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Most cheap items (from China mostly) have a strong tangy odor to the plastics (or some resin, but I can mostly smell it on plastics). The smell is always consistent over a broad range or products and I get it for at least a decade. So I do not believe this is a one-off thing and I bet most people have experienced it. The only variation is intensity.

On some really bad products that smell impregnates other things and I failed to remove it with soap, baking soda, acid, scrubbing...

I'm curious to know what exactly is that smell.

Apparently it got some attention already, but there's no consensus, and a lot of crywolf(?) e.g. Campaign to Halt the Import of Chemical-Emitting Smelly Plastic from China.

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    $\begingroup$ I notice a strong plasticky smell, which I can immediately recognize in many plastic grocery bags, which I've checked and are usually number 2 recycle bags. Also, I noticed that Walmart and Fresh and Easy grocery stores both had higher quality number 2 recycle code plastic grocery bags, which didn't smell...but Fresh and Easy just recently replaced theirs with slightly lighter colored brown, cheaper, smelly plastic bags. $\endgroup$ – user2264 Sep 7 '13 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ Code 2 is HDPE (High Density Polyethylene). Its monomer, ethylene is not odorless. $\endgroup$ – MSalters Aug 11 '14 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ I know exactly what you mean! I have several products that came from china that have that exact same smell. It's very distinctive. I find myself smelling many things i buy (cases, pads, etc) and not buying or returning some of them. Recently i bought an WD ELEMENTS 4TB external hard drive and... surprise!!!! i immediately noticed the the smell on the plastic CASE!!!! Really? Even "quality" products now smell like TOXIC plastic? I believe this is due to inferior manufacturing, probably to save costs. There is no other explanation... Now, i'm i going to return an external drive because of smell? $\endgroup$ – marcolopes Feb 26 at 6:45
  • $\begingroup$ dynamics.org/CHINA_PLASTIC $\endgroup$ – marcolopes Feb 26 at 6:54
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Without a sample and a gaschromatograph it is hard to say what exactly it can be but... there are at least three well-known sources of odour in plastics:

  1. Some residual of the monomer that makes up the plastic (that is a polymer).
  2. Some residual of some other substance used during the manufatcturing process (catalyzer, co-polymers, modifiers and so on). For example, PETcan sometime contain small traces of terephthalic acid.
  3. Some odourizing substance that is added to the plastic just to cover others smells.

Usually, tangy smells are a symptom of some kind of ester

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  • $\begingroup$ I can't believe i'm the only one who knows that smell by heart. it's pretty common on cheap products. you could go to any hardware store and get any cheap screwdriver set and sniff, or you can give your address and i can send a sample of my worst offenders (some prototyping board jumper wires that i'm not brave enough to open the bag a second time). edit: changed my search terms, there are more plastic-smelling crazy ppl out there dynamics.org/Altenberg/CURRENT_AFFAIRS/CHINA_PLASTIC :) $\endgroup$ – gcb Dec 1 '12 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ Well, in the case of violin case, they suspect tetrachloroethylene, that is a chlorinated compound. In other cases (Samsonite), they suspect polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (no chlorine...) that are totally different compounds. It is not easy to tell for sure what the source of a smell can be without a professional analysis. Please note that both these compounds are banned (as residuals in commercial products) in EU and in Italy (where I live) since the mid '80s. BTW: the current fashion here seems to be to add some cheap orange flavour to plastic to cover other smells. $\endgroup$ – AlexBottoni Dec 2 '12 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ if anyone have a gaschromatograph or other relevant equipment i'm willing to send a big sample. The hobby electronic jumper cables i got from amazon are still going strong with the smell! years later! also, all the item reviews mention the overpowering smell, so i think i don't even have to send the sample myself, i can just buy a new one and tell amazon to deliver it to you/your lab. $\endgroup$ – gcb Aug 13 '14 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ dynamics.org/CHINA_PLASTIC $\endgroup$ – marcolopes Feb 26 at 6:54

protected by orthocresol Jul 7 '17 at 14:55

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