Who knew? That new car smell that we all love so much, right up there with pine trees and new shoes? It’s really the scent of volatile organic compounds that are emanating out of the vinyl and plastic in the door panels and dashboard! And with each appreciative whiff, we’re breathing them in!
Organic compounds are chemicals that contain carbon and are found in all living things. Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, are organic compounds that easily become vapors or gases. Along with carbon, they contain elements like chlorine, fluorine, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, bromine or nitrogen.
VOCs include compounds like formaldehyde, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) used as flame retardants, and phthalic acid esters (phthalates), which are emitted from materials and finishes used to make car interiors—things like plastics, textiles, seat cushions, glues, sealants, wood and leather.
The known health effects of VOCs on humans vary from highly toxic to none at all. For many, exposure to these substances can make allergy and asthma symptoms worse and cause eye, nose and throat irritation as well as coughs, headaches, flu-like symptoms and even skin irritation. Some, like formaldehyde, also are known to cause cancer and neurological effects.
You can’t very well reduce VOCs with house plants in your car like you can do at home, but there is good news. Automakers are now working to reduce VOCs. For example, Toyota plans to increase its usage of low-VOC paints and is working with suppliers to reduce formaldehyde, and Ford is now using soy-based foam instead of petroleum-based. If you suspect VOCs may be in your vehicle, there are steps you can take to reduce them:
One final note: If you’re someone who enjoys a ride that’s pleasantly scented, you’ll want to steer clear of those fragranced cardboard air fresheners. Care2.org reports that many popular cardboard air fresheners contain a proprietary mix of chemical ingredients that can lead to headaches, nausea, breathing difficulties and/or dizziness.
Rather than bringing even more harsh chemicals into your car’s interior, why not choose a more natural option to get the fresh clean scent you want? I’d suggest a set of our new Norwex ceramic Car Vent Clips with one of our Essential Oils!