Subscribe to the OSS Weekly Newsletter!

Why Do Old Books Smell So Good?

E-readers might be convenient, but they’ll never have that comforting old book smell. It turns out that the smell of old books is due to the organic materials in books (like cellulose from wood pulp) reacting with light, heat and water, and over time releasing volatile organic compounds or VOCs. What VOCs are released depends on how the book was made and stored, but common scents are toluene or ethylbenzene, which smell sweet, benzaldehyde or furfural, which smell almond-like, or vanillin, which smells like- you guessed it- vanilla. Book VOCs are even being used to date old books, as the rate at which they break down can be used to determine the age of some old tomes. 


Back to top