One of the best estate sales I ever attended was a sale in a modest St. Louis suburb that happened to be the estate of a computer programmer. The sale had almost everything I look for. Books, music, vintage computer gear, and even recent-ish computer gear. There was only one problem. Her books smelled like an ashtray. So I had to learn how to remove cigarette smell from books and other items.
The problem with cigarette smell and books
Books absorb odors much more readily than they give them up. That means it can take extraordinary measures to remove them. Just setting the books outside can help, but when they’ve been absorbing cigarette smoke for years, a few days in the sun probably isn’t going to fumigate them adequately.
Truth be told, the cigarette smoke was probably the reason I found so many good books at this sale. It probably scared my competition off.
I’ve tried other ways to remove cigarette smell from books, including baking soda and cat litter. But I stumbled onto another method that worked a lot better for me.
I freshened the books up by putting the books in a plastic storage bin along with a charcoal odor absorber bag. If a book isn’t too bad, a day in the bin with an odor absorber can be enough, but I typically left books in there for more like a week. I usually found a week was better for making the books smell like new.
The odor absorbers lose their ability to absorb after about 30 days, but you can rejuvenate them by leaving them in the sun for about an hour. Flip the bag over after 30 minutes so both sides get exposure. If you live in an area that doesn’t get much sun, just leave them out longer. It’s the UV that rejuvenates them, not the light. Clouds don’t block all the UV, so you can make up for lack of sun with more time.
The same trick works for most other things too. I’ve de-stanked music CDs, computer equipment, and other items with these bags as well.