The Origins of That New Gadget Smell

Recently I found myself asking someone why the hell his company's new product stinks so much that I want to leap out of my second floor window. Insulted by my question or not, he explained that new gadget smell.

The product was a funky iPad stand/case and despite my desire to try it out right away, I just couldn't get past the nostril-burning, eye-watering chemical smell. It's not that I'm unfamiliar with the scent—after all, there's a mild version of it lingering around most new products—but it was just so overwhelming that I stuffed the product right back into its box and took it outside.

Then I wrote an email.

I politely skirted around words such as stench, stink, or godawful and instead inquired about the material the product was made of and whether that could be related to the "peculiar scent" I was noticing.

I had my answer in minutes:

In our haste to get samples out to you as soon as possible we shipped samples that were flown in directly from the manufacturer.

The material is a proprietary EVA injected foam that is completely safe and extremely durable. It is very similar to what Crocs shoes are made of. This same material is often used in medical supplies and was chosen for its ability to have great "flex" as well as great memory (so it does not stretch out or lose shape).

We chose it to be able to work with iPads in many different cases and still fit securely. I assure you it was not chosen for it price as we are paying a premium for the material.

The issue is that usually these products are finished for 3-5 weeks while they are shipped to the warehouse, packaged and shipped to the consumer. The sample you have was only made a few days ago so it still has the "new foam" smell.

Rest assured that it is COMPLETELY safe and dissipates quickly!

After receiving that email, I called up a few folks who deal with product manufacturing to discuss the uncomfortable topic of new gadget smells. The explanations they gave were similar: A combination of materials, lack of ventilation, and rushed shipping can lead to the phenomenon—though in very few instances is it as extreme as what I encountered with this particular item.

So there you have it. The odd chemical smell emanating from some of your new toys isn't a sign of an assassination plot, but entirely innocent.

Oh, and in case you're wondering: The iPad case's smell did dissipate after a while and all that's now left is some product insight and the urge to reach for a clothespin every time I open a package.

Illustration by Sam Spratt. Check out Sam's newly redesigned portfolio website and become a fan of his Facebook Artist's Page.