The Smell of Books- The Chemistry Behind

by - November 09, 2018



Hello my beautiful, welcome back!

How many of you love the smell of the books? Who love going back in the time with just smell the aroma of the book, especially the old ones? Me & Me! I have always love to smell books and I love how they have different aromas, I mean they're similar but at the same time are differents. Well, I'm not crazy and neither are you. All of this have an explanation and that's what I'm going to be sharing with all of you today, the chemistry explanation behind the smell/aroma of the books. 

The books have been part of our life since a while ago, giving us his magic stories, art and history. We know when a book is old for the look but also for the aroma they have. The aroma is caused by a number of chemical reactions. The paper consist of cellulose and lignin which is a complex polymer of aromatic alcohols. The amount of lignin is in small quantities and varies by the type of papers. The most finer papers (newsprint) have less amount of lignin than the cheaper one. The compounds founds in the papers of the books are volatile compounds and the old books have different compounds than the new ones because they are others factors that sum to the number of chemical compounds reacting together. 


The aroma is not only based on the paper, it also depend on the ink, glue and the other tools that were used to made them. Some of the aromas that you can smell on the books are vanilla flowers and almond caused by the breakdowns of the chemicals in the paper. This vainilla odor comes from the compound lignin which is present in the wooden paper and when its break down release the vainilla aroma. This vanilla aroma is characteristic of the old books. In addition to the compound vanillin that  comes from the lignin, we have Toluene (sweet odour), 2-Ethyl Hexanol (slightly floral), Ethyl Benzene (sweet), Benzaldehyde (almond-ish odour), Furfural (almond-ish odour), Vinyl Acetate Ethylene (adhesive compound), Alkyl Ketene Dimer (helps with water resistances), Hydrogen Peroxide (bleaching agent).

As time passes, the chemical compounds react between them and the environment that surrounds them or where they are stored. This is why in old books you can find higher amounts of lignin and these tend to have that aroma of vanilla and almonds. The new books have more volatile compounds because of the way they're made and the things that they use to create them like the ink, the petrochemicals used as solvents for the ink and paper treatment. One of the reasons the new books have less amount of lignin is because they're submitted to a chemical processing to remove it and reduce the breakdown of cellulose by acid hydrolysis.


So yeah, that's why the books have that characteristic smells/aromas that we love so much! 
I hop you have a great friday and weekend with your book friends! 
Love you guys!


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