Dream of that New Car Smell? You Might Be Breathing Toxic Fumes

You walk into a new car dealership and your nose is immediately greeted by the new car smell. You breathe it in deeply and enjoy that fresh scent of leather seats, new carpeting or upholstery, and even the paint on the exterior of the vehicle. The smell can be addictive but is it dangerous? Let’s find out.

Is the New Car Smell Toxic?

The answer to this question might surprise you: yes! The smell contains some toxic fumes and the interior off-gasses over 275 chemicals.

A 2012 study by the nonprofit Ecology Center found that the interiors of a new car release some toxic chemicals, including lead, chromium, and brominated flame retardants (BFRs).

Many people associate the smell of a new car with newness and freshness. But the smell comes from the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in plastic materials, adhesive, and other things.

Short-term exposure to VOCs can cause dizziness, vomiting, and other illnesses. Some people may also experience allergic reactions. Inhaling these chemical elements for a long time can lead to deadly health issues like cancer, liver problems, impaired learning, and many other complications.

new car smell
The smell of a new car can be toxic. (Credit: PxHere)

There is a chemical called “phthalates” which can potentially cause birth defects and cancer. Carmakers use it in various items for its ability to endure high temperatures and increase the durability of many materials. You will find phthalates in interior trims, vinyl seat covers, and many other things.

New cars emit high levels of phthalates into the air for many days. So, the smell of a new car might seem nice, but it could be toxic to your health.

How to Prevent the Harmful Effects of New Car Smell

The good news is there are ways to minimize the effects of these harmful elements.

Use a professional cleaning service

A car releases the toxic smell the most when it’s brand new. This is called off-gassing that can continue for a couple of months to several years. So, buy a new car from an auto dealer that has a detailing service.

These professional cleaning services will scour the interior and exterior of vehicles for you before delivery, flushing out harmful chemicals or gasses to make sure your new vehicle is as clean as possible when it arrives at your home.

Clean regularly

Dust particles hold on VOCs, thereby slowing down the off-gassing process. Besides arranging for a good ventilation system, clean the interiors regularly to prevent dust accumulation.


Purchase used cars

This may appear as a bit of unusual advice but a used car is almost free of toxic elements compared to the new models. Many second-hand vehicles have a surprisingly high value. You can get many years of service by purchasing from a reputed dealer.

Buy vehicles that use bio-friendly materials

Take advantage of new technology where manufacturers are making their new cars more eco-friendly. Many automakers have reduced the use of polyvinyl chloride (a VOC). You will also find modern cars have better filtration and aeration systems to accelerate the off-gassing process.

The healthiest car interiors (for eliminating bromine-based flame retardants) belong to Honda Civic, Toyota Prius, Honda CR-Z, and Nissan Cube models.