Oh new shower curtains, glossy book pages, and auto-body shops: why do I love your aromas so?
September 14, 2011 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Oh new shower curtains, glossy book pages, and auto-body shops: why do I love your aromas so?

I enjoy smelling some strange things. Along with the usual conventionally-lovely scents of flowers, leaves, and food, I also find a whiff of a new shower curtain, the laminated pages of a new coffee-table book, or an open car-repair shop quite pleasurable. I did a little research, and apparently these types of smells come from plastic compounds. From a glance at online forum postings, most people dislike them (except for new-car scent, which many probably love because it reminds them of, well, their first new car).* I'm the opposite. Is there some specific way these somewhat-toxic chemical scents act on my brain?

*A rather vulgar Stephen King quote comes to mind.
posted by tamagogirl to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could they be a reminder of new plastic toys as a kid?
posted by springbound at 7:54 PM on September 14, 2011

I don't know, but I hope someone here knows which plastic compounds these smells come from, because the thought of enjoying the smell of a new coffee-table book is making me almost dizzy and high with pleasure right now.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 8:01 PM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

New car and shower curtain are almost certainly some sort of vinyl.
posted by LionIndex at 8:06 PM on September 14, 2011

Polyvinyl Chloride if you want a possible compound (AKA PVC).
posted by LionIndex at 8:08 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

i so agree with you. when my little ponies got rereleased and i got one as a gift, the first thing i did was rip open the package and smell it. it's not exactly the same as the originals, the plastic has changed, but it was very, very close. new pool floaties/rafts/airbeds and sealed plastic hairbrushes have the same smell. sheets that come in a plastic bag smell good too (i'm always a little bummed i have to wash them before i use them).

for me, i wonder if it's related to my pica, but that's probably something very specific to my situation.
posted by nadawi at 8:10 PM on September 14, 2011

Volatile Organic Compounds.
posted by holterbarbour at 9:07 PM on September 14, 2011

I thinks VOCs are the right answer. Plasticizers and other additives (of which there are many types) are added to plastic to improve properties or to ease processing. These compounds evaporate into the air over time, especially when the item is new. Wikipedia seems to agree that plastisizers are the main source of new car smell.

As to how these are working in your brain, I will leave that to someone who knows neurophysiology much better than I do.
posted by Medw at 10:25 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The stinky shower curtains are almost always polyvinyl chloride, but of course there are exceptions.

You're lucky you like the smell. I have to leave new shower curtains outside for weeks before I can stand to have them inside.
posted by Cygnet at 4:32 AM on September 15, 2011

You are not alone. Several fragrances has a "vinyl accord", or smells a bit like plastic or rubber.
posted by iviken at 5:01 AM on September 15, 2011

I heard a researcher say that if you can smell something like a shower curtain, its almost certainly giving off enough VOCs to do damage to you.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:20 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's not the vinyl but the plasticizer put into the vinyl to make it flexible--PVC on its own is pretty brittle. And personally, I think of it as "toy store smell", so you could have some very early sense associations.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:27 AM on September 15, 2011

Best answer: PVC ("vinyl") scarcely smells at all. Tto find out what it does smell like, visit a plumbing shop and stick your nose in a length of new sewer pipe - these are made of unplasticised PVC, which is quite strong and rigid.

Most of the PVC consumer goods you encounter (e.g. shower curtains, car uphostery, fake leather jackets) will be soft and flexible. This is achieved by adding plasticisers, and these can be quite volatile.

What you're smelling at an auto body shop is aromatic organic solvents like xylene, toluene and turpentine evaporating from auto paint and/or thinner.

You don't want to be breathing significant quantities of these things in on a regular basis unless you're a fan of cancer and/or kidney failure, even if some of them do smell nicer than the toxic sludge passed off as scent these days.
posted by flabdablet at 6:35 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's your new cologne.
posted by judith at 3:51 PM on September 15, 2011

Response by poster: @judith: Very interesting description! Wish iBooks came with scratch-and-sniff.

@flabdablet: Yeah, I try not to breathe in the stuff too much, especially after skimming online articles about how harmful those fumes can be.

Thanks everybody. I guess it's not always clear why our brains "like" certain odd odors, but it's good to know I'm not alone!
posted by tamagogirl at 7:51 PM on September 20, 2011

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