Why Books Turn Yellow? (And How to Prevent it)


If you’re a book collector and lover, then probably you’ve seen some of your old books getting yellow.

Typically, this process is inevitable, and it usually takes years to occur depending on various factors like storage and type of paper.

Why do books turn yellow?

Book yellowing can be a result of such reasons as the way you store your book and the chemical components found in the paper. In general, books turn yellow because of environmental changes.

Are you wondering why your books are turning yellow and how to prevent it?

You don’t have to worry anymore. This article will provide you comprehensive details on why hardback works usually turn yellow, their remedies, plus other essential information about yellow pages.

What causes yellow books?

Several book discoloration forms can cause yellow books, and they include foxing, sunning, and ghosting.

Foxing refers to those yellowish specks, splotches, and spots often found on old books. It occurs when mildew/mold or fungi develop on a book after being exposed to a lot of humidity or moisture.

Your books are more likely to undergo foxing if you store them in poorly ventilated areas.

Foxing came from a rusting Latin term for Ferric oxide. The Fox you see on Ferric oxide describes the rust-colored patches mostly found in old papers and fabrics.

Sunning describes the fading that occurs on books after exposure to light. The process doesn’t apply to sunlight only, but all light forms. Light can cause paper components such as lignin to breakdown, making them deteriorate.

Common sunning signs in books include paper discoloration and bleaching.

Books that have undergone sunning tend to become more delicate and brittle over time as fibers continue to disintegrate. Exposed pages tend to get the bear the brunt of this process since they’re the most exposed parts in books.

Shadowing or ghosting refers to the uneven fading of paper, which leaves a visible difference in the shade of colors, including a yellow color. This process can occur when you leave bookmarks, pour adhesives, or put tapes on book pages.

If you leave such things in books for so long, the attached pages will undergo a chemical reaction and leave their color outlines behind when you finally remember to remove them. Many individuals often accidentally pour coffee on their best novels and textbooks, which also causes yellow stains.

When the coffee dries, it usually leaves its trace behind on your book page, which may initially appear brown and turn yellow with time.

Generally, the main reason why papers turn yellow is that paper reacts differently to environmental factors. One common natural cause of yellowing in books is oxidation.

Book papers are processed versions of natural wood, and wood’s main biological components are cellulose and lignin. In its pure form, cellulose has a white appearance, and this component makes papers white.

The second component, lignin, is a dark substance and is usually removed during the papermaking process by chemical means. However, a small concentration of lignin always remains on the processed paper.

With time, the lignin in the paper undergoes oxidation by reacting and turning yellow. This yellow hue often starts appearing on the exposed sides of the book’s pages.

How long does it take for books to yellow?

Fungus or chemically treated white paper can last for an extended period- up to several hundred years. On the other hand, cheaply produced writing paper such as those made through mechanical pulping can last weeks or months before yellowing.

However, several aspects can determine how long it takes for books to yellow. You may realize that a 50-year-old book is in mint condition while a 5-year-old one is already turning yellow.

Two core factors can significantly affect how long it takes for books to turn yellow, and they include the paper processing technique and storage conditions. Here is a summary of how these aspects affect the yellowing of books.

1. The paper processing technique

The technique used to create the paper pulp can significantly affect this process. For instance, book papers generated through the kraft technique can last for many years without turning yellow.

Nowadays, some paper processing firms use a particular fungus to degrade all lignin from the paper pulp. This specific fungus only degrades lignin and purifies the cellulose. This process leaves mostly pure white cellulose, which is resistant to yellowing.

Others utilize chemical agents to reduce lignin concentration. Although most books use papers resistant to yellowing, the pages’ lignin oxidation can occur slowly with time.

This form of paper yellowing is more apparent in newspapers, which use mechanical pulping to generate low-cost papers.

Such printing paper typically contains a significant amount of lignin and start yellowing much quicker (after a few weeks or months).

2. The book’s storage conditions

Low-quality storage is also a leading reason why books turn yellow faster. Well-stored books are less likely to turn yellow than those which are poorly maintained. Books that stay in bright-lit and warm conditions are also at risk of turning yellow faster.

Storing books in extremely low or high humidity is also not advised. Such storage conditions promote oxidation and yellowing.

How to remove yellow stains from paper

If your books already have yellow patches on them, don’t despair. You can remove them using several methods. Some of the cleaning techniques you can utilize to remove yellow stains on your books include:

1. Using an oxidizing agent

Hydrogen peroxide is an excellent example of an oxidizing agent you can use to remove yellow stains.

However, since this solution is highly oxidizing, you should be careful not to use it when it’s highly concentrated to avoid bleaching your paper. It’s best to use food grade hydrogen peroxide or dilute with water before using it.

You’ll only need cotton, Q-tip, and hydrogen peroxide solution (6% pharmacological H2O2 is ideal) for this process. First, dip the cotton in the solution, then take a Q-tip and put the damp cotton around it. Press the cotton for the Q-tip to get wet and apply the wet end on the yellow stain.

Ensure to be gentle to avoid removing the paper’s fibers. Wrapping the wet cotton on a Q-tip helps prevent the bud from over-drenching, which can damage the paper more. The first application will tell you the reaction of the paper with the wet bud. You can increase or add depending on the stain concentration and paper type.

Using a Q-tip is usually slower. You can use facial cotton but be careful not to over dump it.

It’s best to do this task on a level and soft solid ground for the paper not to bend as dab the cotton on it. After finishing, please leave it to dry or put it under a ceiling fan. Avoid using hair dryers or heat blowers since it can cause the paper to warp.

2. Using chalk

For this technique, kindly place the paper on a solid surface and dust chalk on the stained area using a soft brush. Next, you'll put the notepaper between clean white papers to prevent your stained paper from burning when you iron it to remove the stains.

Take a medium-hot flat iron, lay it on the paper for about 8-12 seconds, and remove it before the notepaper starts burning. When you remove the stained paper from the two white covers, the satins will be diminished or completely removed.

3. By vacuum suctioning

Here, you’ll also lay the stained paper on a flat hard surface and ensure it doesn’t have any wrinkles and taped to keep it from moving. You’ll then slightly spray the stained area, but don’t soak it.

Next, you’ll turn on the vacuum and place its nose nozzle above the stained area. Ensure the nozzle doesn’t touch the paper, and then wait as the paper’s stain and water disappear.

How do I keep my books from becoming yellow?

Yellow stains can blemish your favorite reading books and affect their resell value if you decide to vend them. If you wish to have well-maintained white pages, kindly consider the following tips on how I keep my books from turning yellow.

1. Improve on the books’ storage conditions

Most books start yellowing due to poor storage conditions. If you wish to avoid yellow pages, kindly consider improving your book’s storage conditions.

Always ensure books are stored in a cool, dry, and dimly lit place. The room’s temperature and humidity should also be at low levels. When you provide such conditions for your books, they are less likely to undergo oxidation.

Consider having a closed bookshelf rather than an open one. The latter exposes your precious books to many environmental factors that promote the yellowing of pages.

2. Avoid reading books while consuming foods or drinks

Foods, including natural ones, have various constituents that can react negatively to a book’s pages. One sure way of ensuring that books and foods/drinks don’t mix is by avoiding books during meals and snack time.

3. Consider procuring professional-grade book covers

If you treasure and care for your books, kindly consider buying professional-grade book covers. Such covers protect against accidental spillages and help reduce environmental factors that can turn novels or other publications yellow.


Booking yellowing is an unavoidable process, but you can minimize how fast it occurs in your books or remove the yellow patches for a clean and presentable book. To prevent your novels and other publications from yellowing quickly, keep them away from sunlight, moisture-free, and well-ventilated rooms.

Also, avoid consuming drinks while reading and consider buying professional and durable book covers.

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