Everybody’s life has a smell. We only notice it when we go to other people’s homes – or buy yard sale items. Usually it’s insignificant, if you buy a set of curtains or a chair, any lingering odor, wear aways and is overpowered by the smell in your own home pretty quickly. Books too like to absorb things, as they are basically little sponges; all that dried paper and cardboard, just wick up the errant molecules. Usually we don’t notice because if they are old they produce a smell of their own. But sometimes they smell undelightful; they have been kept too near a radiator, or in a poolhouse, or a coal cellar, or a garage, some place that has a piquant air to share. It is very possible to even buy an odoriferous book and not notice, mixed in with a box of other musty books it can pass muster, but separate it out from the pack and the smell can cause you to wonder why more books go around unburnt.
Of all the book repair questions I have ever been asked, the one about getting rid of smell is the most popular, well it was. I have seen people use different methods with different levels of results: Crumpled newspaper in a brown bag, charcoal briquettes, a system of room fans, sunlight, baking soda, microwaving, Lysol, and on and on. And most recently Febreze which is a mixture of water, alcohol, fragrance and cyclodextrine, a starch derived from corn and has a ph level of about 8, none of those things sound biblio-alarming, but I like to go by the doctrine that if you can’t eat it don’t use it. Most of those methods have the right principle in mind, absorb the stinky molecules back out of the book. Years ago I started selling book deodorizer, which works in just that manner, it is a highly desiccated organic material that absorbs moisture molecules just a little bit faster than the books do. So you put it in an air tight container and let them fight it out. It works passively and at different rates of speed for different conditions, but some people prefer it to the newspapers and fish tank charcoals.
This screed on smell didn’t start out to be an advertisement, I apologize. It actually started out to be a rant on eBayers.
Let me explain: I needed a bag of some sort that FIT my laptop as well as all the other crap I have to carry when I got out of the house to work. I keep getting to a job site and forgetting something vital like the power cord or the laptop itself, or god forbid my LUNCH. After shopping around for 3 weeks, I found a discontinued LLBEAN daypack which is wide enough for my 15 inch laptop yet doesn’t make me look like I am rushing to catch a flight.
However when it came in the mail:
(< <-- btw I paid 8.95 to ship this which bore 4.92 in postage.) Little did I know it would smell so bad I couldn't stand it in the building. The ebayer denied that they smelled anything before it was shipped and I have since used about 30 dollars in chemicals to desmell an $8 book bag.
No, I haven’t tried deodorizer yet, but i have a suspicion it may take a long time to make a dent. After repeated interrogations, I finally got the ebay vendor to admit that they heat with a wood stove. Which makes sense, the odor is most likely creosote. Creosote is a waste vapor from burning wood, that when combined with plastic(nylon) makes a very strong bond – and I don’t want to have my first book deodorizer failure in 15 years. The little granules that could, wish to remain on the porous side of the argument.
Meanwhile I have a nice LLBEAN daypack as an ornament on my porch.