So, how do you get smoke out of books?

I just got a copy The Receptionist: an Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth; I bought it online after Lyn mentioned that it might appeal to me, knowing my love of William Maxwell, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and behind-the-scenes of literary life. And, indeed, it could well be great – but when it arrived, it stank of cigarette smoke.

Sorry to any of you who smoke, but I do hate the smell (and am so thrilled about the smoking ban!) – so, does anybody have any tips for getting the smell of cigarette smoke out of books??

(And, on a side note, I feel like people should note this sort of thing when they sell books online…)

13 thoughts on “So, how do you get smoke out of books?

  • June 30, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Believe it or not, cat litter! There’s a method, and I’ll try and find the details for you.

  • July 1, 2015 at 12:30 am

    I agree on kitty litter. Put it in a paper bag. There’s a great book called The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New that gives a ton of ways to handle different used-book issues.

  • July 1, 2015 at 12:32 am

    Conservation labs use ozone in a sealed chamber, but that’s not exactly realistic for the rest of us. So there are some simple methods to at least cut down on the odor. First, put the book (fanned open) outside in warm weather which you might have right now(?), but not in direct sunlight. Then put the book (again fanned open) in a sealed plastic container with either activated charcoal, baking soda or a drop of deodorizing oil in the container, but not touching the book. These may need to be replenished. This can take a few days or several weeks depending on how heavy the odor is. There is a very good product sold in the US called Book Deodorizer, but I don’t know if it’s sold in the UK. Yes, absolutely agree that sellers should warn customers if books smell smoky or musty!

  • July 1, 2015 at 2:04 am

    What what? What is this now? Smoking ban in the UK? Is that a thing?

    My sister bought me an attractive (used) edition of Jane Eyre one year with woodcut illustrations, and when she got it, the pages were all smoky. She wiped them down with scented dryer sheets, and it worked awesome. But was labor intensive. I believe she did it when she wasn’t doing anything anyway, like while she was watching movies. Other people’s suggestions are probably much faster.

    • July 1, 2015 at 8:53 am

      A ban in pubs, shops, workplaces etc.! It’s a few years old now, but I’m still so happy that I can go to pubs without having to wash everything I’m wearing immediately.

  • July 1, 2015 at 2:19 am

    We occasionally get smoky smelling books returned to the library. Staff have told me that they usually leave the books to air out, especially outside on a warm day, really helps. You could also put the book in a plastic bin with some kitty litter. Good luck and let us know if any of these methods work!

  • July 1, 2015 at 7:26 am

    It’s infuriating isn’t it? I had a very damp smelling one arrive recently which hadn’t been mentioned and I demanded a refund. That kind of thing should definitely be mentioned. I’ll be interested to hear if any of the methods work!

  • July 1, 2015 at 8:35 am

    I think this sort of thing is usually commented on in the negative. For instance, I always say “from a smoke-free, bug-free home.” Depending on the source, that may be common practice among vendors and its absence should ring alarm bells.

  • July 1, 2015 at 9:17 am

    I’ve been lucky so far with books ordered online, but some of the donations we get in the Oxfam bookshop smell disgusting. Sometimes the stench of stale cigarettes is so overpowering that I stick them straight in the recycling bags!

  • July 2, 2015 at 2:18 am

    Ick! Stand the book up, fan the pages, and leave in a ventilated area for a couple of days. Then place in a plastic bag, still standing and fanned, with a dryer sheet. Depending how entrenched the odour is this will either do the job or leave you with a book that smells of a meadow after a fire.

  • July 17, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Smoke is nothing— i have had books with food and drink and blood stains inside.
    Question–would you throw away very stained books(pages not the boards?)How many stains are acceptable?A puzzling question.

  • July 17, 2015 at 11:00 am

    I am talking about rare/scarce books with many stained/soiled pages.Does one chuck the book in the bin or squirrel it away from the “decent” books on display?

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