How To Make Your Car Smell Good Without Air Fresheners?

Air fresheners make your car smell good. But they have several downsides. Many contain potentially dangerous chemicals that can cause skin, eye or nose irritation in some people. Also, they only cover up bad smells instead of eliminating them. 

The good news is that it’s easy to make your car smell good without relying on air fresheners. In this quick guide, we explain the best ways to do this. 

Are Car Air Fresheners Bad For You?

Are Car Air Fresheners Bad For You?

Several studies have discovered the presence of potentially dangerous chemicals in many air fresheners including formaldehyde, glycol ethers, and 1,4-Dichlorobenzene.  

That’s not to mean you should never use air fresheners in your car. Not all car air fresheners are the same. You can get high quality air fresheners that are safer for you and the environment. There are also low quality brands that may contain harmful chemicals.

Check the list of ingredients of your favorite air freshener to see if there’s some bad stuff in there. Be extra cautious if you have asthma, allergies or some other respiratory problem. 

Pregnant women should also be really careful which air fresheners they use or opt for some of the natural alternatives we discuss below.

Some air fresheners can also cause skin, eye or nose irritation. There are people who experience headaches, nausea and other health symptoms when they interact with chemicals in an air freshener. 

So a particular air freshener can be generally safe to use, but still cause discomfort for you or your passengers.   

7 Ways To Make Your Car Smell Good Without Air Fresheners

1. Keep Your Car Clean 

If the interior of your car is dirty and cluttered, it’s more likely to smell. Dirt build up, sweat, food crumbs, empty containers and other debris in the car can produce bad odors.  

An air freshener will only cover up these smells; it won’t eliminate them. Keeping your car clean is the best way to keep it smelling good and fresh. 

  • Vacuum the car mats regularly as dirt can easily accumulate on them. 
  • Use an upholstery cleaner on the seats to keep them smelling nice. This gets rid of sweaty smells as well as any dirt and stains on the seats. 
  • Keep your car free of clutter. Things like food containers, shoes, clothing items, packages and wrappers can leave your car smelling stale. They can also attract unwanted pests into your vehicle such as roaches and ants. In turn, these pests can make your car smell even worse. 
  • Avoid eating food in the car. Food crumbs can get into small nooks and crannies where they are hard to get rid of. Over time, they can stink up the car and attract pests.   

2. Keep The Interior Dry 

Even a little bit of moisture on the seats or mats can make your car really smelly especially if it’s hot. The relatively small and confined space of a car intensifies musty and stale smells.  

If you’ve just cleaned the car seats or mats with an upholstery cleaner, leave the windows open to make sure any dampness dries up. 

If someone accidentally spills water or some other beverage in the car, clean it up as soon as possible and leave the windows open, even if it’s just a crack, to allow the wet spot to dry. 

3. Use A Natural Air Freshener 

If you want the fragrance of air fresheners without the chemicals, try natural air fresheners. These usually use essential oils, which are 100% natural and safe. 

You can buy an essential oil air freshener or make your own. Here’s a great video on how to make a DIY felt ball essential oil air freshener for your car. 

A simple essential oil spray also works great as a car air freshener. Mix a few drops of essential oil and water in a spray bottle. Always shake the bottle before you spray and be careful not to spray too much to avoid making your car damp, which can introduce unpleasant smells. 

You can also get ultrasonic essential oil diffusers designed specifically for use in a car. They are powered via USB or the 12V car outlet. You just add your favorite essential oil to the diffuser. 

Note: While essential oils are generally safe, they can still cause irritation and allergic reactions in some people.  

If you’d rather not use essential oils, coffee grounds also make for a great, though milder, natural air freshener. 

Simply put coffee grounds in a container or breathable bag (a sock will do) and place it in the car. 

4. Use Natural Deodorizers

A natural air freshener is great if you want your car to smell nice. But it’s also important to get rid of bad odors, not just cover them up. 

We’ve already talked about keeping your car clean to prevent smells. Something else you can do is deodorize your car. 

Unlike most air fresheners, deodorizers neutralize bad smells. There are plenty of powerful deodorizers you can buy. But if you’d prefer to avoid strong chemicals, you can also use natural deodorizers. 

One of the best natural deodorizers is activated charcoal. It adsorbs molecules that cause bad odors, leaving your car with a fresh neutral smell. 

A couple bags of activated charcoal in your car work great as air purifiers and odor absorbers. 

Baking soda is another highly effective natural deodorizer. Use it when cleaning your car to lift smells off the seats and mats. 

First vacuum the seats and mats to remove loose dirt. Then sprinkle baking soda generously and leave it for about half an hour then vacuum it up.  

5. Use A Charcoal Dehumidifier To Get Rid of Mustiness

If you are struggling with a musty smell in your car, you probably have a moisture issue. This can happen if there’s a leak somewhere in the car or if you live in a humid area. 

In some cases, the musty smell can indicate that mold has started growing somewhere in the car. If you suspect there’s a leak or some other problem such as a faulty AC, fix it immediately as mold is bad for your health. 

In the meantime, you can use a charcoal dehumidifier to get rid of the musty smell. The same activated charcoal deodorizers we’ve discussed above also work great as dehumidifiers. 

They absorb excess moisture in the air, helping get rid of the musty smell. A charcoal dehumidifier can also help if you live in a humid area and your car often feels muggy and musty.   

6. Take Your Car for A Checkup 

Sometimes, a bad smell in your car can indicate a serious problem with your car. If the car has an unusual sweet, chemical, burning or rotten egg smell, better get it checked. 

If you smell exhaust inside the car, there’s probably exhaust leaking into the car. That’s dangerous and you need to get the car to a mechanic immediately. 

A sulfur smell (smells like rotten egg) is an indication of a problem with the fuel system. It’s also dangerous and needs to be fixed immediately. 

If the car smells musty everytime you turn on the AC, there’s probably an issue with your car’s air conditioning system. If there’s a sweet smell, there’s probably antifreeze leaking from the AC system. 

A burning smell indicates worn out brake pads, hoses or belts. It might also signal there’s something overheating in the car.  

Don’t attempt to cover up these smells with air freshener or get rid of them with a deodorizer. Get the car checked to make sure the problem doesn’t get worse and more expensive to fix. 

7. Open The Windows

The same way opening windows in your home makes it smell fresh, opening car windows does the same. 

When you are on the road, occasionally open the windows to allow fresh air to stream inside. This will prevent a build up of stale, musty and other smells. 

You can also keep the windows open for an hour or two a day when you park your car at home, especially if you don’t plan to drive it for several days. Just make sure it’s not dusty, raining or snowing. 

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