Yesterday I saw a bill of some book which I bought 6 months back. Then this question struck my mind: "Why does paper turn yellow over time"?

I remember my teacher saying some organic compound was used to make paper white. And this effect is reversed over long periods of time. Can anybody explain?


1 Answer 1


from "Stuff Matters" by Mark Miodownik:

Paper yellows with age for two reasons. If it is made from cheap low-grade mechanical pulp, it will still contain some lignin. Lignin reacts with oxygen in the presence of light to create chromophores ( meaning, literally, 'color carriers'), which turn the paper yellow as they increase in concentration. This type of paper is used for cheap and disposable paper products, and is why newspapers yellow quickly in light.

It used to be fairly common to increase the textural quality of paper by coating it with aluminum sulfate, a chemical compound that is used primarily to purify water, but what wasn't appreciated at the time was that this treatment creates acidic conditions. This causes the cellulose fibers to react with hydrogen ions, which results in another form of yellowing. It also decreases the strength of the paper. Large number of books from the 19th and 20th centuries were printed on this so-called acid paper and can now be easily identified in book shops and libraries by their bright yellow appearance. Even non-acid paper is susceptible to this aging, just at a slower rate.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.