Whether you simply want a nice clean scent, or you want to keep the car fresh for ride-sharing purposes, these are our top picks.
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
We spend a lot of time in our vehicles, and we live smelly lives. Don't be shy, we all have things that stink up our cars. Whether it's food, dogs or farts, every car will one day smell. This is why investing in a car air freshener can be a good idea. And you've come to the right place to find out which air fresheners are the best. We at CNET Cars see a lot of vehicles, so we have abundant experience giving cars a fresh scent and can humbly offer some guidance as you shop.
Most importantly, you should enjoy the fragrance of the car air freshener itself -- you'll be miserable if you don't like the way it smells, even if the air freshener eliminates a bad odor. Luckily, there are lots of different scents out there, so you'll definitely be able to find something that smells good to you. We know that what makes up a pleasant scent is entirely subjective, but we think the air freshener picks below all smell amazing and provide you with a decent variety so that you can find the right fit.
5 things to consider when choosing an air freshener
No, you can't get a "true" new-carscent: 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 that particular 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 versus eliminatingit: Numerous air fresheners won't actually act as a foul odor eliminator, but instead, you may notice the scent sits atop a preexisting 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 workdifferently: 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. Also, we want to mention that we avoided essential oil air fresheners in this list. While your favorite essential oil may have a fantastic aroma, the risk of spillage is too great in a car and we don't want to overdo our attempts at odor elimination.
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 car 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 car air purifier will extinguish the odor.
Ready for an odor eliminator that gets rid of that foul smell or smoke odor that plagues your car's interior? Or are you in need of a fresh scent that greatly improves your driving experience? Read on to learn our top picks for the best car air freshener.
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 and removing unpleasant car odors. 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 of this spray air freshener 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 removes odor and 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 strong odor 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.
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.