The Aroma-Chemistry of Old & New Books

We all know how the old books smell, and it could be oddly intoxicating that will creep in libraries and thrift bookshops. Likewise, everyone loves riffling through the pages of a new-bought book, and breathing in the ethereal fragrance of new, crispy paper is no less than aromatherapy. However, this scent will trace back to several chemical elements, and we will inspect the processes and compounds that add to both in this article.

The Production Step of Aroma

Regarding new books, it is not that easy to identify particular constituents for several reasons. To start with, there is a scarcity of scientific studies to examine the subject, and we can see that why it is not on the top of researchers’ list. Secondly, please know that the chemicals for book production also vary, and each book will smell different. There are a hundred compounds involved, and it is transparent as it eludes ascription to a fewer number of chemicals selection.  

We have broken down the smell of new book reasons into three primary sources:

  1. Paper (Chemicals for production) 
  2. Inks (Printing the book) 
  3. Adhesives (Used in book-binding method)

Producing paper needs chemicals at different steps. A big chunk of paper is produced from the wood pulp, and chemicals like sodium hydroxide are added to enhance pH and make the pulp fiber expand. These fibers are bleached with several chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, and mixed with a lot of water. The water it uses has additives to enhance paper’s properties. For instance, AKD (alkyl ketene dimer) acts as a sizing agent to enhance the paper’s water-resistance. This is a rough overview of how chemicals work in giving a book aroma. You can preserve the smell and crisp of a new book with Kraft mailer boxes, and a bookstore must deliver the books in these boxes because they are robust, eco-friendly, and preserve the aroma. For inexpensive and durable boxes, you can visit to avail yourself with them. 

The Reaction of Chemicals in Books

Books smell in a certain manner because chemicals used in their manufacturing can contribute in order to emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere, and therefore, we can smell them. Similarly, it is the same for inks and adhesives that are used in the books. 

Regarding adhesives being used for binding the books, they contain organic copolymers – two or more monomer species, smaller molecules, chemically chained together. 

We said before that differences in paper, adhesives, and inks impact the smell of new books, which is why every new book smells differently. Maybe this is why no studies have yet been initiated to identify the scent definitely. 

The Study on Aroma of Old Books

Unlike new books, studies have been conducted on old books. It was examined to study the potential strategy for evaluating old books’ conditions by scrutinizing various organic compounds’ concentrations. That is why we could be a little bit specific about the constituents contributing to the smell of old books.  

Normally, the breakdown of the chemical compounds within the paper causes the old book to smell. Paper has several chemicals, like cellulose and a fewer amount of lignin. Both compounds are from the tree used to produce paper. A fine paper will have less amount of lignin than a newspaper. Lignin is responsible for binding cellulose fibers together, making the wood stuff. It is also responsible for yellow color paper attain with time because oxidation reactions break down into acids that further break down cellulose. 

This is from where old book smell is derived, whereas modern and high-quality papers in today’s age go through chemical processing to take away lignin but the breakdown of cellulose in the paper can still take place but at a slower rate. You can refer to these reactions as acid hydrolysis and cause a wide variety of VOCs, and a lot of them add to the scent of old books. Several compounds have had their contributions identified: 

  • Benzaldehyde (Almond scent)
  • Vanillin (Vanilla scent)
  • Ethyl Benzene 
  • Toluene (Sweet scent) 
  • 2-ethyl hexanol (A little floral) 
  • Aldehydes
  • Alcohols 


To sum it up, we cannot highlight a particular constituent or a group of compounds and downright assert that is why scent is found in the book. Nevertheless, we can determine contributors and several compounds, especially when it comes to old books. We would encourage you to share your opinions and information with us on new and old books smell. You would be surprised to know that people are selling perfumes with book scents. 

We can see that several compounds play a significant role in how a book smells. The crisp and aroma of a new book is unexplainable and resides in our hearts. Brew a cup of coffee, sit on your sofa, and have a nice reading time. 


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