$20 off your first month Identify & address the underlying causes of chronic health conditions


How Toxic is Your Car’s Interior?

Friday, August 4th 2023 10:00am 5 min read
Dr. Jessica Peatross dr.jess.md @drjessmd

Hospitalist & top functional MD who gets to the root cause. Stealth infection & environmental toxicity keynote speaker.

The interiors of automobiles can be filled with various materials and chemicals, some of which can have detrimental effects on human health. Auto manufacturers have traditionally used a range of chemicals in car interiors for purposes such as adhesives, flame retardants, and paints. However, there is growing awareness of the potential risks associated with these chemicals. In recent years, manufacturers have been actively working to reduce the presence of toxic chemicals in their vehicles to create safer and healthier car interiors.

Toxic Chemicals Found in Car Interiors

    • Formaldehyde: This chemical is commonly used in upholstery and adhesives. Long-term exposure to formaldehyde can lead to respiratory issues, including asthma and allergic reactions. It is also classified as a known carcinogen.
    • Benzene: Present in car fuels and emissions, benzene is a volatile organic compound (VOC) linked to cancer. Inhalation of benzene can cause dizziness, headaches, and respiratory problems.
    • Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs): These flame retardants are used in car seats and interior components. PBDEs are persistent organic pollutants and may disrupt hormone systems.
    • Phthalates: Found in plastics used in car interiors, phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. Prolonged exposure to phthalates may have adverse effects on reproductive health and development.
    • Lead: Although phased out from many car components, older vehicles may still contain lead-based materials. Lead exposure can cause neurological damage and other health issues, particularly in children.
    • Toluene: Commonly found in car paints and adhesives, toluene is a VOC associated with headaches, dizziness, and respiratory irritation. Long-term exposure can have more severe health effects.
    • Xylene: Similar to toluene, xylene is a VOC used in car paints and adhesives. It can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, and prolonged exposure can affect the central nervous system.
    • Trichloroethylene (TCE): Some cleaning agents used for car interiors contain TCE, a volatile chemical that can irritate the respiratory system and cause neurological and liver damage.
    • Formaldehyde-based flame retardants: Certain car components release formaldehyde as they degrade. Formaldehyde exposure can have adverse health effects, particularly on the respiratory system.
    • Organotins: These chemicals are used in coatings and treatments for car interiors. Organotins can negatively impact the immune and reproductive systems and are associated with developmental issues.

Reduction Efforts by Auto Manufacturers

  • Recognizing the importance of creating healthier car interiors, auto manufacturers have been taking steps to reduce the use of toxic chemicals. Some strategies employed by manufacturers include:
    • Substitution: Finding alternative materials and chemicals that have lower toxicity profiles while still meeting safety and performance requirements. For example, replacing phthalates with safer alternatives in plastics.
    • Material Selection: Choosing materials that have undergone rigorous testing for toxic chemicals and have certifications for low emissions and low VOC content.
    • Engineering Solutions: Employing innovative engineering techniques to minimize or eliminate the need for toxic chemicals in car interiors. This includes developing new flame-retardant materials that are safer and more environmentally friendly.
    • Collaboration: Working with suppliers and industry organizations to establish stricter chemical standards, promote transparency, and encourage the development of safer alternatives.

Negative Impact on Human Health

  • Exposure to toxic chemicals in car interiors can have various adverse effects on human health. Some potential risks include:
    • Respiratory Issues: Many toxic chemicals found in car interiors, such as formaldehyde and toluene, can irritate the respiratory system and cause respiratory issues such as coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals may lead to the development or worsening of conditions like asthma and other respiratory disorders.
    • Allergic Reactions: Certain chemicals, including formaldehyde and phthalates, can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Symptoms may include skin rashes, itching, and nasal congestion.
    • Carcinogenicity: Several chemicals used in car interiors, such as formaldehyde and benzene, are classified as carcinogens. Prolonged exposure to these substances increases the risk of developing various types of cancers, including lung, bladder, and leukemia.
    • Neurological Effects: Toxic chemicals like lead, toluene, and xylene can have detrimental effects on the central nervous system. They may cause symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, memory impairment, and even neurological disorders in severe cases.
    • Hormonal Disruption: Phthalates and PBDEs are known endocrine disruptors, which means they can interfere with the normal functioning of hormones in the body. This disruption can lead to reproductive issues, developmental problems, and hormonal imbalances.
    • Environmental Impact: The release of toxic chemicals from car interiors can contribute to environmental pollution.
      Chemicals like PBDEs and organotins are persistent and can accumulate in the environment, posing risks to ecosystems and wildlife.

Mitigation Strategies

  • To mitigate the impact of toxic chemicals in car interiors and create a healthier driving environment, here are some recommended strategies:
    • Ventilation: Ensure proper ventilation in the car by opening windows or using the vehicle’s ventilation system. This helps to reduce the concentration of toxic chemicals and improve air circulation.
      Regular Cleaning: Clean car interiors regularly to minimize dust and potential chemical residue. Use non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning products to avoid introducing additional harmful substances.
    • Avoid Smoking: Do not smoke or allow smoking in the car. Tobacco smoke contains numerous toxic chemicals that can significantly degrade air quality and pose serious health risks.
    • Choose Safer Vehicles: When purchasing a car, consider models that prioritize low-toxicity materials and have undergone rigorous testing for chemical emissions. Look for certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 for upholstery and fabric components.
    • Seek Certified Products: Look for car interior products, such as seat covers and floor mats, that are certified to be free from harmful chemicals. Many manufacturers now offer eco-friendly and toxin-free alternatives.
    • Reduce Exposure to Heat: High temperatures in cars can accelerate the release of volatile chemicals. Park in shaded areas or use sunshades to minimize heat buildup and reduce chemical emissions.
    • Check Air Filters: Regularly inspect and replace the cabin air filters in your car to ensure efficient filtration of airborne particles and potential chemical contaminants.
    • Support Regulatory Measures: Stay informed about regulations and policies regarding chemical usage in car manufacturing. Support initiatives that promote stricter standards and encourage the use of safer alternatives.


The presence of toxic chemicals in car interiors has raised concerns about their potential impact on human health. Auto manufacturers have taken significant steps to reduce the use of these chemicals and create safer driving environments. However, consumers can also play a role in mitigating the impact by adopting healthier practices and making informed choices when purchasing vehicles and car interior products. By prioritizing low-toxicity materials, improving ventilation, and adopting proper cleaning and maintenance practices, we can contribute to a safer and healthier driving experience for ourselves and future generations.

Members Only Content

To continue reading please subscribe to WellnessPlus by Dr. Jess MD

Be your own best doctor with our comprehensive suite of online health coaching tools.

Copyright 2024 WellnessPlus by Dr. Jess MD. All rights reserved

$20 off your first month

Identify & address the underlying causes of chronic health conditions