Dear Lifehacker, I often buy products from China online. I always get amazing deals with free shipping but one thing that irritates me is the plastic/rubber smell that is associated with most Chinese products. What exactly is that smell? I usually have to aerate the products for some time before the stench has reduced and it is ready for use. Any ideas? Thanks, Plastic Fantastic
Factory picture from Shutterstock
We pestered Dr Timothy Nicholson from the University of Queensland with your odd query. Nicholson is an expert in chemical engineering who specialises in polymers and molecular modelling. In a nutshell, he said the smell you refer to is most likely the result of various processes used to treat plastics during the manufacturing process:
Most plastics aren't fit for consumers in their unfinished state, so manufacturers add other chemicals to improve the stability of the material. This includes things like anti-oxydents, plasticisers to make things softer, processing aids that help in the manufacturing process and plastic sunblock to improve durability. Often these smaller molecules will seep out of the plastic, which causes the distinctive rubbery smell.
We also asked Nicholson why/if this smell is more prevalent in Chinese made products. He suggested this could be the result of less stringent quality control as well as the effects of sitting in transit for longer periods.
When products have been left in airtight packaging for a long time, the volatile molecules start to build up. When you open the packaging, they all get released at once, which means you get a much stronger waft than usual. This is one possible reason why the smell would be more noticeable in Chinese products, which have to travel a long way to get here.
Sounds pretty on the nose to us!
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