home > on keeping moldy books > coffee as a smell-neutralizer

Some books just smell bad. This can be due to where they were stored, where else they've been, or what they've been exposed to. At the Joanne Waxman Library, some books are returned reeking of cigarette smoke, for instance, when a patron who smokes heavily has checked out the book. Other books have been stored in musty basements or garages and pick up the smell of their surroundings without actually harboring any mold. If a book has no signs of water damage or mold growth, a moldy odor may not mean the book is molding.

In these cases, it is possible to neutalize the odor of a book using coffee in a desiccation chamber. The instructions provided here for making your own desiccation chamber can be modified:

  1. Instead of using cat litter, put ground, unbrewed coffee into the desiccation chamber
  2. Set the book up the same way you would a damp book
  3. Keep the book in the desiccation chamber until the odor is gone. This may take 2-3 weeks or longer.

Note that if the odor is persistent and very strong, the book may have mold growing in places where it cannot be seen, such as within the binding. You may still need to discard the book to protect your collection.


Books Gone Bad - Mold in Library Collections was a project sponsored by Maine College of Art, in partnership with the Joanne Waxman Library. Funding for this project came from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation. The Project Lead and Artist for this project was Diane J. Wren. All contents Copyright © 2011 by Diane J. Wren. All rights reserved. No part of this web site may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a data base or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of Diane J. Wren.