Car Air Freshener: The Ultimate Guide of 2023

Car Air Freshener Introduction

The car air freshener is a popular product with many vehicle owners. In the US alone, estimated 300 million+ car air fresheners sell every year. That’s not all. The product also comes in many varieties. One car freshener manufacturer, for example, produces over 400 different fragrances- not to mention the different types of the product. As you can see, there’s more to learn about the auto air freshener than you may have thought. This guide delves into the world of air fresheners, particularly those used in cars. Read it to understand everything about these popular car accessories.

Chapter 1: What is a Car Air Freshener? Car Air Freshener Types

ar with AC vent air freshener installed

To many motorists, the car air freshener offers a quick way to improve the smell of their rides. And while that’s true, many do not understand how car fresheners are made and or even the different types out there. This first section provides important details about what a car freshener is, its history, and the types in use today. We will also be exploring car freshener ingredients and the price differences based on type.

What is a Car Air Freshener?

A car freshener is anything that you use in your car to make offensive odors disappear, introduce a sweet smell in the cabin, or both. They are usually commercial products although some people make their own fresheners. Most car air fresheners are scented products that you hang in your car, stick to the dash, or clip to the car’s AC vents.

Air fresheners have been around since time immemorial. However, it wasn’t until the early 1950s that the first fresheners to use in cars appeared. The idea to make a car air freshener was developed by Julius Samann, a Canadian chemist, in the year 1948. The freshener involved oils derived from the pine tree. Since then, manufactures have developed complex formulations and many different types of fresheners.

Car air fresheners are today available as gels, liquids, solids, oils, and sprays. They are also made to freshen the air instantly, periodically, or continuously by constantly releasing scent molecules over a long period. Besides using sweet aromas to make your car smell nice, some types of air fresheners also work by absorbing and removing unwanted odors.

People use car cabin air fresheners for various reasons. Most of the time, a car owner is looking to make a nasty odor or odors undetectable. Some of these odors include sweat, smells from pets such as dogs, food spills, and cigarette smoke. Others want to breathe in relaxing scents (aromatherapy) for comfortable rides while also enjoying the fresh-smelling atmosphere.

Many car owners also use fresheners to produce a desired scent such as “new car” smell. Other fragrances include floral, fruity, and citrus smells. In all these situations, the kind of air freshener used must meet expectations. Automotive air freshener companies, therefore, use specific ingredients to achieve the required purpose. Let’s now see how they make a typical air freshener for use in a motor vehicle cabin.

inside a car air freshener making factory

How are Car Air Fresheners Made?

Car air freshener manufacturers use different compounds or chemicals to make their products. The method to dispense them also differ, giving rise to the different types of the product. Although many companies keep the identity of these compounds to themselves, there are those that you’re likely to find in a typical freshener. Here is a look at common car freshener ingredients and their purpose.

Fragrances– car air freshener fragrances are what create the sweet (or specific smell) that a motorist desires to have in their vehicles. The fragrances are usually a mixture of different compounds, and either organic or inorganic. Synthetic fragrances include Aldehydes while natural ones include plant extracts.

Fragrance Carriers– these are chemicals that help to transport the fragrance molecules into the air and deliver it to the required destination. Many manufacturers use phthalates for that purpose.

Solvents– the solvents in a car air freshener include alcohol and glycol ethers. Their main purpose is to dissolve different car air freshener ingredients and produce a usable product.

Deodorizers– these are substances that are intended to absorb or neutralize offending smells or odors. They are different types and often manufacturer specific. One popular chemical that does the job is cyclodextrin.

Propellants– commonly used in spray car air freshener types, propellants are typically hydrocarbons. Non-hydrocarbon types are also used. Propellants help to change the freshener to a mist that can be sprayed that delivers fragrance and other car air freshener ingredients.

Car Air Freshener Types

There are many different types of car air fresheners today. Their differences are based on how they work, the main ingredients, and more. Understanding these car air freshener types will help you choose the best one for your car or situation. In that regard, the kinds of air fresheners for car cabins are divided into the following categories.

car air freshener, hanging type

Hanging Car Air Fresheners

The hanging air freshener is the most common type and comes in several different versions. The most used version is the hanging cardboard type. These typically consist of a piece of cardboard that you hang in your car, mostly on the rearview mirror. The freshener comes impregnated with a specific scent that releases slowly as air blows around the car cabin. It can be any shape and size, but not too large as to obstruct your view.

Hanging car air fresheners can also be a gel inside a jar that slowly evaporates to release scent molecules or a fabric bag containing odor-absorbing charcoal. Many people hang these car air freshener types from the rearview mirror. However, you can hang them elsewhere, especially if you live in a region where windshield laws prohibit things dangling from the rearview mirror.

Hanging air fresheners for car cabins are generally the cheapest, especially the scented cardboard type. However, these offer one of the shortest lifespans lasting around 1-2 weeks on average. The hanging charcoal pouches last longer, though, up to a year or more but usually do not provide fragrance. That makes their action less noticeable. If you suffer from allergies, charcoal pouches should be your best option.

vent car air freshener, oil diffuser type

Vent Car Air Fresheners

As the name indicates, these attach to the air conditioner vents. They are also called clip on car air freshener, diffuser, or AC vent air freshener. The fresheners are typically pads infused with fragrance, or cans containing freshener and provided with clips to mount to the vents. Most are in the form of gel or oil-based formulations with some featuring a wick dipped in a jar containing essential oils.

Vent car air fresheners depend on the flow of air provided by the AC to distribute aroma. That means they are most useful when the AC is on. But that also provides you with a way to control their effectiveness- by increasing or decreasing the airflow. Another advantage of vent style fresheners is that most are re-usable. When their effect has diminished, you only need to refill them.

Clip-on car air fresheners are also fast-acting, seeing that they use the AC airflow to transport fragrance. They exist as different versions too, which offer you a whole lot of choices. When it comes to cost and longevity, vent style fresheners score differently. They get used quickly and usually do not last long enough- around 30 days. They are moderately priced, though.

stick-on car air fresheners

Stick-On Car Air Freshener

A stick-on car air freshener is a type of gel style freshener that you stick to a surface in your car, particularly the dashboard. It’s usually in the form of a strip (or block) of gel with a sticky side and containing sweet-smelling compounds among other ingredients. Once mounted, the freshener releases fragrance into the car cabin over a period. Sticky gel car air fresheners are long lasting and cost-effective options. However, they are not powerful and may not suit situations that involve masking strong odors.

car air freshener, can type

Can Air Car Freshener

This is a gel air freshener in a can. The gel contains fragrant compounds that get released into the cabin atmosphere over time. To control the release of these fragrances, a car air freshener can usually come with a rotatable lid. The lid contains spaces that can be narrowed to decrease the amount of freshener coming out or widened to increase it. Can style fresheners are placed anywhere in a car including the floor, dash, or cup holder. They also last a long time- about 1 to 2 months.

plug-in car air freshener

Plug-In Car Air Freshener

As the name suggests, a plug-in car air freshener uses a vehicle’s cigarette lighter port to work. It usually consists of a container filled with oil-based freshener. Upon plugging it to the outlet, the oils get heated and vaporize to release a sweet-smelling aroma. Plug-in fresheners are among the most effective and work in most situations including those that involve stubborn odors. However, they are also one of the most expensive car air freshener types.

spray car air freshener

Spray Car Air Freshener

This type of car air freshener is similar to the aerosol sprays used in homes and various commercial places. It normally consists of a fragrant composition contained in a pressurized can. Releasing the pressure causes a spray of air freshening mist to come out of the nozzle. A spray car air freshener is meant to offer a short-term solution to odor problems. These car air freshener types are also instant and powerful, plus you can direct their application to the source of odor. However, they do not last and need constant re-application.

the car air freshener price varies by freshener type

Car Air Freshener Price

Car air fresheners are low-cost products. However, their prices are one of the most varied for a car accessory. One type will cost $1, another $50 or even more. What causes the price of car air fresheners to vary so much? There are several reasons. The main ones include the following.

  • Air freshener type- different car air freshener types carry different price tags. The hanging cardboard types are the cheapest, costing between $1 and $10. Plug-in car air fresheners

are among the most sophisticated- and one of the most expensive options. They often go for $20 and higher. Clip-on or vent-based fresheners are often moderately priced, costing between $10 and $20.

  • Ingredients- in addition to type, the chemicals and compounds contained in a car air freshener influence its price. The more complex and powerful the car air freshener ingredients, the higher the price. Some chemical compositions also do more than replace a bad smell; they neutralize it. Such types of car air freshener formulation cause the price to be on the higher side.
  • Car air freshener brand- car air freshener manufacturers determine their own prices. The general trend is big and established companies price their products higher and industry entrants lower. Based on the freshener features, one should be able to make the right choice.

Overall, the car air freshener price depends on the type, quality, and brand. If you plan to use the freshener in several cars, you can always consider purchasing them in bulk, directly from a car air freshener wholesaler or supplier. Doing so should lower your expenses on the product. You could also go for the cheapest cardboard types of freshener, especially if the odor you intend to remove is weak.


A car air freshener makes your car interior smell fresh. When infused with essential oils, it provides a relaxing scent and makes commutes comfortable.

Chapter 2: How Air Fresheners Work

car air fresheners contain VOCs that get released into the air

If you know how air fresheners work, you are you’re more likely to use them correctly in your car. You’re also more likely to buy the right type based on your situation. This section should help you do these two things. Learn how a typical freshener removes odors (or masks them). Find out, also, how to extend the lifespan of the freshener in your car, including some useful usage tips. First, a look at how car fresheners end up countering odors.

How do Car Air Fresheners Work?

They make your car smell great, but how do car fresheners work? Different types of the product work differently. The spray type, for example, uses a different method to eliminate bad smells when compared to the hanging cardboard. Here is how air fresheners work to rid your car cabin of those irritating odors caused by sweat, pet odors, and food spills, among other causes.

By Releasing Sweet smelling Molecules

Most car air freshener formulations contain VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds. These readily evaporate at room temperature and carry fragrant compounds into the air. The freshener composition is usually in the form of solid, gel, liquid, aerosol spray, or essential oils. As the VOCs evaporate and fill the car cabin with fragrances, your nose detects the new aroma more than the odor, thereby providing a sense of fresh atmosphere.

Car air freshener scents are many different types. They can be flowery fragrances, floral smells, or fruity aromas. The type that you choose depends on your preferences. Some people even prefer unscented air fresheners. These are compositions that neutralize offending odors instead of trying to replace them. Their way of action is explained next.

By Eliminating Odors

Some car air freshener types work by removing bad odors from your vehicle’s cabin or making them undetectable. The charcoal-based hanging pouches belong to this category. These absorb nasty smells, lowering their amounts to undetectable levels. There are also conventional air fresheners that neutralize molecules so your nose cannot sense them.

Odor neutralizing air fresheners use a chemical called cyclodextrin. This chemical is made up of donut-shaped molecules. The inside of the molecule is hydrophobic (water-hating) and the outside hydrophilic (water-loving). When introduced into the air, the cyclodextrin attracts odor particles into their interiors, thereby encapsulating and making them undetectable.

Some types of car air fresheners introducing sweet smells into the air and eliminating odors by disabling them. These are often marketed as the spray types. Although often costly, these offer a more effective way to make your car cabin smell fresh. Based on the type of smell and its intensity, a freshener that replaces odors is usually enough. Also, if looking to introduce a specific scent into the car cabin.

 can car air freshener showing the adjustable lid

How to Make Car Air Freshener Last Longer

Different car air freshener types last different times, from a couple of hours to weeks or even months. Every motorist intends the one in their cars to last long enough, especially when using a costly type. If looking to ensure that, there are various measures that you can adopt- easily and as soon as you place the freshener in your car. They are:

  • Limiting the Amount of Heat

Car air freshener fragrances deplete more rapidly in hot conditions. To extend their lifespan, always avoid situations that cause the temperature inside your car to rise. These include leaving the car exposed to the direct sun and leaving it there for long hours. Always park your vehicle in shaded areas, especially if planning to leave if for longer than a few minutes. You can also use a windshield sunshade if the option to park in a shade is not available.

  • Making Use of Control Features

Many types of car air fresheners include ways to limit their release or usage. When using the can style freshener, for example, twisting the lid to minimize the openings prevents the gel from getting used up too quickly. Do that when the intensity of fragrance required is minimal. Vent car air fresheners also allow you to control, the rate at which the freshener gets used by turning the AC up or down.

  • Tracing and Removing the Source of Odor

Do not always depend on the car air freshener scent to remove odors. Some sources of smells are easy to eliminate from source. When using the spray type of freshener, for example, strong smells can require you to keep re-applying the freshener. You may also need to open can-style air fresheners to their maximum, which shortens their lifespan.

changing a car air freshener fragrance cartridge

Important Tips on How to Use Car Air Freshener

Knowing how a car air freshener works help you ensure many things, one of them being proper use of the product. That’s because you understand how it removes odors, and how improper usage can lead to problems, some of them health-related. These tips on how to use car air freshener products will prove useful.

1. Always use the type of car air freshener for your situation. If you find your car air freshener too strong or too weak, for example, you need a different kind.

2. Avoid hanging car air fresheners on the rearview mirror if the laws in your region do not allow that.

3. Always use the specific car air freshener instructions during installation. Vent air fresheners, for example, require care to mount or the clips will break.

4. Air fresheners do not clean the air. Always allow fresh air into the car through the window for a cleaner car interior.

5. If you suffer from allergies or asthma, ensure that you do not choose car air freshener scents that aggravate the situation, such as those with strong scents.

6. Car air fresheners are not an alternative to cleaning your car. Always ensure that you tidy up the car regularly.


Car freshening products are useful accessories. However, you need to have an idea of how air fresheners work to use them. When used wrongly, the fresheners may not provide the desired benefits. In some cases, wrong use may even affect your health, especially if prone to respiratory problems. In the next part, you will learn how to go about finding the best car air freshener out there.

Chapter 3: Best Car Air Freshener, How to buy Car Air Freshener

clip on car air freshener, one of the most common types

The best car air freshener is the one that works to remove the specific odors in your vehicle. It’s also the type of freshener that does not interfere with your health or comfort. To help you select the right product, we will look at the best car air freshener for common but stubborn smells. We will then discuss the factors to take into account when buying the air freshener for your car.

What is the Best Car Air Freshener for You?

If you carry pets in your car, there are fresheners that suit the situation. There are also those that work best to remove cigarette smells. But finding the right car air freshener scent is perhaps the most challenging task, given the many fragrances out there. Here, we help you make the best choice base on the different situations.

Best Car Air Freshener Fragrance

The best car air freshener fragrance is also one that matches the type of odor that you plan to remove. Stronger smells need stronger scents and vice versa. If you have allergy problems, some scents, especially the strong ones, may not work for you. It would be more advisable to go for the non-scented odor removers.

Best Car Air Freshener for Dogs

One of the uphill tasks when looking for a car air freshener is finding the right fragrance. Every person has that one scent (or scents) that appeals to their nostrils. Generally, car air freshener scents include floral, fruity, and citrus, pine, or even “new car” smell. The right scent for you is the type you’re comfortable around.

Car owners who carry pets in their vehicles normally have pet odor to deal with. One of the ways to get rid of the smell is by using air fresheners. But then, what is the best car air freshener for dogs or pet odor? There are many options. However, the most appropriate fresheners include those that do more than replace the existing odor.

The best car air freshener should both provide a nice smell and eliminate the dog odor by absorbing it. It should also be long lasting. Aerosol sprays are strong enough and some contain odor eliminating compounds. However, there are short-lived and may not fit the requirements. Gel air fresheners would be an ideal choice instead.

Best Car Air Freshener for Cigarette Smoke

Cigarette smoke is one of the odors that may car owners have to deal with. It’s also one of the strongest and needs the most appropriate freshener to remove. The best car air freshener for smokers should produce a powerful fragrance while also absorbing or neutralizing the cigarette smoke odor.

Just like the freshener for pet odor, gels work the best. These come in many different types and you can try them out to find the kind of fragrance that you can tolerate. Only ensure that the freshener is long-lasting and effective on strong smells.

an example of vent style car air freshener

How to Buy Car Air Freshener, Things to Look for

When looking to buy car air freshener products, there are usually many factors to consider. That’s because the fresheners exist in many different types, each with specific advantages and disadvantages. Different car air freshener types also suit different environments. Add the many fragrances to choose from, and the process becomes even more difficult. These factors will help you narrow down your choices.

Car Air Freshener Type

Choose the most appropriate type of freshener based on your situation. Hanging car air fresheners are a popular choice. They’re ideal if looking for an economical option. However, they last the shortest and need replacing every other week. You could buy them in bulk, though, and save yourself the hustle of making frequent trips to the store or ordering online.

Go for vent clips if looking for effective car air freshener types that also allow you to change the intensity of the fragrance. These also last longer than cardboard or hanging types. Can types last the longest, plus you can use them almost anywhere inside your car. Some also come with a dial-style lid to control the release of fragrance.

If looking to mask or remove a strong odor, we recommend the plug-in type. Plug-in car air fresheners are the most powerful. You can also control their use seeing that they only work when plugged into the car outlet. If you only need your car air freshener scent once in a while, we advise you to choose the spray types. These act instantly and suit used in a broad range of situations. You can also use them anywhere, including underneath seats.

Car Air Freshener Ingredients

Given the many different car air freshener formulations out there, it’s advisable to be careful with your selection. Car air fresheners with essential oils appeal to many people for making the car atmosphere more comfortable.

On the other hand, fresheners that contain the odor-neutralizing chemical, cyclodextrin, suit odors that are difficult to mask, or those that linger for a long time. While still on the issue of ingredients, it’s important that you avoid fresheners that contain chemicals that may worsen your allergies, such as to scents that are too strong.

Car Air Freshener Scent

Car air fresheners come in many different fragrances. We recommend that you take the time to choose the kind of fragrance to use in your car. This is a personal choice to make, of course. However, there are a few factors to take into account when selecting the most appropriate car air freshener fragrance.

First, choose the scent those appeals to your nostrils. Second, look for a scent that will last long enough. People detect smells differently. Select a freshener that’s not too strong or better still, go for neutral options. If unsure, we suggest the popular car air freshener “new car” smell is also a popular option or fresh scent.

Car Air Freshener Price

Many air fresheners go for less than $25. That’s low enough. However, when choosing your car air freshener, cheaper is not always the best idea. Many of the low-cost fresheners are not high quality and may not be effective enough for stronger smells.

But that doesn’t mean that you should go for the most expensive options. A lot depends on the type and intensity of the smell in your car. Go for hanging cardboard fresheners if the odor is weak. These are cheaper but will get the job done. Go for the costly but powerful plug-in air fresheners if the odor is too strong and lingering.


Automotive air fresheners come in many different versions in terms of usage, ingredients, and other features. These are suitable for specific conditions, and the best type of car air freshener for you might not be so another motorist. When buying one, consider your particular situation and needs. That will help you find the most appropriate kind of freshener. Ensure, too that you take into account the needs of your most frequent passengers, such as your family.

Car Air Freshener Ultimate Guide Conclusion

Vehicle cabins often develop odors such as pet smells, cigarette smell, and those caused by sweat, among other reasons. When these cannot be removed by cleaning, car air fresheners come in to help. The air fresheners are made in many different types, different scents, and other features. Understanding these types of car air fresheners will help you choose the right type for your car. This guide covers everything that you need to know about car cabin air fresheners. Use it to help you choose and purchase the best type.

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