Dusty vents, fast food remnants, spilled coffee, pet dander—all give cars a funky smell, making that commute to and from work less than pleasant. Driving with all the windows down is one option, but a better solution is a car air freshener.
Manufacturers produce several types of car air fresheners, from that classic little tree that hangs from the rearview mirror, to more sophisticated plug-in models, to all-natural bags of odor-absorbing charcoal. While some air fresheners mask odors, others attempt to eliminate them completely by containing enzymes that neutralize odors or charcoal that absorbs them.
This article reviews the factors to consider when shopping for a car air freshener while also exploring some of the best car air fresheners on today’s market.
- BEST OVERALL: CSX3 Squash Air Spencer Bundle Air Freshener Unit
- RUNNER-UP: Febreze Car Air Freshener Vent Clips
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: LITTLE TREES Car Air Freshener
- BEST SPRAY: Armor All-19457 Smoke X Car Air Freshener
- BEST CAN: California Scents Spillproof Can Air Freshener
- BEST PLUG-IN: Glade Plugins Car Starter Kit
- BEST NATURAL: MOSO NATURAL: The Original Air Purifying Bag
- BEST SCENT: Chemical Guys AIR_101_16 New Car Smell Air Freshener
- BEST DIFFUSER: RoyAroma 2PCS Car Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Car Air Fresheners
In addition to considering the scent a car air freshener emits, shoppers need to understand the different types of car air fresheners that are available. Ahead, learn more about these and the other important features of these products.
Types of Car Air Fresheners
Car air fresheners come in a surprisingly wide variety of types, ranging from scent-infused cardboard to plug-ins to vent clips.
- Cardboard: This is the classic air freshener, often in the shape of a tree, that hangs from the rearview mirror. Cardboard air fresheners are not only cheap, but they’re also available in a wide variety of scents. They typically last up to 30 days before they must be replaced.
- Plug-in: Plug-in air fresheners, which attach to the car’s auxiliary power outlet, create a scent that permeates the car’s interior after the liquid inside them heats. The length of time that the plug-in delivers the scent depends on the car’s frequency of use, as well as how the plug-in is set up. They typically last about 4 months.
- Can: Canned air freshener is a gel. Holes in the top of the can release the scent into the car. Regulate the scent by adjusting the number of open holes.
- Vent clip: Vent clips consist of a small container filled with a scented liquid. Clip the container onto the car’s air vent, where it will distribute scent as air passes through it.
- Spray: Spray car air fresheners work just like home spray air fresheners. Unlike other types of air fresheners, the user must spray it manually to receive its benefits.
- Charcoal: Charcoal air fresheners are unscented; instead, they use charcoal’s natural ability to absorb odors to revitalize the air. Charcoal air fresheners typically come in small bags that hold the charcoal pieces.
Scents and Aesthetics
Air fresheners come in a large variety of scents to accommodate various preferences. Most scents imitate pleasing smells, such as fruits, flowers, pine trees, and even some foods. The coveted “new car smell” is also a popular car air freshener scent.
Aesthetics also play a role in air fresheners. While a hanging air freshener may be the most economical, a cardboard shape hanging from the rearview mirror might detract from a car’s appearance. Plug-in and vent air fresheners, in comparison, are typically designed to blend better with a car’s interior.
Odor Masking vs. Odor Eliminator
Most air fresheners won’t actually eliminate smells; rather, they mask them with other scents. While effective for moderate odors, they may not be effective against stronger odors, such as cigarette smoke. Odor maskers consist of cardboard, vent, plug-in, and can-style air fresheners.
Odor eliminators, which actually remove the foul odor in the car, are generally limited to sprays and charcoal. Sprays contain enzymes to neutralize the odor, and charcoal absorbs odors. They won’t be effective unless the source of the odor is eliminated first.
The interior of a vehicle is a compact space in which chemicals and odors can easily concentrate and impact air quality. Some air fresheners use chemicals that are considered volatile organic compounds (VOCs); however, other air fresheners use all-natural ingredients such as charcoal or essential oils.
Our Top Picks
The list presented here narrows the field of car air fresheners to some of the top products by type. Any of these air fresheners will help improve the smell of a car’s interior.
Not many air fresheners have a loyal following, but this one, which is made in Japan, has been a favorite among car enthusiasts since its debut in the 1990s. Its scent is derived from a popular Japanese soda, but American devotees liken it to the smell of Juicy Fruit chewing gum with a hint of citrus.
The air freshener consists of a small black cartridge that holds the scent inserts with an adhesive backing that sticks to the dashboard. Each cartridge should last up to 4 weeks. This set includes the cartridge and two boxes with 10 refills each.
This Febreze unit utilizes a vent clip design that uses the car’s air circulation system to move its scents through the air.
The value pack comes with four air fresheners, including two with an island-fresh scent and two in the company’s original scent, each of which lasts for about 30 days. The clips have a small slider on the top of the unit that allows the user to adjust the intensity of the scent.
In addition to serving as the iconic symbol of car air fresheners, the little tree that dangles from the rearview mirror is also one of the cheapest ways to freshen a car’s interior. These air fresheners, which have been masking foul odors in automobiles since 1952, consist of scent-infused cardboard in the shape of a little tree.
This value pack includes 24 air fresheners in one of LITTLE TREES’ large selections of scents. This pack comes in 39 of the more common scents, like lavender and leather, in addition to some abstract options, such as America and supernova, all of which can freshen the air for about a month.
This spray from car care products giant Armor All helps eliminate odors, not just mask them, making it an effective option for removing really stubborn odors, such as smoke.
To use it, first remove the source of the odor; then spray it on both the hard and soft surfaces in the vehicle to remove odors. This pack comes with two 3.5-ounce bottles, one each of Midnight Air and Citrus Breeze. Smoke X is also available in a single-use fogger-style can.
With a lifespan of 60 days, California Scents can-style air freshener is one the longest-lasting options for freshening a dank car interior. Each can measures 2.75 inches in diameter, which fits most car cupholders. And, unlike other air fresheners that use gels, California Scents uses wood fiber blocks. It also features a rotatable top that allows the user to adjust the amount of scent that the cup releases.
This cup air freshener comes in packs of 12 recyclable aluminum cans and includes such California-inspired scents as Coronado Cherry, Monterey Vanilla, and Laguna Breeze.
Glade brings its well-known home plug-ins to cars and trucks with this product, which plugs into a standard car auxiliary outlet. The car’s 12-volt battery power heats the liquid in the plug-in, filling the interior with the smell of a new car for up to 60 days. Use the small slide on top of the unit to adjust the output of the scent.
With a black streamlined shape, this plug-in blends with most car interiors. The pack comes with two plug-ins with one replaceable insert for each. Purchase additional refills of various scent types separately.
MOSO NATURAL uses natural bamboo charcoal to deodorize and freshen the stale air inside a vehicle. The charcoal is sealed in a stitched nylon bag, and it absorbs bad odors inside the car.
The MOSO bag, which is unscented, will absorb odors for about a month, after which the user can refresh it by leaving it in direct sunlight for about an hour. It’s also safe for the environment. When, after 2 years and the charcoal has finally worn out, use it to fertilize the garden.
While it may be impossible to find an air freshener that perfectly matches the best possible scent a car can have—the smell of a brand-new vehicle—this spray product from Chemical Guys comes close. The spray-style air freshener mimics the smell of the VOCs emitted by a new car that owners love and the scent lasts for several weeks.
This product also includes enzymes that help deodorize existing odors. It comes in a 16-ounce spray bottle for misting carpets, cloth upholstery, and under the seats. Dilute the spray with up to 2 gallons of water if desired.
This alternative option to conventional car air fresheners uses the aromatherapy power of essential oils to battle bad odors in a car’s interior while helping relieve stress in the driver and passengers. This set includes two circular essential oil diffusers that attach to a car’s vents.
Instead of liquid, the diffusers hold small circular felt pads. The user soaks one of these multi-colored pads in essential oil (sold separately), then inserts it into the locket diffuser. This pack comes with 12 replacement pads. The silver-colored diffusers feature two different tree patterns and consist of durable stainless steel with a magnet that holds the locket closed and the felt pads in place.
FAQs About Car Air Fresheners
If questions remain about air fresheners, keep reading for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about these products.
Q. Do air fresheners work anywhere else other than my car?
Cardboard, can, and spray air fresheners can work in the home as well as in a car. However, plug-in and vent-style air fresheners work with a car’s vent system or power socket, so they aren’t ideal for other uses.
Q. How long do car air fresheners last?
The answer depends on the type of air freshener, but most last from a few weeks to 2 months.
Q. How often should I change my air freshener?
Depending on the type of air freshener, change it or add a new refill about once a month