How to remove cigarette smoke smell from books
September 5, 2020 4:22 PM   Subscribe

My dad inherited some books recently from a friend who was a heavy smoker. Some of them my dad intends to keep and others he'd like to add to local Little Free Libraries, but they all need to be de-odorized first. None of the books are valuable or vintage. They're mostly paperbacks and several are big, Robert Caro-style 1200-page volumes. I've seen a few deodorizing techniques online but people report varying levels of success. What's worked for you?
posted by theory to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This works best in a dry climate since humidity + paper is not a great idea; leave the books outside, in the sun, for anywhere from several hours to several days depending on how strong the smell is. I took a lot of books from the collection of a woman in my old apartment building after she passed away, and this fixed the issue for me.
posted by nancynickerson at 5:20 PM on September 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

Auto detailers use ozone generators for this. Best would be to find one among neighbors or friends, but you can buy one for less than $50 and I'm sure they last forever, in case anything else needs to be deodorized for the rest of your life..
posted by rhizome at 5:59 PM on September 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ziploc bags + shit-tons of baking soda + more time than you probably care to take = my recipe thus far.
posted by sourcequench at 6:10 PM on September 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'd put them in a plastic tote with an open can of cheap supermarket coffee. Check on them every few days until the coffee smell is stronger than the ciggy smell.
posted by bink at 6:43 PM on September 5, 2020

I live in the desert and seconding nancynickerson, intense sunlight works wonders for this.
posted by mmoncur at 7:07 PM on September 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm sorry to report that in my fairly extensive experience there's nothing that will truly get rid of the smell that will not also damage the book or take more resources/time than it's worth (e.g. sunlight will work, but leaving books in the sun isn't great for them).

None of the books are valuable or vintage.
Then I would wholeheartedly recommend making this someone else's problem. I have a number of vintage mystery novels that smell of stale tobacco, whose owner died before I was born. Someone who is quite sensitive won't take the books. Plenty of people won't notice or won't care.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:29 PM on September 5, 2020 [5 favorites]

My mother is a heavy smoker, and recently she moved to a nursing home and had to let go of some of her books. I wanted a handful of them, and I put them outside (under a roof) for two weeks before bringing them in. I can't smell the smoke now, and I am really sensitive to bad smells. Also, our climate is humid, but the books weren't damaged at all.
posted by mumimor at 12:50 AM on September 6, 2020

Sun will help. Baking soda is also useful. The smell won't go away entirely but you can minimize it. Bob Villa's suggestion is the one we tell people at the library. Basically large plastic trash bag, lots of baking soda.
For books, small décor items, and clothing that isn’t easily washable, pour one-half cup of baking soda into a large plastic trash bag, add the smoke-damaged items, and then tie the bag shut. Give it a good eight hours of dwell time before removing your belongings and dusting or shaking off the powder.
posted by jessamyn at 9:47 AM on September 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Maybe granulated charcoal in a ziplock with the smelliest books? I used this method once after I had a disastrous milk spill in the trunk of my car and was at my wit's end after a failed attempt at dumping mountains of baking soda on the rugs. The sour smell was awful. I shampooed the carpet a couple of times, but the sour smell was still there. I went to a pet store and bought a couple of containers of charcoal, normally used in aquarium filters. It certainly wasn't as cheap as baking soda, but I scattered thickly it on the carpet and left it for a few days. I then vacuumed up the charcoal pellets and the smell was much, much better.

Note that the charcoal itself has a sort of unpleasant smell, but it dissipates quickly after it's removed from the environment in question.

That said, I wonder if this is really cost-effective for old paperbacks you don't even want to keep?
posted by citygirl at 5:33 PM on September 6, 2020

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