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What Causes the Smell of New & Old Books?

29-Jun-2016

© Compound Interest

What Causes the Smell of New & Old Books?

Everyone’s familiar with the smell of old books, the weirdly intoxicating scent that haunts libraries and second-hand book stores. Similarly, who doesn’t enjoy riffling through the pages of a newly purchased book and breathing in the crisp aroma of new paper and freshly printed ink? As with all aromas, the origins can be traced back to a number of chemical constituents, so we can examine the processes and compounds that can contribute to both.

As far as the smell of new books goes, it’s actually quite difficult to pinpoint specific compounds, for a number of reasons. Firstly, there seems to be a scarcity of scientific research that’s been carried out on the subject – to be fair, it’s understandable why it might not exactly be high up on the priority list. Secondly, the variation in the chemicals used to manufacture books also means that it’s an aroma that will vary from book to book. Add to this the fact that there are literally hundreds of compounds involved, and it becomes clearer why it evades attribution to a small selection of chemicals.

Topics
  • Lignin
  • adhesives
  • Toluene
  • volatile organic compounds
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • inks
  • paper
  • vanillin
  • 2-ethyl hexanol
  • ethylbenzene
  • Benzaldehyde
  • alkyl ketene dimers
  • furfural
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