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Why is new electronics smelling weird?



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

So you opened your new phone or laptop to be greeted by a friend. Plastic odor. Where does this strange "new electronic smell" come from and why does it disappear with time?

It smells like a new car

Everyone knows the smell of a new car. It's a fresh, clean and somewhat mysterious fragrance. It is often the key factor in confirming that a car is really new and, as it turns out, it only smells of vaguely toxic chemicals. (These chemicals pose no serious health risk, but more on that later.)

Cars are full of adhesives, flame retardants, chemical starches, and plasticizers. These materials are in your vehicle for a good reason, but 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 this sounds scary, most VOCs are completely non-toxic. In fact, most natural odors are just VOCs.

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

With the ventilation, the smell finally disappears.

The VOCs in new electronics vaporize in the air you breathe ̵

1; that's why electronics have a smell. However, your new Nintendo Switch does not have an unlimited supply of VOCs. Over time, all of the device's VOCs evaporate in the air leaving an odorless pile of plastic.

This process is commonly referred to as outgassing and is the reason why electronics are old and cars do not smell "new". While this gassing process starts technically once a product is made (again, VOCs vaporize at or below room temperature), the rate at which a product gasses out is usually tied to ventilation.

  A close-up view of a HVAC AC
vchal / Shutterstock

This idea sounds complicated, but it's easy to understand. If you're buying a new laptop or a new phone, it's probably not brand new. It probably spent a few months in the background of a Best Buy. When you open the box, however, your device smells like "new". This is because there is very little ventilation in a sealed box. Without the VOC going anywhere, they just hang on the laptop or on the phone.

Some people do not like the smell of VOC, especially when they are present on cheap leather products or furniture. These VOC haters sometimes speed up the outgassing process by leaving new products out or leaving the windows in their new car open. Remember that the ventilation promotes degassing. If you hate the smell of your new laptop, do not leave it in a stuffy room.

VOCs pose no major health risk.

We used to call the smell of new cars "vaguely toxic." "That's because government regulations force manufacturers to use only safe amounts of toxic VOCs. Sure, the idea that any amount of a toxic chemical can be "safe" sounds ridiculous, but it's a scientific fact. For example, formaldehyde is an integral part of the metabolic functions of your body. It is only lethal if it is taken over an extended period of time or inhaled.

However, long-term exposure to these mildly toxic VOCs can cause some problems, such as: As irritation of the throat and eyes, headache and lethargy. These health problems are referred to as disease syndrome and are usually due to poor ventilation in a newly renovated building. Keep in mind that VOCs evaporate in the air and the process of outgassing is promoted by ventilation.

  A man who is happy because his laptop is completely degassed.
Fizkes / Shutterstock

The health problems associated with the diseased building syndrome are they are not permanent and may be due to better ventilation (opening a window or replacing the A / C filter), steam cleaning new products, filtering the Air can be removed with indoor plants or by leaving new products outdoors to accelerate the degassing process. As soon as something does not smell "new", it was degassed.

Yes, there is the elephant in the room and it's called cancer. A Google search for "off-gassing" or "VOCs" has led to claims that the chemicals in cars, electronics, and new furniture are contributing to cancer. While we know that serious long-term exposure to VOC can cause cancer (30 years as a full-time painter without a mask), it is difficult to find a link between consumer-level VOC exposure and cancer.

If you are concerned about the VOCs in your new electronics or in updated carpets (remember that health problems only occur after repeated long-term exposure). Then it is best to improve your air quality by promoting ventilation or outgassing new products outside. If you want to think a little, you can use an air quality monitor to detect VOCs.


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