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No matter whether you prefer heart-warming classics or heart-pounding thrillers, your personal library of paperbacks and hardcovers runs the risk of collecting a fair amount of dust and a musty, “old book smell”—that unpleasant aroma emitted when the organic compounds in the pages of books degrade with time. While it’s easy to eliminate dust, banishing that old book smell has remained as elusive as the ending of a mystery novel—until now. So gather your books from their place on a shelf, the back of the closet, or attic boxes. You can banish antagonizing smells from them with the help of an unexpected pantry hero: cornstarch.
Though traditionally used as a thickening agent, cornstarch is also a natural odor remover that is gentle enough not to damage the delicate pages of your books. Open your books partway and stand them on end over a long piece of parchment paper. Then, grab a box of cornstarch and sprinkle it over the books, and fan out the pages a little more for a well-distributed coat. Leave the setup overnight to allow the cornstarch to set and pull out odors. The following day, you can shake off the excess—carefully, so as not to damage the binding or the pages. Now for the sniff test: You shouldn’t be able to detect a hint of “old book smell” in your freshened books! Sweep up the remaining cornstarch with the parchment paper, and toss or reuse to give another pile of malodorous books a fairy-tale ending.