Bet You Don’t Know The Answer: Why Do Books Smell?

Physical book vs. e-book. Both have their pluses and minuses, and while many readers are moving to e-books for the ease and convenience of not having to lug around a bunch of physical books, those piles of paper pages really still have a following. In fact, 65% of people who say they prefer physical books say that it is because they like the feeling of having a book in their hands. Along with that, I’d be inclined to add in that I like the smell of books. And apparently, I’m not weird – lots of other people also like book smell. The handy infographic below takes a look at what causes that book smell – both in old and new books. There are definitely some interesting tidbits of information in this one – keep reading and share the info at your next cocktail party – your friends will think you’re so smart!

What Makes Books Smell?

Smells in books come from a variety of sources, such as:

  • VOCs
  • Degradation
  • Type of paper used
  • Binding
  • Adhesive
  • Printing ink

In New Books

  • Most odors in new books are from a mix of chemicals in the adhesives, ink, and paper treatments
  • Vinyl acetate ethylene is a common adhesive used in books
  • Alkyl ketene dimer is also used to aid in water resistance
  • Hydrogen peroxide is used as a bleaching agent
  • Petrochemicals used as ink solvents also contribute to the smell

In Old Books

  • Over time, the breakdown of cellulose and lignin in paper leads to the production of many organic compounds, like
  • Vanillin
  • Benzaldehyde
  • Ethyl benzene
  • Toluene
  • 2-ethyl hexanol

book smell infographic

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