Finding the right car air freshener depends on many things, but often it’s primarily a matter of personal preference. Thankfully, we see a lot of vehicles in the Roadshow garage, so we have plenty of experience when it comes to giving your car a fresh scent.
The most important thing is that you enjoy the fragrance of the car air freshener itself. It does little good, for instance, if the air freshener eliminates a bad odor, but you can’t stand the way it smells. There aren’t any wrong answers when it comes to personal preference of various scents, but we think the picks below satisfy an air freshener’s main goal and also smell amazing.
5 things to consider when choosing an air freshener
No, you can’t get a “true” new-car scent: We all want that new-car smell to last forever, so it helps to understand why new cars smell so good, and why it’s tough to mimic the pleasant scent. The “new-car smell” actually comes from a combination of materials used inside a vehicle’s cabin. The chemicals included in the various pieces and parts, such as plastics and vinyls, emit volatile organic compounds, which creates the scent so many of us adore. This also makes it difficult to capture for a proper air freshener, but we’ll get into that below.
Covering up an unpleasant odor vs. eliminating it: Numerous air fresheners won’t actually eliminate a foul odor, but instead, you may notice the scent sits atop a pre-existing unpleasant smell. If you have a serious car odor problem that won’t go away, it’s best to start digging into the potential problem rather than covering it up. Then, you can truly enjoy a nice scent without it mixing with a bad smell.
Sprays and stationary air fresheners tend to work differently: Again, this boils down to personal preference, but there tends to be performance gaps between sprays and fresheners that remain in your car at all times.
Cleaning your car improves a fragrance: Think of your car as a blank canvas. If it’s full of brush strokes to start, adding more won’t necessarily create a pretty picture. Even if you don’t want to apply dressings and chemicals to interior panels, wiping the cabin down every so often removes dust, dirt and other things that tend to pile up while driving. A blank canvas gives a fragrance more room to breathe.
Try to avoid big messes altogether: We’ve all been there. Maybe a dog has an accident or a passenger spills a drink. It’s important to try and avoid the mess, or since most of the time it’s unavoidable, clean it up immediately. Seats and carpets soak up messes quickly. If you leave them be, no air freshener will extinguish the nasty odor.
Little Trees are a classic.
With all of this in mind, read on to learn Roadshow’s top picks for the best air fresheners.
Where to begin with this air freshener? It’s simply fantastic. A single cartridge lasts months in our experience and the scent is clean with just a slight twang to give off a light citrus vibe. Although it’s named “squash,” I promise it doesn’t smell like gourd. Instead, this Japanese air freshener takes its fragrance from a popular soda flavor called Ramune.
Flip the vents on the cartridge all the way open for a powerful scent, but even leaving them open slightly provides enough fragrance in our experience. Plus, you get a nifty cartridge holder to stick where it fits best in the car.
You don’t always have to get fancy to produce a stellar result. If you’re an Uber or Lyft driver, you likely don’t want to spend a fortune to keep the car smelling fresh. That’s why Little Trees are our top pick for rideshare vehicles.
These little bundles of fragrance last a decent amount of time and they won’t break the bank. The scents? There are 40 different ones, but Black Ice seems to be a people pleaser. It’s modern and doesn’t give off too much of a perfume-like smell, so it should be a good neutral scent for anyone hopping in the car.
Ridding a car of cigarette smoke is tough, and it’ll likely require more than a simple air freshener. But in our experience, a Yankee Candle Car Jar can do a good job at keeping a car smelling fresh. Specifically, the beach-esque and cotton fragrances do a darn good job of eliminating a smoke smell. Of course, this all depends on how frequently someone smokes in a car.
The plastic jars (Car Jar Ultimates) do a better job with cigarette smoke than the standard cardboard ones and a single jar smells pretty potent for at least a few weeks. Beyond that, the scent still lingers in a positive fashion.
Febreze may not be the first thing that comes to mind for your car, but it works well in this situation. What situation? Pet odor situations.
You may already have a can of Febreze sitting at home, but the Febreze Air with its Linen & Sky scent comes off as pretty inoffensive for anyone climbing in the car. The brand does produce a deodorizer specifically for odor elimination of unwanted pet smells, but honestly, it comes off as very harsh. In a closed space like a car, we prefer the airy scent from the aptly titled “Air” version.
One important note: Don’t leave a can of Febreze car air freshener inside the car. The contents are under pressure and high temperatures inside the vehicle can lead to unwanted mishaps. Instead, spray some Febreze car air freshener inside after taking the goodest boy or bestest girl for a ride.
We talked above about how you definitely won’t ever find something to replace the true new car scent. But, if there was ever a product that comes close, it’s Chemical Guys’ New Car Smell spray premium air freshener.
If you like more perfume-based scents, this isn’t for you. Instead, the New Car Smell does its best to mimic the clean plastic scent found in a brand new car. It’s still off and definitely not the same, but nevertheless, it’s a pleasing scent. And it’s the nearest thing to making an older car smell like it just hit the dealership lot.
Car freshener vent clips are nothing new, but Febreze jumped on the bandwagon years ago with its dedicated line of clips for your car’s air vent. In our experience, the Febreze Car Unstoppable vent clips pack quite the punch.
Both scents, Fresh and Shimmer, have a pleasant smell and do a great job at dulling other scents in the car. Fresh is definitely for those that enjoy a cleaner fragrance, while Shimmer is the more perfume-like scent. Neither are overly pungent, though.
Each clip also features an adjustable dial to pump more or less fragrance into the car, and they look awfully discreet by design.
The Signature Scent name isn’t inherently funny, but this is perhaps one of the most humorous air fresheners on the market. Basically, it’s supposed to smell like a stripper. In fact, before the Signature Scent name came around, it was legitimately called Stripper Scent.
Curiosity likely helped push its popularity, but if you want an honest take, it smells a little bit like perfume with a healthy dose of vanilla added. There’s also a certain musk to it that’s hard to place. It definitely won’t be for everyone, but it’s sure to get a laugh out of those who take a seat in a car freshly sprayed with the Signature Scent.
Best car air freshener details
Best air freshener
For the whole car
For rideshare vehicles
Sandalwood and more
$18 for 4
Car Jar Ultimate
$10 for 3
For pet odors
Linen & Sky
$15 for 6
Best air freshener spray
New Car Smell
Best car vent air freshener
Car Unstoppable Vent Clip
Fresh or Shimmer
$16 for 4
Best funny car air freshener
Perfume and vanilla
Not all air fresheners are equal
Remember, a fragrance is highly personal, so some scents may delight some and appall others. The length of time you smell them can also vary based on use, temperature and so many outside factors. We worked to choose the right air freshener for the right instance, but you may find one works better in a different situation.
Nevertheless, rest assured that any auto air freshener on our list will have your car smelling quite good, all the time.
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