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New Car Smell May Actually Increase Your Risk of Cancer

That plasticky, chemical smell we all know and love might actually be getting us sick.

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2023 Toyota GR Corolla interior
2023 Toyota GR Corolla interior
Image: Toyota

New car smell. It’s like fresh baked cookies, or the smell of popcorn. People seem to love it. But it looks as if that smell may be more dangerous for us than we initially thought. CBS Austin reports a study has shown new car smell is linked to leukemia and rare nose cancers.

In case you missed it:

New car smell isn’t actually a smell at all. It’s a combination of various compounds inside the vehicle undergoing a phenomenon known as “off-gassing.” Anything that has organic compounds inside, from the seats to the dash, has volatile organic compounds, or VOC, that come out of them which create the smell.


The study to show why this is so dangerous was conducted in Melbourne, Australia at RMIT University and was overseen by Professor Oliver Jones. In the study, a new car was left in varying environmental conditions over the course of 12 days. Using Chinese safety levels as a baseline, chemicals reached unsafe levels in the interior of the car over the course of the 12 days. Formaldehyde reached 34.9 percent above standard. Acetaldehyde, a dangerous carcinogen that can cause breathing problems reached 223.5 micrograms per cubic meter, which was 61 percent higher than safe levels

The results of the study found that just 30 minutes of exposure to these chemicals was enough to put someone at risk.


“Many of these compounds are listed as carcinogenic (cancer-causing), but then so are sunlight and alcohol. It is the dose that makes the poison — just because something is present does not automatically mean it’s a problem; it’s about quantity (even water is toxic if you drink enough of it),” said Professor Jones. The quantities of chemicals found in the study, though, were of high doses.

Further studies will likely need to be conducted to identify how widespread the problem is.

Manufacturers can do better by attempting to use different chemicals and compounds in the making of cars. But aside from these dangerous chemicals, new car smell isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and not everyone cares for it. The Chinese hate the smell for instance, so much so that Ford had been working on a system that would completely get rid of new car smell in cars.