Alternative Air Freshener for My Car?
April 29, 2008 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I am soliciting crazy ideas for alternative car fresheners that smell good but not of chemicals.

I have a hatchback, so there is no separation between people in the car and the trunk, where I often put smelly hiking boots and/or climbing shoes and/or sometimes sleep. I have been told by a friend that my car smells and that I should fix this problem before offering to drive a potential girlfriend anywhere.

The standard pine tree type thing hanging from the rearview mirror smells too chemically for me. Short of planting a pine tree in my back seat, is there any way i can get a natural, nice smell into my car? I would love my car to smell like a pine forest, fresh baked cookies, an italian restaurant, or a campfire. googling for "car sized fireplace" has not gotten me far.

So I'm contemplating (and soliciting) crazy ideas. Is it practical to grow basil or mint in my car? Should I just try burning incense in there once in a while? if so, has anyone found a brand of pine incense that actually smells like pine? would putting a box of baking soda in there absorb odors?

PS: I am also investigating ways to keep my shoes/boots from getting so smelly in the first place. But in general, I shower at least once a day and am not rank myself, when not on the way home from some sweaty activity.
posted by mrgoldenbrown to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You could buy natural potpourri, or if you don't want the melange of smells, get some dried lavender or something else with a scent that is pleasing to you.
posted by sciurus at 10:45 AM on April 29, 2008

Coffee beans in a cup.

Leave them in the cup holder, and give them a shake every once in a while to spread the joy.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 10:47 AM on April 29, 2008

I wouldn't burn anything inside your vehicle for fear that while the incense might smell pleasant at the time, it would leave an after-smell reminiscent of a smoker.

Perhaps you could do something with the types of oils they use to make candles? You could get creative and mix up "flavors" like vanilla and butter and have your car smelling like a birthday cake. I wouldn't think that would have to strong a chemical smell (and you could regulate the strength by how much of it you put in your car and where). Wholesale fragrances for candles can be had online and in many hobby shops that carry candy-making/baking supplies.
posted by genial at 10:49 AM on April 29, 2008

couple sticks of incense, unlit, above the visor.
cedar oil and/or cedar balls, from the closet-stuff area of Target
vanilla on a cotton ball in the unused ashtray
posted by theora55 at 10:50 AM on April 29, 2008

Coffee beans in a cup.

Leave them in the cup holder, and give them a shake every once in a while to spread the joy.

Yes. And, to combat the shoe stinkiness, put coffee beans in mesh/net bags and put one in each shoe.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:52 AM on April 29, 2008

To actually get rid of the smells, use activated carbon (aka activated charcoal).
posted by zsazsa at 10:53 AM on April 29, 2008

How about throwing some baking soda in the upholstery, letting it sit for a bit, and then vacuuming it up?
posted by backseatpilot at 10:55 AM on April 29, 2008

There are tons of solutions. Some aren't all-natural, but are less "ewww chemicals" than your pine tree (blegh).

- Dried, scented flowers/herbs (e.g. pot pourri, dried lavendar, etc) are the most natural way to go. Crush them a little when the flower dies to rejuvenate the odor. You can also put a little essential oil in them to accent the odor. Keep them in mesh bags or something and toss them in your trunk.
- They make oil infusers for your car, some that stick into your cigarette-lighter, some that just attach to your vents. I know Bath & Body Works had one, and I think lots of other people do, too. They're refillable with assorted scented oil refills.
- For a replacement for your icky pine tree, try getting Yankee Candle's "Car Jars" which come in all different scents, some of which smell pretty natural, depending on your tastes.
- Stick some scented dryer sheets in your shoes.
- Stick scented dryer sheets elsewhere in your car.
- Febreeze the fuck out of the trunk every weekend or when you can remember.
- Use foot powder to reduce foot/shoe odor. Always wear natural fiber socks.
- Let your shoes air out for a full day in between wear if possible.

Of all these choices, I go with the Car Jar in one of my favorite scents and periodic febreezing of my upholstery & trunk (I have a wagon so there is no separation for me either). Dryer sheets in my gym shoes have been a habit of mine for awhile and it def. seems to help.
posted by tastybrains at 10:55 AM on April 29, 2008

Air "fresheners" only add odor; what you want is to remove it. You need to give your car a good cleaning, then turn over a new leaf. Keep some plastic garbage bags in there, and anytime you need to transport something stinky, put it in a bag. If the car is terminally smelly, then you could try keeping large quantities of baking soda or charcoal in there to absorb the odor.
posted by Enroute at 10:58 AM on April 29, 2008

Please no coffee beans. Not everyone likes the smell of coffee, believe it or not.

I'd suggest trying a few baking soda fridge & freezer packs (3rd in list). The sides of the box turn into vents, so that this is the best design for mitigating odor. Try it -- these are pretty inexpensive and usually available at the grocery store.

Also, you might want to vacuum the car.
posted by amtho at 11:03 AM on April 29, 2008

A pomander is a nice, pleasantly old-school choice. I'd use a lot more cloves than this guy, though. And you don't need to use an orange; a lime or lemon would do as well. It's sort of a spicy, sweet, autumn-y kind of smell, but isn't fake or chemically (and it seems to neutralize more than it covers up, if you know what I mean - this is good, because nothing is worse than a stink covered in something sticky sweet).

Plus, it would be hilarious to hang one (complete with ribbons, etc.) from your rear-view.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:04 AM on April 29, 2008

Instead of a fake pine tree, how about a real (small) evergreen bough?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:12 AM on April 29, 2008

Dryer sheets in the shoes at night.
Vanilla air-freshener in the car.

Done and done.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:13 AM on April 29, 2008

Put an open box of baking soda in a secure place to absorb old odors, clean that sucker out and then make little sachets (read: mesh bags with yummy smelling stuff in them) and distribute them throughout the car (including in your stinky shoes).

I live in Texas where rosemary grows by the bushel at every street corner and I made little rosemary sachets out of old pillowcases and put them in the pockets behind the seats, in the glove compartment, under the seats, and in the trunk. But I love rosemary, so I didn't get sick of the smell.

To make the sachet:
Cut two six inch squares out of your old pillowcase
Stitch them together on three sides (just sloppy needle and thread in and out, nothing fancy)
Fill the little bag with yummy smelling stuff
Fold the top and staple shut. That way you can quickly and easily undo the staples to replace the rosemary, lavender, or whatever.

Sounds like a lot of work, but it really doesn't take too long and then everyone who gets in your car is like, wow! It smells so good and natural in here!
posted by cachondeo45 at 11:20 AM on April 29, 2008

Strangely, I just gave this answer to a similar question asked earlier today.

Buy a bar of deodorant soap (Dial, whatever, just something you like), and put it dry under one of the seats. This works very, very well, and smells fairly good. It's cheap and lasts a long time too. I got this tip from Car Talk a long time ago, and it's gold.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:22 AM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

jeff-o-matic - doesn't the soap melt on super hot days?
posted by tastybrains at 11:36 AM on April 29, 2008

Roll down your windows.
posted by Max Power at 11:45 AM on April 29, 2008

You could get pine essential oil and put a little of it on a piece of unglazed pottery, and stick it anywhere in the car. It'll absorb into the pottery and slowly release pure pine-ness into the car. You can get the oil and a pottery infuser at any hippie store, probably.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:50 AM on April 29, 2008

No. The soap doesn't melt. My brother had a really old car with seats that were rotting, making a weird sharp smell, and the soap trick really helped.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:56 AM on April 29, 2008

Best answer: I use those eucalyptus sticks that you can buy at the florist [or the florist section of the supermarket. It's a pretty subtle scent, but it makes my car not smell like ... whatever it smelled like when I got it. If you keep it under the seats it's subtle. If you put it someplace in the car where sun will hit it, it will sometimes offgas really strong odors, so think about placement carefully. One bunch lasts a year or two.

Get a plastic tub with a top to put your shoes/boots in in the future and give the wayback carpet a once-over with vacuum/baking soda/cleaner. If you don't smell bad and your shoes don't smell like something died in them, a little bit of outdoorsy smell in your car shouldn't really be much of a deterrent to any similarly outdoorsy person.
posted by jessamyn at 12:07 PM on April 29, 2008

I know it's chemical-ly, but if you want to kill odors for good, nothing works like Ozium. Ozium will KILL the odors, if it is a pressing concern and I'd use any combination of things people have said here... I'm partial to neutral/no smells if possible. If you have the time, nothing will work like airing it out for good, but coffee, charcoal, baking soda... these things will help speed things along.

I bought a Chevy from a heavy cigar smoker and Ozium solved the problem in under a month. But that was a case of cigar smoke/ash being in EVERY part of that truck. These are just my 2ยข. Good luck!
posted by indiebass at 12:35 PM on April 29, 2008

Ya know, I was just going to say the exact same thing that jessamyn did. amtho gave me some eucalyptus branches from a tree last week, and I've left them in the car because they smell so good when I get in.
posted by Stewriffic at 12:35 PM on April 29, 2008

Obtain some Paine's balsam fir and put it in a cloth bag and tie it shut. (I put some in one of those bags that Crown Royal comes in.) Stick it under your car seat or elsewhere in your car. Enjoy the piney aroma.
posted by medeine at 2:31 PM on April 29, 2008

Best answer: Best way to make your car not smell bad is not to have stinky things sharing the interior airspace. Take everything out of the car, vacuum the interior thoroughly, and find opportunities to leave the doors and windows open while the car sits in the sun and wind. If you need to move stinky things, put them in sealed containers (jessamyn's idea of plastic tubs with lids is good), along with some baking soda or activated charcoal, before putting them in the car.

Grow some strongly scented plants in your garden, not in the car (car interiors are very plant-unfriendly). Lavender is a good choice, because it's prolific, super-hardy, flowers for much of the year, and the stems and leaves smell as good as the flowers. Pink-bud jasmine is good for late spring to early autumn. Daphne is a little more work to keep alive, but the flowers smell very strong (one tiny daphne flower will scent your car for days on end). Frangipani is amazingly strong as well. If you want herby smells, go for hard small leaves like rosemary or thyme rather than floppy juicy things like basil; you want these things to dry in your car rather than rot. If you want piney scents, grow a pine or a fir.

Personally I wouldn't bother with the mesh bags, since you want nicely scented things to rub their smells into your carpets. Just snap a single stalk off your lavender bush or whatever on your way to the car every day and toss it over the back seat or under the front one or stick it in your heater vent. The old stalks can get brushed out along with everything else whenever you clean your interior.
posted by flabdablet at 8:04 PM on April 29, 2008

Response by poster: Wow. Based on all this amazing brainstorming, I have a plan:

-Plastic tub to dump shoes in after sweaty activities.
-Baking Soda or Charcoal in tub to absorb odors
-Try dryer sheets in shoes
-Experiment with the various nice smelling fragrances mentioned above.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 9:39 AM on April 30, 2008

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