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Failure Analysis

Headspace GC/MS is used to identify volatile compounds given off by a material

Used to identify sources of foul smell, headspace gas chromatography / mass spectrometry GC/MS characterizes and examines the volatiles associated with a solid or liquid sample.


Solid or liquid samples are sealed in headspace vials.  The headspace vials are heated to drive the volatile compounds into the gas phase.  Sample vials can be agitated during heating. A gas-tight syringe is used to sample the headspace in the vials for GC/MS analysis.  If greater sensitivity is required, solid phase micro-extraction (SPME) can be used to concentrate volatiles prior to GC/MS analysis.

Sample Considerations

Virtually any sample that can be made to fit into a headspace vial or sampling bag can be tested.  However, the sample matrix itself should not be highly volatile. The required sample size for headspace GC/MS is inversely proportional to the concentration(s) of volatile compounds that must be detected or quantified. A sample size of 0.1 g to 10 g is typical for headspace GC/MS.  Samples should be sent packaged separately from one another in tightly sealed containers that don’t off-gas volatiles. Contact an expert to talk about your specific sample considerations and chromatography testing needs.


We thoroughly enjoy these projects; they tend to be extremely unique and interesting.  Some examples include:

  • Identification of source of foul smell coming from a popular snack food
  • Identification of odor coming from mulch on a playground
  • Analysis of strong and objectionable odor coming from dog food containers
  • Identification of compounds responsible for off-odor in post-consumer recycled carpet