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Making ‘Scents’ of Car Air Fresheners

air fresheners

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 demand for the best car air fresheners so high and the market for them worth millions of dollars.

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 look at some of the best air fresheners available today.

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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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Types of Car Air Fresheners

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? What is your favorite scent? Let us know in the comments below.


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35 Thoughts on “Making ‘Scents’ of Car Air Fresheners

  1. From someone who suffers with asthma/severe fragranced chemical allergies that cause heart palpitations, nose and throat on fire, potential anaphylactic reactions, and other debilitating symptoms from the VOCs those products emit, please stop promoting them. Those chemicals create cumulative effects that harm the health of all who are exposed, sometimes immediately, sometimes over a period of time. Those products permeate all porous surfaces and leave behind chemical residue that doesn’t automagically disappear once you’re no longer around them – much like scented laundry products, candles, wax melts, diffusers, etc. Fragrance is the new secondhand smoke. They disrupt the endocrine/immune/respiratory/neurological/digestive/and other body systems.

    1. Totally agree — to me air fresheners of all kinds equal poison with their mix of chemicals and fragrances. They absorb into everything around them, including clothing, skin, hair, and cause respiratory issues for those of us with asthma, sarcoidosis, CPOD. Most people are unaware of the dangers, but I do hope word gets out to the mainstream.

  2. Google chemicals in air fresheners.

    Why are you encouraging consumers to expose themselves and children to unnecessary chemicals?

  3. My Dad always used the cologne sample strips that came in magazines as car air fresheners–something I am continuing and the best part is their basically free

  4. Ohmygosh, I absolutely love Spice by Little Trees…cannot find it anymore and I am really bummed. Maybe I’ll try to make my own…wish me luck!

  5. I was in the market for a used car that needed certain things at a set budget. I found a vehicle. Everything I needed was there, but it’s last owner was a smoker. That tree freshener is staying in my car so I can tolerate the interior and not gag.

  6. I have used name brand fabric softener sheet under the car seats if I didn’t have any air fresheners at the time. Worked great to hold me over

  7. I like DS&Durga, a fragrance company out of New York. Not heavy, not made with scary chemicals. A bit more expensive, but they last for a long time and don’t smell like the bathroom at a gas station.

  8. I like Yankee Candle fresheners and buy them when they’re on sale at their store. My favorite scents are the spicy ones, i.e. pumpkin, cinnamon, clove; and the summery ones like ocean, and summer breeze.

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