Cardboard has a distinct aroma, one that we’ve all smelled before. After all, cardboard is one of the most common materials around, regularly used in food packaging, construction, printing, education, and home improvement. But have you ever stopped to wonder,

Why Does Cardboard Smell Stinky?

As it turns out, cardboard boxes smell like this because of the way it is manufactured. Cardboard is made via a process that recycles wood fibers into a soft pulp or slurry solution that gives off a musty odor.

During this process the wood and plant fibers, which are often taken from leftover lumber mill waste, release a variety of chemicals that make up that characteristic cardboard smell.

Recently, a couple of German researchers were able to identify a total of 37 different compounds. According to this article from the Science News Journal, most of these chemicals are present in very high amounts and produce a predominantly musty aroma with some fatty and moldy highlights.

This is why the smell of cardboard, with which we are all familiar, is often described using such disparate adjectives as cheesy, soapy, citrusy, spicy, woody, sweaty, smokey, and sweet, at the same time.

Knowing that the smell of cardboard is caused by the release of so many different chemical compounds may sound like a justified cause for concern. After all, if you are able to smell these chemicals it means that you are inhaling them.

Does Cardboard Give Off Fumes?

Does Cardboard Give Off Fumes?

No. The chemical compounds that cause the “cardboard smell” are inert; meaning, they are typically unlikely to react or undergo chemical changes. So, generally speaking, cardboard is completely safe.

However, you should always keep in mind that cardboard is sometimes treated with chemicals or plastics to make it more suitable for certain uses, such as making it more receptive to ink or more resistant to water.

If this treated cardboard were to burn in a fire, those added chemicals can be released and pose a risk to your health if inhaled.

So be mindful of this fact when you find yourself around burning cardboard. Otherwise, you can rest easy that the cardboard around your home is not giving off harmful fumes.

There is not much reason to burn items like brown paper delivery boxes or Amazon packaging anyway since you can recycle cardboard.

Curious Fact: Cardboard is much more likely to smell like cardboard when it becomes wet. The theory is that the chemical compounds that give cardboard its particular smell remain walled off in cellulose fibers until they come into contact with water.

Something else you should keep in mind is that sometimes the strong scent of cardboard you are smelling might not be coming from cardboard after all. So,

What Does It Mean When Cardboard Has A Strong Smell?

What Does It Mean When Cardboard Has A Strong Smell?

If you begin to notice a cardboard-like smell around your home, it could be a sign of a couple of things:

An electrical problem

Sometimes electrical issues can produce a smell that is very similar to that of paper and cardboard. This happens when electrical components overheat and the wires release chemical compounds that are very similar to those found in cardboard.

Electrical issues can be very dangerous and have the potential to cause fires. If you find yourself smelling a cardboard-like smell that cannot be explained by the presence of cardboard, you should check out your electrical circuits and look out for any signs of trouble. A licensed electrician may be able to help you identify any potential risks.

A mold problem

Mold growth gives off a vaguely musty or musky smell that can sometimes be confused with that of cardboard.

This is especially true in damp and humid environments such as basements and crawl spaces. So, if you notice a cardboard-like stink but have no cardboard around to blame it on, it is possible that the smell may be coming from a mold or mildew infestation.

Since mold infestation is a serious problem, it is essential that you address the issue as soon as you become aware. Mold can cause respiratory issues as well as a host of other health issues for you and your family.

So, if you suspect that your home has a mold problem, you should do everything in your power to locate the source of the cardboard-like smell and eliminate it as soon as possible. If you are not able to do so, I recommend that you consider hiring a professional mold removal company to assist you.