How To Get Rid Of Musty Smells From Old Books

We've been talking about what to do with old books this week as part of Earth Month; I've been lucky in that the books I've stored in my garage haven't managed to become musty during that time. But what can you do if you do have a cherished old volume that smells as if it's been stuck in a vat of festering yoghurt for a decade?

Picture by umjanedoan

While the books will eventually improve in smell if you leave them out to air, that can be a time-consuming process. An author discussion forum I frequent discussed this issue earlier in the week, and came up with two potential solutions: athlete's foot spray and dryer sheets. Dryer sheets are one of those weird products which are common in the US but largely unknown down under, quite possibly because we're not that addicted to using dryers in the first place. But if you do have some around, they appear to work quite well.

The idea of using athlete's foot spray seems pretty clever and potentially more effective, since it should relatively quickly kill off the mould that causes the smell. Bathroom mould killer might also be a possibility, provided you don't saturate the book in the process. If you've got another tried-and-true method for dealing with this issue, we're all ears in the comments.


    I kind of like the smell of old books, maybe not the 'festering yoghurt' smell, but the Op Shop book section smell.

    Not the only one am I?

      Definitely not, Justin :)

    Justin, you are definintely not the only one. :)

    Definetely not Justin!

    My family has owned and operated an antique bookstore back in Canada for about 27 years. (

    I have spent my share of hours sneezing among towering piles of the aforementioned musty tomes.

    One way to eliminate strong smells without damaging the pages (chemicals in deodorizers can easily ruin the pages or leather covers of a valuable book) is by putting them into a large garbage bag lined with a few hefty shakes of baking soda-- in the bottom of the bag, not on the book!

    Leave your newly created book-bag to sit *somewhere dry* for a few days or however long it takes. The soda should absorb a lot of the odor. Change the soda every couple of days if you find the process is taking too long.

    Also, try to keep in mind that all books will absorb smells from their surroundings so if you leave a musty book out in the open and away from moisture, in time it will eventually lose a lot of the unpleasant scent.

    You can buy fluffy brand dryer sheets at coles and woolies and probably other places too! They're in the laundry aisle near the starch and stuff

    I found the Northeast Document Conservation Center — Frequently Asked Questions at:
    They have a suggestion to this odor problem
    that will not distroy books.I haven't tried it yet .Also ran accross's-musty-smell/
    I'm still researching this for -my- book problem , will try to let you know what works. I just bought some books off ebay that are very moldy smelling. I love the books so I hope I can get rid of the odor.

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