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Author Topic: why does paper turn yellow with age?  (Read 8191 times)

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why does paper turn yellow with age?
« on: 02/06/2007 17:05:41 »
there must be (well, i would think) something chemical going on. But what?


Offline Karen W.

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why does paper turn yellow with age?
« Reply #1 on: 02/06/2007 17:39:37 »
Hasn't this question been asked? Isn't it the acids it? Oils from our skin and air exposure? I say this only because by not handling it and using acid free paper is beneficial to preserving it. etc.

Offline kdlynn

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why does paper turn yellow with age?
« Reply #2 on: 03/06/2007 02:35:28 »
i think the previous question was why do they smell like they do

Offline eric l

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why does paper turn yellow with age?
« Reply #3 on: 03/06/2007 10:45:45 »
The smell and the yellowing are both mainly due to the presence of hemicellulose and lignin.
Paper is essentially formed from cellulose fibers, which are produced from wood, from cotton or from annual plants like flax (or even from straw).  In these plants, the cellulose is generally accompanied by hemi-cellulose (roughly short chained cellulose) and lignin, which both act as binders to constitute cell walls and such things.
Before you make paper, you make paper pulp from these plant sources.  Paper pulp is actually "industrial cellulose".  There are two main procedures, with subdivisions but also with the possibility of intermediate procedures.  They would be classified as mechanical pulping and chemical pulping.
  • mechanical pulping in its simplest form means that you take a piece of wood (a log actually) and press it against a very wet turning grindstone.  The product is also known as "groundwood" and contains not only the cellulose but all of the hemicellolose and lignin.  Groundwood used to be the raw material for "newsprint" (= the paper your daily newspaper and similar articles are printed on)
  • chemical pulping consists more in dissolving and/or decomposing the binders.  There are different procedures, some of which give a typical brown pulp (like "kraft").  Very often the chemical pulping is completed by bleaching.  Paper made exclusively from bleached chemical pulp is known as "woodfree" even if the raw material for pulping was wood.
Matters are complicated a bit because more and more "secondary fiber" is used nowadays.  ("Secondary fiber" is simply a more expensive term for "recycled waste paper").
(see also the Wikipedia article on wood pulp : or
Anyway, cellulose itself has little tendency to turn yellow with age, UV-light or chemical reaction with acids, but lignin will do exactly that.  Up to a point this can be compensated by adding optical brightening agents, which reflect UV light as visible light.  And a brown paper may become clearer under influence of the UV in sunlight, (although that would be more the case if the brown colour is due to addition of a colouring agent.)
« Last Edit: 03/06/2007 10:53:31 by eric l »

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why does paper turn yellow with age?
« Reply #3 on: 03/06/2007 10:45:45 »


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