXit CLO2 and it really works. The product is little packets with powder inside. When they are exposed to water vapor, they produce a gas called chlorine dioxide that actually kills the mold and the spores without harming the paper or leather cover.
I stood the books with the pages fluffed in an old school locker with the vents covered and a 5 gram packet in the top on the shelf and a very small fan running on low. In 2 days, the mold odor was gone and it didn't come back. It really worked for me. (11/15/2007)
I found this at Virginia Cooperative Extension website.
Remove any dry, loose mold from paper with a clean, soft cloth. If mildewed paper is damp, dry it first in an airy place if possible. Spread pages of books out fanwise to air. If the books are very damp, sprinkle cornstarch or talcum powder between the leaves to take up the moisture. Leave starch or powder on for several hours, then brush off.
For leather book bindings and covers, wipe off the mold. Wipe the leather surface with a cloth dampened with a solution of one part denatured or rubbing alcohol to one part water. Apply saddle soap or leather conditioner. (01/18/2008)
I have successfully removed very strong musty smell from a book by fanning pages and spraying with with a dry antiperspirant deodorant spray. Needed repeating treatment after a few days, but is now completely pong-free. (12/12/2008)
By Jean O.
Try the baking soda. (03/16/2009)
How do you get rid of musty book smell?
By skag from Vancouver
Sprinkle cornstarch or baking soda between the pages to get rid of the musty odor. (07/28/2009)
How do I get a musty smell out of a used book I just bought?
By Flash Gordon from Petoskey, MI
Seal it in a bag with some uncooked coffee, making sure the coffee does not touch the book. Leave it for a few days. (01/23/2010)
Hi. Just put a dryer sheet (the ones you put into the dryer for conditioning clothes) inside and leave it overnight. This should do the trick. Or even place several inside the pages. (01/26/2010)
Spray it with Lysol. (01/26/2010)
By Ann Parker
Try sprinkling between the pages with baking soda, seal it in a Ziploc, and leave it a day or two. Give it a test sniff. (01/26/2010)
How do you clean a musty smell from a book?
By Donna from Quincy, MA
Old books often have a musty smell to them. If you want to remove the smell then have a go at the following.
You can remove odours with things such as baking soda, cat litter, or charcoal. In order to remove the odor from books you will have to create a air tight container large enough to have the book(s) in and the odor absorbing material in.
The musty smell is generally caused by dampness, which in turn causes mould. If the books are damp then you need to dry them out. Place them upright on a table and fan the pages out. Place a fan to blow onto the pages to dry them out. Or just leave them in a dry room for a few days.
Then back to the container. It could be a large box or plastic container. Place the book(s) in there with a tray of baking soda, cat litter, or charcoal briquettes. Leave the books in there for a couple of days and the smell should have gone. Good luck. (04/12/2010)
This is a hint from "How Clean Is Your House" take some fabric softener sheets like Bounce, about 2 sheets. Put your books in a plastic trash bag add the dryer sheets and seal tight for several hours. When you take your books (about a half garbage bag full) out they shouldn't smell musky. You can also take used softener sheets only used once, cut them in half and place them inside about every 7th book on your shelf to keep musky smells out. (04/14/2010)
Due to being an asthmatic, I'm always looking for tips and this one really works. I purchased a great, but musty smelling book and using this suggestion, put dryer sheets every five pages, put it in a vacuum Ziploc bag and pumped out all air. Opened it up the next morning and it smelled fresh and no wheezing here. (04/18/2010)
How can I remove the moldy smell from an old book?
By ecline from Raleigh, NC
It's simple. Spray them with Lysol and set them in the sun for a few hours. (06/29/2010)
How do I remove a musty smell from books? Also, how should they be stored to prevent this from happening again?
By B. J. Coats from Marshfield, MO
Read Archives at the bottom of this page. (08/31/2010)