How to Get a Mold Smell Out of Old Books

Old books often carry a musty odor, an aroma of sour air that seems to emanate from the pages themselves. This odor develops as a result of mildew, a type of mold spore that becomes active when exposed to moisture.

Talcum powder or cornstarch will dry out damp books.

If you want to preserve and restore your old books, take steps to remove the odor as well as any lingering spores that may remain. Due to the highly delicate texture of old books, avoid invasive mold-removal techniques and adopt a gentle approach.

  1. Place the book in the path of direct sunlight, in front of a dehumidifier or near a space heater until the inner and outer surfaces feel dry and firm. Stand the book upright with pages open, if possible, to remove dampness from the book's interior. Otherwise, lay the book down with pages open, and periodically turn the pages to ensure that all the pages receive exposure to the heat.

  2. Sprinkle baking soda onto damp pages to absorb any lingering moisture that contributes to the musty odor. Baking soda not only absorbs moisture from paper and other products; it works as a powerful deodorizer. Close the book, and allow the powder to remain for a couple of hours before wiping it away. If baking soda alone fails to remove the moisture, try adding a bit of talcum powder or cornstarch.

  3. Flip through the pages of the book, and gently wipe away traces of dried mold using a dry, soft cloth (preferably over an outdoor receptacle). The dried spores should resemble a fine powder, sometimes with a weblike appearance. It often appears white but can take on multiple colors. Remove as much of the dried mold as possible.

  4. Sprinkle lemon juice onto a soft cloth, and add a touch of table salt. Use only enough liquid to dampen the cloth, and gently wipe down the outer and inner surfaces of hardcover books. To avoid oversaturation, pat the surface rather than rubbing. Do not attempt this method for softcover books, as it may damage your covers.

  5. Warning

    Exercise extreme caution when applying these methods to rare or valuable books. In some cases, you may want to contact a book restoration specialist rather than attempting to repair valuable and delicate books at home.