Removing smells from paper
August 12, 2005 3:51 AM   Subscribe

I have an antique photo album that stinks and I am looking for tips to neutralise the smell...

I buy and sell vintage photographs in my spare time but have never come across this problem before. I came into possession of a card photo album, 100yrs old, full of excellent photographs, but I am unable to sell it on because it reeks of mothballs. I've sold musty stuff in the past, but this is offensive and would clear a room...

Obviously I have to protect the photos and the album itself so dousing it in perfume isn't really an option. Anybody got any tips for getting rid or masking the smell without inflicting damage? I'm really looking for some kitchen sink wisdom passed down from Grandma rather than expensive products/conservation materials. Thanks.
posted by fire&wings to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Baking soda?
posted by baltimore at 5:06 AM on August 12, 2005

Air. Try to find a safe place to air it for a few days. If it's possible to do so without damaging the album and photographs, prop the album open to let the air get inside. A fan would speed things up. That smell you smell is molecules floating away on the breeze (and going up your nose). Eventually it will all be gone, but you've got to increase the air flow to speed up the process.
posted by pracowity at 5:33 AM on August 12, 2005

Both. I'd go for airflow first.

Could take a while, but I think hoping it evaporates eventually is the best choice.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 6:05 AM on August 12, 2005

Activated Charcoal.

Activated charcoal is used to neutralize all sorts of odors, and it has no odor of its own.

Get a cardboard box big enough to hold two shallow pans or cookie sheets. Spread about 3 ounces of fine powdered charcoal on a sheet of aluminum foil in a shallow pan. Use drinking glasses to support another pan or cookie sheet. Put your album on a clean white towel or white paper toweling, and place it on the second cookie sheet. In your case you can probably put the charcoal and album in a closed box to speed the process.

After 6 or 8 hours, put the pan of charcoal in a moderate 350 degree oven to reactivate it so it can be re-used. Repeat until the odor disappears.

Purchase activated charcoal at health food stores.
posted by Corky at 6:49 AM on August 12, 2005

The folksy library wisdom that I know says use the two garbage can method outlined on this page. I know it's for mustiness but I bet it works for mothballs as well.
There is no guaranteed way to remove the musty smell from old books, but there is a strategy that may be successful. This musty smell is most often noted in books that have been moldy or mildewed in the past. The first step is to create an enclosed chamber. This is most easily done by using two garbage cans, one large (with a lid) and one small. The object to be "deodorized" should be placed in the smaller can, which is then placed inside the larger can. Some type of odor-absorbing material should then be placed in the bottom of the larger can. Odor-absorbing materials to try include baking soda, charcoal briquettes (without lighter fluid), or kitty litter. The lid should then be placed on the larger can, and the chamber should be left for some time. You will need to monitor periodically to see how long the materials need to be left inside the chamber.
posted by jessamyn at 7:04 AM on August 12, 2005

Febreze works wonders. Every music store has a sprayer to eliminate musty, mouldy smells from instrument cases.

posted by KRS at 8:43 AM on August 12, 2005

As a librarian, I don't reccommend Febreze. It would stain
and imbed whatever dust and dirt (even if brushed off beforehand) exists on the pages. Baking soda sprinkled
between the pages is okay, but use a soft bristled brush
to remove it. Also, if you have a self defrosting freezer
putting the book in it for a while might work. Don't wrap it
in anything just set it on a shelf (if your freezer has one).
Airing the book out really is the best method to try first.
Find a spot away from direct sunlight but warm and dry.
If the book will stay open on it's own, flip a few pages over
every once in a while.
posted by bat at 1:10 PM on August 12, 2005

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