Why do new books smell different?

There’s nothing quite like getting the new bestseller and taking in the whiff of its pages. But what is ‘new book smell’?

In volumes that are hot off the press, this scent is derived from the chemicals used in their production. The various chemicals react with one another and with the environment, giving off volatile organic compounds, which are what we sniff as we flick through. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact factors that cause new book smell, as thousands of different chemicals are used. When paper is made, it is treated to give specific finishes; for example, hydrogen peroxide is used to bleach the fibres and sodium hydroxide boosts pH.

During printing, the inks for the words and pictures also add their own chemical signature. Then when the book is assembled, numerous adhesives, such as vinyl acetate ethylene, are used to securely fasten the pages together. Mix all of these chemicals together, and you have your new book aroma!


This brilliant infographic from Compound Chem shows what causes the different smells in old and new books


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Plus, take a look at:

Why do feet smell?

Dog science: Why do dogs have such a good sense of smell and other canine questions answered

Does the Sun smell of anything?