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  • Writer's picturePippa Lee

What is that new car smell and how to remove it?

Updated: Jul 9

After recently purchasing a new car, it was all too obvious that the /new car smell' that so many love is not as innocent as it seems, as it primarily consists of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

Wanting to understand ways to reduce my and my families exposure to these chemicals as quickly as possible I went on a mission to understand the various strategies available to speed up their off-gassing to minimise their impact.

Read on to find out what I did and how it worked!

how to off-gas your car

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First, what are VOCs?

VOCs constitute a significant portion of toxins in new vehicles (source)

In new cars, various chemicals are emitted from materials and products used in vehicle interiors, such as plastics, adhesives, and upholstery. These compounds can contribute to indoor air pollution and may have health effects, including headaches, dizziness, and respiratory issues (source).

How long does a car take to off-gas?

How quickly a new car off-gasses can vary by brand (source) ,and is not a linear process, VOCs decrease exponentially, and some reports show emissions dropping sevenfold in the first month, approximately 20% per week (source).

Adequate air movement, and to some extent heat, facilitate this off-gassing process. So let's see how we can do this!

How to off-gas a car?

Heat, air circulation, and time are the primary methods to facilitate off-gassing in a vehicle. You can expose it to heat by parking it in the sun, activating the heating system, or using space heaters cautiously in a confined space.

Heating materials release VOCs and generate new ones, as explained in this study. Therefore, ensure adequate ventilation by opening doors, windows, and sunroof while allowing the car to be heated, to allow the gases to dissipate. If it's raining or unsafe to keep windows down, consider using window sunscreens to minimise VOC buildup.

Strive for substantial airing out with heat during the first six months of vehicle ownership.

During driving, opt for fresh air intake mode on the HVAC system to dilute VOC concentration or open windows for ventilation.

Lowering the temperature while driving can also help minimise VOC release inside the vehicle.

HEPA Air Filtration

I also suggest a small portable HEPA air filter to place in the car to use while driving, you can purchase some here (USA) from my amazon store under Car Detox) or this little one from Sunbeam (Australia) is great for small spaces like cars.

HEPA Vacuuming

For effective capture of flame retardants (FR), employing a HEPA vacuum with HEPA filter and bags is advisable regularly. FR continuously emanate from foam throughout the product's lifespan, albeit not in gaseous form.

Surface Wiping

To mitigate the off-gassing of plastics, wiping down hard surfaces with either vinegar or alcohol can prove beneficial.

Accelerating Rubber Off-gassing

The off-gassing of the rubber can be expedited by rinsing it with a) a water and vinegar solution, b) lemon juice, c) peppermint oil on a damp cloth or d) a mixture of water and baking soda, or water combined with dish soap. This applies to tyre surfaces as well. Theres plenty of

Eliminate Odorous Components

Certain floor mats emit potent odours and can be substituted with alternatives that have lower odour levels. Additionally, if your spare tyre is inside the car, it is a significant source of odour. I suggest enveloping it like wrapping a Christmas present using a foil-faced radiant barrier.

Utilise Absorbent Materials

Various materials are available for absorbing VOCs and can be strategically placed around the vehicle. These become particularly valuable when the vehicle needs to be sealed due to rain, high humidity, or security measures.

  • Carbon/Charcoal: A preferred choice is carbon or charcoal due to its cost-effectiveness and efficacy. Products like these or these charcoal bags can be quite helpful. Additionally, covering seats with activated carbon fabric or even a thick regular cloth barrier can offer mitigation.

  • Baking Soda or Vinegar: Some suggest placing bowls or trays of baking soda or vinegar to absorb odours. While helpful, they are not as potent as charcoal. Replace them every 24 hours when saturated.

  • Absorptive Powder for Seats: To address VOCs emanating from seats, sprinkle baking soda or zeolite powder, let it sit for 12 hours, and then vacuum it up. Be cautious as particles like baking soda may get trapped in certain fabrics.

Air Purifier with Carbon: Running a full-sized high-carbon air purifier while storing the vehicle can be beneficial. Ensure it's connected via an extension cord. Check my list of recommended air purifiers for effective off-gassing reduction.

new car smell? how to get rid of it

My Results

I was fortunate enough to receive my car after it undertook significant travel time (it took 9 months to arrive via boat from the date of production) so a large proportion of ogg-gassing would have happened during this time.

However, it was winter when I received it so I was unable to confidently leave my windows down for extended periods of time, and just did so during the days that I knew it would not rain.

Knowing I wouldn't be able to leave doors and windows open as much as I would like (due to the rainy Sydney weather), plus the lack of heat from the sun to help speed up the process, I purchased the portable Sunbeam HEPA filter for inside the car which I left running (between charging) for about 2-3 weeks straight.

I also have a very handy function where I can roll all the windows down when I unlock the car from a press of a button on the keyring, so I also do that about 5 min before we get in to let the stale polluted air out.

With all of these steps, I have noticed a signifigant decrease in 'new car smell' since I picked it up! So I am confident this has / is working, and while some would be sad to smell the end of that 'new car' scent, I for one am more than happy to say BYEEEEEEEE

Hope this helps, and happy driving


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