Best Car Air Fresheners: Breathe Easy Again
Clear the air with our top picks for the best car air fresheners
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BY Rebecca Henderson / LAST UPDATED ON March 20, 2021
Does your car smell? If you’re looking to eliminate odor from your vehicle, take a look at our picks for the best car air freshener. Invest in one of these products to not only take care of that nasty aroma but also keep your car smelling fresh and new. That new car scent is only a click or two away.
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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Why Buy Car Air Fresheners
- Remove the smoke smell from your vehicle. Cigarette smoke is one of the harder smells to remove from a vehicle, especially if the smoke itself has soaked into any fabrics. It is possible to get the majority of the smoke smell out of a vehicle when paired with a deep cleaning, though it may require a few air freshening products to improve.
- Remove pet odors. If you didn’t invest in removable/washable coverings for your seats and rear cargo space, chances are your car is going to smell like your favorite furry companion. Installing a car air freshener is the first step in removing pet odor.
- Try out a little car aromatherapy. Perhaps you enjoy influencing your mood with some relaxing scents during that stressful commute each day. If you’re someone who enjoys aromatherapy, in-car air fresheners can be a good way to de-stress before and/or after a long day.
- Refresh that new car smell. Just like our homes, our vehicles often need a bit of refreshing. Whether you bring back that new car smell or pick out your favorite scent from the available choices, introducing a car air freshener to your vehicle helps it stay fresh.
- Improve the smell in your vehicle before you sell/trade it in. Cars that smell like smoke are much harder to sell, simply because dealerships have to spend extra time, money, and effort to get them up to par. If you can remove the smoke smell from your vehicle, you stand a better chance of getting more for it.
Car Air Freshener Types
This is perhaps one of the most common types of air fresheners. Typically, they hang on a string from the rearview mirror, releasing your favorite scent as they dangle. They’re not necessarily as long-lasting as other types of car air fresheners, although some offer the ability to renew the scent via essential oils. These types of car air fresheners are also one of the cheapest to buy.
Natural (Bamboo Charcoal)
There’s an old wives’ tale that says you can put a bowl full of coffee beans in an odorous vehicle to soak up the stench. Whether or not that’s true, there are many natural ways of removing odor from your vehicle. The most common is to use bamboo charcoal to capture the smell naturally. These premium air fresheners come in a burlap or mesh sack and often last longer than other types of car air fresheners.
As the name suggests, this type of car air freshener uses absorbent gel to remove bad smells. The gel comes packaged in a resealable container and works much like putting a box of baking soda in your fridge. Gel car air fresheners are meant to be placed beneath a seat or within a cupholder so that they are unnoticeable. Many containers will have an adjustable setting to allow for prolonged use.
There are a variety of products out there meant to deodorize household rooms from the bathroom to the bedroom; the car air freshening spray is just an extension of this same idea. Car air freshening sprays typically come in a multitude of scents and allow you to spray as little or as much as you want. These sprays work best on cloth interiors and typically absorb well into carpets.
An innovative way of dispersing scent, car air fresheners that clip onto your vehicle’s air vents provide odor relief within seconds. Cars that are particularly stinky will benefit from these types of air fresheners as they typically come in packs of multiple products. Place one vent clip in each air vent across your dashboard, and even in the second-row vents, for a blanketed approach. After they’ve stopped releasing a scent, you can simply unclip them and throw them away.
Top Car Air Freshener Brands
For a brand that’s been in the business since 1901, Meguiar’s continues to bring variety and innovation to their products. The company is headquartered in sunny California. If you’re looking to renew your cloth interior, check out the Meguiar’s Carpet & Cloth Re-Fresher.
Part of the Procter & Gamble family, which was founded in 1837, Febreze is a household name when it comes to refreshing scents. We suggest considering Febreze’s 5-Pack of car air freshener clips if you need that extra boost of scent.
Don’t let the name fool you: This New York-based company has been mass-producing their little trees since 1952. Impacting how cars smell in a big way, Little Trees is well-known for fresh scents; Black Ice is a popular pick. Pick up this 6-Pack of True North Little Trees to try it out for yourself.
What’s a candle company doing selling car air fresheners? Well, we won’t advise you to keep a lit candle in your car, but how about this trio of Car Jar Hanging Air Fresheners? Yankee Candle is headquartered in Massachusetts and has been in the wax business since 1969.
Car Air Freshener Pricing
- $1-$10: Most car fresheners found at an auto parts store will be anywhere from $1 to $5, depending on the brand. Typically, these products will be scented cardboard or soaked material that slowly releases the scent over time. These air fresheners won’t last the longest but are cheap, so you might only need to invest in them every so often.
- $11-$20: If you’re looking for car vent clips or even a couple of hanging car air fresheners, budget this much for a pack of anywhere from two to five products. Scents will vary, and, while most vent clips in a pack will be of the same scent, some hanging fresheners may come in a variety pack.
- $20 and up: Hopefully, you don’t have to buy your car air fresheners in bulk. However, if there’s a need for it, expect to pay this much for large amounts of car air fresheners. Natural solutions and those more technologically-advanced can be found at this price point as well.
Key Car Air Freshener Features
Effective and Pleasant
It’s important for a car air freshener to be effective at removing smells—after all, that’s its main purpose. At the same time, the scent it provides shouldn’t cause you any discomfort as you drive. While you should be sure you enjoy the scent before you install the freshener in your vehicle, the smell shouldn’t need to overpower your senses. You should be able to notice its presence, but not be bothered by it.
The best air fresheners should last longer than your tank of gas, even if you only go out once a week. Choosing a car air freshener that lasts longer means you won’t have to invest as much in keeping your car smelling nice, and you won’t be spending tons of money in search of a pleasant-smelling vehicle.
You should spend most of your time in your car driving, rather than worrying about freshening the air around you. Effective car air fresheners are easy to install or apply. Hang it, clip it, place it, or plug it in; there shouldn’t be any more to it than that. It should take maybe five minutes to install the air freshener.
Variety of Available Scents
The best car air freshener products will come in different scents that appeal to a mass audience. You might purchase only one scent of a particular brand, or you might be the type to mix it up every so often and sample what’s out there. Either way, having options is good.
- Spillage: There are quite a few horror stories out there about drivers who’ve installed different types of car air fresheners and, somehow or another, damaged the interior of their vehicles with said products. It’s always best to read the warning labels on a product you’re considering, but if you’re worried about damaging your interior, choose a scented cardboard car air freshener. They usually hang from your rearview mirror so there’s little chance of damage.
- Strength of the Odor: If your car smells horrible or you just can’t get that nasty smell out, take your vehicle to the nearest detail shop or dealership. While it will likely cost you, they may be willing to search for the cause of the smell and/or provide you with options for attempting to remove the smell. There are a variety of treatments out there, so be sure to ask questions before deciding.
Best Car Air Freshener Reviews & Recommendations 2020
- If the air coming from your vents smells musty, try changing your cabin air filter before seeking out any other odor treatment methods. If your car is older, and you haven’t replaced the air filter since you’ve owned the vehicle, it may be the source of the bad smells.
- Remove the source of bad odors as soon as possible. Seek out professional help, if necessary, by visiting your local detailing shop or dealership. If you don’t want to deal with removing the smell yourself, ask about ozone treatments or other ways of removing the unpleasant odors.
- Search for car air fresheners that are similar to the products you might already use in your home. Whether it’s for the bathroom, after cleaning, or simply to keep your house smelling fresh, the products you’re already using might be packaged for use in your vehicle as well. Search online or in the cleaning aisle the next time you visit your local supermarket.
- If you’re purchasing a car via a private party and find it riddled with air fresheners, take great caution. Chances are this particular car has been smoked in or has some other underlying smell that warrants such a profuse number of air fresheners.
Q: How long will my car air freshener last?
A: Depending on what type of air freshener you purchase, the product will last anywhere from a few weeks up to about two years. Check the packaging for the products you’re considering. Oftentimes, manufacturers will list how long the product will last. If you invest in something like car air freshener gel or a similar product that releases a scent, the lifetime of that product can depend on the climate, how often you drive, etc.
Q: How often should I change my car air freshener?
A: The best rule of thumb for air fresheners is to change them when you no longer notice their scent. For example, if you remove a vent clip from your vehicle and sniff it, does it still give off the intended scent? If so, you shouldn’t need to replace it yet. As long as you can still smell the product’s scent, it should still be working.
Q: Will installing a car air freshener irritate my allergies?
A: Yes, car air fresheners can irritate your allergies, so take caution when making a purchase. If you know you’re allergic to most floral scents, for example, stay away from them if possible. There are various non-artificial-scented products on the market (such as the negative ion-producing air fresheners) that you can seek out as alternatives.
Q: Which car air fresheners will damage my vehicle if spilled?
A: Car air freshener gels are notorious for causing damage if spilled. Negative ion air fresheners won’t necessarily do any damage, as long as you implement them properly. Most air freshening sprays come compressed in a can, so be cautious of puncturing the can itself. Many, if not all, products will list best practices and cautions against certain behaviors, so read the label before you use it.
Q: How do car air fresheners differ from enzymes?
A: Car air fresheners work to reduce and remove bad odors from your vehicle. Enzymes, on the other hand, are used in order to remove mold or other hazardous contaminants that are the cause of such bad smells. Many vehicles that have been flooded benefit from an enzyme treatment. Car air fresheners should be used to maintain a good scent that’s already been established.
Drive’s Natural Bamboo Charcoal Air Purifier ranked highest as our pick for the best car air freshener overall. Natural, affordable, and long-lasting, it’s a no-brainer for your nose.
Choose Meguiar’s Whole Car Air Re-Fresher Odor Eliminator Mist if you’re looking for a value pick. Though it’s a one-time use freshener, the Re-Fresher is a powerful solution to bad odors.