Why Do New Electronics Have a Weird Smell?

Man with a clothespin on his nose, drifting from the bad smell of his laptop.Elnur / Shutterstock

So you opened this new phone or laptop, but you are greeted by a familiar plastic smell. Where does this strange "new electronic smell" come from and why does it disappear with time?

It's like a new car smell

Everyone knows the smell of a new car. It is a sharp, clean and somewhat mysterious perfume. This is often the key factor in confirming that a car is truly new and that it turns out to be a smell of vaguely toxic chemicals. (These chemicals do not pose a serious health risk, but will be discussed later.)

You see, cars are full of adhesives, flame retardants, chemical starches and plasticizers. These materials are in your vehicle for good reason, but they contain a lot of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

VOCs are chemicals that evaporate at or below room temperature. For example, formaldehyde (which contributes to the smell of fresh paint) evaporates at -2 degrees Fahrenheit. And while it sounds scary, most VOCs are completely non-toxic. In reality, most natural odors are only VOCs.

As in a car, most (if not all) electronic components contain glue, flame retardants, protective coatings and plasticizers. These materials are full of VOCs, which evaporate at room temperature and create the smell of "new electronics".

With ventilation, the smell eventually disappears

VOCs in new electronics evaporate into the air you breathe – that's why new electronics smell. But your new Nintendo Switch is not filled with an unlimited stock of VOCs. Over time, all VOCs in the unit will evaporate into the air and leave you with a pile of odorless plastic.

This process is commonly known as degassing, which is why old electronics and cars no longer have a "new" smell. Although this technically clear process begins as soon as the product is manufactured (again, VOCs evaporate at room temperature), the rate at which a product releases gases is primarily related to ventilation.

A close-up photo of an HVAC unitvchal / Shutterstock

This idea seems complicated, but it is simple to understand. When you buy a new laptop or a new phone, it probably did not come out of a factory. He probably spent a few months in the back of a Best Buy. But when opening the box, your device feels "new". This is because there is very little ventilation inside a sealed box. Without any place where VOCs can go, they are content with the laptop or the phone.

Some people do not like the odors of VOCs, especially when they are present on leather products or cheap furniture. These VOC specialists sometimes speed up the gas release process by leaving new products on the outside or leaving the windows open in their new car. Remember that ventilation encourages the process of gas release. If you hate the smell of your new laptop, do not leave it in a crowded room.

VOCs do not pose a major health risk

Earlier, we described the new car smell as "vaguely toxic". Indeed, government regulations require manufacturers to use only safe quantities of toxic VOCs. Of course, the idea that a quantity of a toxic chemical could be "safe" seems laughable, but it is a scientific fact. Formaldehyde, for example, is an integral part of the metabolic functions of your body. It is fatal only in case of excessive ingestion or inhalation over a long period.

That being said, long-term exposure to these slightly toxic VOCs can cause some problems, such as irritation of the throat and eyes, headaches and lethargy. These health problems are called syndrome of unhealthy buildingsusually result from poor ventilation in a newly renovated building. Do not forget that VOCs evaporate in the air and that ventilation promotes gas release processes.

A happy man because his laptop is totally devoid of gasfizkes / Shutterstock

Health problems associated with unhealthy building syndrome are not permanent and can be eliminated by improving ventilation (opening a window or replacing the air conditioner filter), by steaming new products, filtering the air Air with plants indoors or leaving new products. outside to accelerate the process of gas evolution. Once something stops feeling "new", it is degassed.

Yes, there is the elephant in the room and it is called cancer. A Google search for "degassing" or "VOC" will lead to claims that chemicals in cars, electronics and new furniture contribute to cancer. We know that long-term, severe exposure to VOCs can cause cancer (mask-free painter for 30 years full-time), but it is difficult to find a link between consumer exposure and cancer at the level of consumers.

If you are concerned about the VOCs contained in your new electronics or your new carpet (remember that health problems only occur after repeated long-term exposure), it is advisable to improve the quality of the air by encouraging ventilation or releasing new gases. products on the outside. If you want a little bit of wit, you can use a air quality monitor detect VOCs.

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