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The Best Car Air Fresheners

After being created in upstate New York, car air fresheners have grown into a billion dollar business.

On average, American drivers spend nearly one hour behind the wheel each day. If you’re going to be anywhere for that long, let alone an enclosed space, you’re going to want to make sure it smells good. That’s a big part of what makes the best car air fresheners so popular. Research shows that the global market for car air fresheners could reach $2.75 billion by 2024.

The humble car air freshener has a unique origin story that dates back to the 1950s. Since then, the market has grown to include numerous different models and scents. Let’s take a at some of the best air fresheners available today.

The History of the Car Air Freshener

In 1952, a man named Julius Sämann was living in the northern New York town of Watertown. One day he was having a conversation with his milkman, who complained about the bad smell spoiled milk left in his truck when the drink spilled.

Sämann was a German-Jewish chemist who fled his homeland and settled in upstate New York. There, he spent years studying the Canadian pine forests and extracting the aromatic oils from these trees. To solve his milk truck driver’s problem, Sämann combined the fragment smells of a Canadian pine tree with specialized blotter material and the first car air freshener was born. He gave his new product the shape of its inspiration: a pine tree.

Little Trees, as they’re known today, were an immediate hit and quickly began selling across the country and around the world. The air fresheners are still made in Watertown although the product line has grown quite a bit. Originally there were just three scents: Royal Pine, Spice and Bouquet. Now, there are more than 40 including Cotton Candy, Fresh Shave and New Car Scent.

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The Best Car Air Freshener Types

Like most things that have been around for 70 years, car air fresheners have evolved quite a bit. There are now vent clip-ons, visor attachments, sprays, air purifiers and more.


Cardboard air fresheners, like Little Trees, are made of specialized blotter material that slowly releases the fragrance. They are generally meant to hang from the rearview mirror but you can put them anywhere in the vehicle.


As the name implies, clip-on air fresheners clip on to your car’s air vents. The air then helps circulate the fragrant oils throughout the cabin. They work as long as air is passing through them. With most clip-ons, you can adjust the amount of scent that is released.

The Best Car Air Fresheners


Plug-in air fresheners work in much the same matter as clip-ons except they do not require your car’s air to be on. Instead you plug the device in and it releases the scent itself.


These cans have a fragrant gel or wax inside them. All you have to do is twist the lid to open the built-in vents. You can control the amount of scent being released by adjusting the size of the vent openings.


These are just like your household deodorizing sprays except specifically designed for your car. They are especially useful if the odor is coming from one particular area in the cabin.

The Best Air Freshener Scents

The most common scents include some version of Apple, Coconut, Lemon, Cherry and the always popular New Car Smell.

According to Little Trees, their best-selling scents are Black Ice, New Car Scent and Caribbean Colada. The company’s more unique fragrances include Fresh Shave, with notes of talcum powder and musk, Rainshine, a mix of dewy florals and earthy greens, and Celebrate!, a blend of vanilla cake and sweet buttercream frosting.

Yankee Candle, another major producer of car air fresheners, has popular scents Red Raspberry, Clean Cotton, Lilac Blossoms and Leather in its lineup.

Do you use air fresheners in your car? Which scent do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Patricia W.

    I prefer a spice (cinnamon, clove, etc.) scent. I find that most car air fresheners are too strong for the space they’re in. They are overwhelming. My husband complains no matter what scent I get. Not until several weeks of use have passed are they tolerable.

  • These are all toxic and unnecessary. The FDA protects the manufacturers who aren’t required to disclose the chemicals used in these products. Just because you can buy it doesn’t mean it’s safe. It’s all about money and brainwashing you into believing you “need” it. Clean doesn’t have a smell.

  • We don’t need to keep breathing in a host of chemicals in tight, relatively unventilated space in the car. We don’t know whether these chemicals are safe, especially as regard to lung disease and the susceptibility of COVID-19. Just keep your car clean and remove any old food or other items that can cause bad odors.

    There is no need for these products. We are too concerned about “smells,” Yes, bad odors can be a cause of danger, but we overide the purpose of our sense of small by wanting things to have a different aroma. What is good is not so for everyone.

    Keep your car clean and you won’t have to waste money on potentially dangeroud products.

    Don’t use car “fresheners.”

  • Robert T.

    Check out the car scent subscription service offered by
    I use their “wood” product and really enjoy the scent of the month option.

  • Donald C.

    I had one of those liquid filled clip-on style air fresheners in my car and it was really strong. Turns out it leaked. It melted the silver accents on my vent adjuster and took months to tone down. No more of that for me.

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