Removing Odors
From Books
With An Ozone Generator

by Craig Stark

#117, 24 March 2008

A Bookseller's Guide

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Books are like sponges. They soak up odor by the gallon, and the most offensive of these odors will all but destroy values. There are dozens of techniques for eliminating book odor - BookThink itself has published an article that recommends using baking soda - but most of them involve the use of chemicals and lots and lots of patience, sometimes weeks of it. And even then odors may return over time. A few chemicals (or other odor eliminating products like charcoal) are safe to use, others questionable; and still others will inevitably damage the books they are intended to restore. Or make them smell like lilies!

I'm going to propose a faster and more effective method, one that not only eliminates odors quickly and completely but also treats mold and mildew - ozone.

Ozone, a gas consisting of three oxygen atoms, is an allotrope of oxygen - that is, it's comprised of exactly the same element but differs in the bonding arrangement and/or number of atoms, in this case possessing three atoms instead of two (as in oxygen). The good news here is that ozone is much more unstable than oxygen and, given normal atmospheric conditions, will tend to slough off the third atom, whereupon the orphaned atom will oxidize or attach itself to the first receptive thing it bumps into - a very good thing indeed if the host is an active mold spore because oxidation will certainly destroy it.

Devices that manufacture ozone - specifically, ozone generators - have proven highly effective at eliminating odors produced by smoke, mold, mildew and so on, in some cases destroying the very things that are causing them. Additionally, if books are infested with any creeping organisms, they will be zapped as well.

The process for booksellers couldn't be simpler, but it's important to acquire a generator that matches your application and come up with a relatively air-tight enclosure to house it and your books. Also, there are a few tricks that will facilitate things, not to mention some stuff to watch out for.

First, the generator. It needs to be powerful enough to get the job done but not so powerful as to be prohibitively expensive or dangerous. For our purposes, a 12-watt unit will be more than effective and not break your budget. Don't waste your money on less powerful units that promise the moon, and especially vendors who conveniently forget to specify wattage. A 12-watt generator is designed for use in small areas (like refrigerators) - or the somewhat smaller enclosure I'll recommend for your books. Here's what I use.

If the price gives you pause, used units come up often on eBay and can sometimes be acquired for under $100. Also note that bulb life is approximately 9,000 hours - enough to treat thousands of books.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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