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A new study says that one of our favorite smells is now toxic. It turns out that the famous new car smell is actually bad for your health. New cars that were left outside for a few days see a buildup of two toxic chemicals that can cause cancer or other problems.

What does the study say about the toxic new car smell?

According to USA Today, researchers from Harvard University and the Beijing Institute of Technology in China parked new cars outside and let them sit in varying conditions for 12 days. Then, they measured the air. It turns out that new cars emit two toxic chemicals: acetaldehyde and formaldehyde at rates that are beyond China’s environmental standards.

The two chemicals are very common, but they’re also toxic and can cause cancer in higher doses. China has already said it wants to ban the smell so many of us love. But, this isn’t the first time researchers have said the smell is bad for you.

What can you do about the health risks?

Two kids and a dog in the back of a station wagon
Rolling a window down helps remove toxic air from inside the car | Lambert Getty Images

The study says that the chemicals built up more in cars that were left in warmer climates. So, short of parking your car in the Arctic Circle all year, the best defense is to let your car air out for a few seconds before you get in. Or, just open a window.

What is the new car smell?

New SUVs on a car lot with a SALE sign
New cars may be full of toxic chemicals that give off the new car smell | Bill Pugliano Getty Images)

We all know that smell of a new car. The fresh plastic, fabric, leather and glass all combine to give us the fragrant new car smell. It’s aromatherapy for a car guy. But, what is it?

All of those plastics, the vinyl, and coatings you have in your car do something called “out gassing,” as they heat and cool. That means they release chemicals into the air. Sometimes you’ll see evidence of this as a thin film of goo on the inside of your windshield. That thin film can also go into your lungs, and while it’s not a terrible hazard, those compounds can be a mix of everything that was used to build your new car.

How do I get smells out of my car?

A man cleaning the interior of a car with a brush
A man cleaning the dashboard of a car | Jeffrey Greenberg Getty Images

There are many ways to remove smells and toxic chemicals from your car. Consumer Reports suggests the obvious: clean it. Most odors come from dirt and grime in the upholstery and the seats, which trap odors. Shampooing and vacuuming these surfaces helps a lot. To simply remove odors, baking soda and even coffee grounds will absorb some smells. A simple cleaner like isopropyl alcohol will disinfect many surfaces.  

But the new car smell is baked in, literally, to your car. Simply cleaning those plastics and vinyl-covered areas of your car won’t remove the gasses. So, the best thing to do is enjoy the smell (but, apparently, not too much) and then open a window and you shouldn’t have much to worry about.