Don't know if this is on-topic, but I will give it a chance to go. If you feel this is off-topic, act accordingly.

Recently, a discussion has started about the feelings associated to the unboxing of your first computer. For me it's the smell of a ZX Spectrum rubber key model, wrapped in a plastic bag, placed in a polystyrene white box, inside a cardboard box.

This was in 1984. Then, I felt the same smell many years after that, while opening the box of a Spectrum +2A "Police Pack".

Both computers were designed with different materials but the smell was the same. I wonder where does it come from. Plastic case? Bag? Poly? Printed manuals?

People are telling me that it is added perfume to cover the unpleasant odor from mass production. If this is so:

  • Does anyone know or remember where final assembly and packaging of ZX Spectrum took place (which factory)? Maybe that factory still exists and someone can find out what kind of perfume they used.

  • Did both models (48K and +2A) used the same factory to manufacture the case? Are both cases from the same plastic material?

  • Does anyone know about "electronics perfume" other than the "new Apple electronics unboxing perfume" you can buy? (by no means I want my Spectrum to smell like an Apple)

  • 2
    can someone create a "smell" tag :D ?
    – maazza
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 11:37
  • 3
    Errr... I honestly don't think that's..... appropiate :D Only God knows what sort of questions will be tagged with such a tag Commented May 26, 2016 at 11:40
  • 5
    You aren't going to find a consistent or specific answer, because what you are smelling is a combination of various polymers as they settle and age. Think of the "new car smell" . As the plastics, glues, paints, and solvents used to create everything in the box (including the packaging) off-gas, you get a particular pong.
    – user12
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 12:10
  • 3
    The tag would be "odour", but I'm not sure this is a good fit for for Retro, as it has more to do with materials science and manufacturing. The particular pong an older computer has when taken out of the plastic is going to be similar, but different, from other devices of the era, but also similar but different to brand new computers, stereo equipment, etc.
    – user12
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 12:14
  • I'm not sure the zx-spectrum tag is most appropriate for this question, since it's about more than just that one particular model. Maybe use hardware instead?
    – JAL
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 14:54

4 Answers 4


It's a mix of different smells.

Most of it is just stale air: some computers stay days on a shelf, even if it's a new model. If you have ever stepped into an old room or sat in a car which hasn't been opened for days, you'll know what that smells like.

Other than the air, there's a lot of plastic in that box. Both the polyethylene packing and the casing are polymers, and if you leave it like that, it gives the box a distinctive smell.

It's not a perfume; if it was they wouldn't use it, because that costs money.

  • 3
    Welcome to Retrocomputing. This is a good answer, I hope you don't mind if I copy-edit. I noticed that you haven't read the tour page; this is something that you should do as soon as possible, if only to get your first badge.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 16:31
  • Did you mean "polyethylene packing" as in packing foam?
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 16:44
  • @wizzwizz4 Yes, I did
    – Bálint
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 16:51
  • 2
    pink static dissipative plastic packaging has its own strange, slightly buttery-rancid smell. No wonder: it contains tallow. Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 12:42

Polymers and flame retardant, perhaps. Me too I'm skeptical about added perfumes.

In Europe since 2006 some chemicals, like PBB and PBDE retardants, are banned from electronics manufacturing (2002 ROHS directive) and electronics trade.

Equipment manufactured in prior times - much more before the second half of the nineties - smells today (and smelled at the time) very "different" to me. Is this due to the power of suggestion?


Perfume is not added to electronics packaging, rather it's a combination of smells.

Most plastics (including styrofoam), cardboard materials inks, glues etc. all "offgas" a bit - meaning they release some degree of gas/vapor during and after production. This is what usually combines to produce that "new electronics" smell that can be found when opening almost any kind of packaging containing said electronics.

Depending on packaging and chemicals used in production, that smell can easily stay for years - as was likely the case then you opened the ZX spectrum "Police box" many years later. This is especially the case if the product is still fully sealed or has been opened very rarely.

Having visited a few production lines for different things, I can tell that a good part of the familiar "box" smell comes from the glue they use to glue the boxes together. Part of it also comes from the PCB manufacturing and/or possibly the flux used in the solder. Plastics also have a smell to them when cooling and offgassing that is somewhat hard to describe. New-from-factory screws, bolts and other metal parts also usually have an oil film that gives off a varying degree of smell - a sort of nutty, oily, metallic smell.

However, as the computers (or other electronics) can be rather quickly assembled and then isolated in plastic bags, styrofoam and other sealed packaging, then the smells will be combined and sealed in.


The first ZX Spectrums were made in Timex facilities in Dundee, Scotland. Unfortunately, they closed in 1993.

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