The Science Behind a New-Car Smell and 4 Other Powerful Odors
Sure, your nose knows, but shouldn’t your brain be informed, too?
The fresh-cut grass smell is caused by…
…the chemical compound version of a bandaid and an SOS signal. When grass blades are “injured,”—cut, gnawed on by insects, or even stepped on—they release green leaf volatiles (GLVs) that protect the ends of the grass from bacteria and signal predatory bugs to attack the offending insects.
The new car smell is caused by…
…glue, paint, carpeting, leather and vinyl sealant, gasoline, exhaust fumes, cleaning and lubricating compounds. In other words, a lot of chemicals. According to a 2012 Ecology Center study, these volatile organic compounds “can be harmful when inhaled or ingested and may lead to severe health impacts.” A couple of big car companies have taken heed of the risks: Toyota has moved to water-based glues, and Ford is testing seat foam made of soy instead of petroleum-based materials.
The felt-tipped pen smell is caused by…
…a combination of propanol, butanol, diacetone alcohol and cresols, all of which could start a small fire if provoked. These flammable substances are only slightly less harmful to your health than toluene, which smells like paint thinner, and the “sweet”-smelling xylene, the ingredients that gave felt-tipped pens their distinctive smell prior to 1990.
The newborn baby smell is caused by…
…vernix caseosa, the waxy stuff that covers a baby right after birth, and amniotic fluid, say some researchers. Traces of both substances can remain on the baby’s skin and in the baby’s hair well after his or her first bath. A 2013 study reported that the smell of an infant’s pajamas triggered the pleasure center of his or her mother’s brains to fire.
The smell of rain is caused by…
…spores created by soil-dwelling bacteria and plant oils that accumulate in rocks and dirt during dry periods. When mixed with water, these substances create a sweet, earthy smell that the human nose is extremely sensitive to. The sharp smell you detect before a storm is produced when lightening splits oxygen and nitrogen atoms. When the atoms recombine into nitric oxide, they produce that pre-rain chlorine smell.