This is What The ‘New Car Smell’ Actually Does to Your Skin, Eyes, and Brain

This is What The ‘New Car Smell’ Actually Does to Your Skin, Eyes, and Brain
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new car smell, VOCsHas your favourite car commercial gotten you all excited? I know, it’s hard to resist the promises of a smooth and fully comfortable ride. The person in the commercial looks so satisfied even during his commutes and the idea of this car ever belonging only to you can hit just the spot. However, before you buy that new car, there is something you need to know now.

The Toxic New Car Smell and the Dangers of VOCs

You know that characteristic smell in new cars? The one people mistaken for the smell of rich leather sometimes? It’s actually dangerous.

The smell in a new car forms when the chemical ingredients used to put together the insides of the car haven’t fully settled down and are releasing chemical vapours. This is not only an uncomfortable smell to some people, it can also be very dangerous. The group of chemicals we are talking about are known as VOCs, which is short form for volatile organic compounds.

VOCs are known to cause a ton of environmental and health problems, and especially pollute indoor air. According to researchers, the concentration of VOCs inside new cars is above the recommended maximum level of VOCs in indoor spaces. This is troubling, as Americans  spend an average of an hour and a half in their car per day.

Below are some immediate symptoms possible due to the VOC smell:

  • Irritation in the eyes and respiratory tract
  • Visual disorders
  • Memory problems
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches

Other common signs of VOC exposure include:

  • Skin allergies
  • Hard time breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe nose bleeds
  • Fatigue

Researchers are especially worried about the long-term side effects of VOC exposure, which includes damages to the liver, kidney, thyroid, respiratory system, the central nervous system as well as birth defects! Ouch! Some VOCs are even cancer-causing agents.

The Risk Decreases with Time

The risk brought on by VOCs and their smell in new cars is high during the first 6 months in the car’s life. After that, the VOC concentration becomes less than the maximum recommended VOC levels I mentioned earlier. The smell pretty much goes away too, and the worst feels over. Below are some steps you can take to minimize exposure to VOCs as well lessen or get rid of the smell.

Steps to Get Rid of Smell and Stay Safer:

Buying Your Car and the Potential Next 6 Months

New Car Smell, VOCs

One of the best solutions is to buy a used car. That’s what I am planning to do. Not only will it be cheaper, but the VOC smells won’t be there. However, if you really want a completely new car, below are simple steps you can take to stay safer.

Before Buying the Car:

  • Some companies are really taking steps to reduce the VOC chemicals in the cars they are making. The good news is that its actually possible to make these products without using VOCs, but the transitioning can take some time. Consider those companies! The Honda Civic is one of the safest.
  • Check which of your wanted companies provide certification of good interior air quality in their cars. Either they will be running the checks themselves, or will get it done by a reliable source.

You’re at the Car Dealers:

  • Another step is to figure out which car has been at the dealer’s place for a longer period of time, which would mean that it’s 6 month detox has begun earlier. You can do this simply through asking for the production date.
  • Another smart and practical option is checking the smell out for yourself. When taking a car for a test drive, spend some extra time inside the car and pay attention to how your body reacts. Can you stand the smell? Can you feel any strange symptoms or notice any irritation?

Taking these steps can help you feel more comfortable with your choice.

You’ve Brought the Baby Home: The Plan for the Next Six Months

Yes! It’s here! The car smell is there but man this car feels so worth it. What now?

  • Drive with the windows rolled down, so that the air inside the car can travel out and you can breathe in fresher air.
  • If your car has climate control, turn that on. If it has air conditioning, turn that on. We want to keep the indoors cool so that you receive fresher air and the chemicals don’t release more toxins due to heat.
  • If your seats are made up of washable fabric, consider getting a “hot water extractor” procedure done on the seats and carpets. The process will basically draw out dirt and dust from the fabric, which is good because chemicals will be less likely to stay on that way. The smell will also lessen.
  • Speaking of cleaning, wipe your car often with a handy microfiber cloth and gentle cleaner.
  • Don’t sit in the car when its parked. The air inside the car will be hot, which will make the chemicals give off more fumes and intensify the odour. We don’t want to smell that.
  • To help with keeping the indoors cool, use a wind shield solar shade, and park in the shade with windows slightly open if possible.
  • Before getting in the car, open the doors and windows for some time to release the air inside

Other advice going around is to “bake out” the car. The logic is that increasing the heat will increase the production of the fumes, which you can then air out and wipe away. After reading scientific reports, I don’t think that’s a good idea at all.

According to a scientific study, when these chemicals are heated up, the heat can cause new VOC chemicals to form. A dangerous example of a chemical that can form is 2-ethyl-1-hexanol, which comes with harmful effects. It can cause allergies, lung irritation, lung damage, drowsiness, dizziness, alongside other problems and is even harmful if touched. We don’t want this!

Jeff Gearheart, the Ecology Centre’s Auto Project’s campaign director also talks about this potential effect of heat. He says this process can at times lead to even more toxic chemicals. We want to keep the car cool!

That’s the basic principle behind almost all of our precautions; keeping the air inside well-ventilated and cool! I also recommend postponing that family road trip until the 6 months have passed, and maybe even choosing to walk places when you can. This will also help the number on your meter, which (when you want to sell it) will be a bigger buying incentive to folks like me looking for used cars. Until that time, take care!


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