What Materials Are Car Air Fresheners Made From?

by Leslie R. Thompson

Air fresheners help enclosed areas like cars to smell better on the inside. They can be any shape but the cardboard cutouts are popular. Originally shaped like pine trees, fresheners now come in virtually any shape, size and color, based on personal preference. The first "Little Tree" air freshener was invented in 1952 by chemist Julius Samann.

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In the late 1940s the first air fresheners were introduced by the military as a pressurized spray. These early products masked bad odors. Later, in the 1950s, companies began producing chemicals that neutralized odor. Air fresheners became popular for automobiles. Companies made them out of compressed paper and oils. Julius Samann, inventor of the "Little Trees" air fresheners, spent years in Canada trying to reproduce the pine smell. He developed an oil that saturated the paper trees and applied it.

Cardboard Air Fresheners

The fresheners that hang from the rear view mirror of a car are popular. The compressed paper is treated with an oil that releases chemicals into the air. The chemicals mask odors, such as cigarette smoke, food, dirt and other items that can make the cramped interior of an automobile smell bad.


The chemicals used to treat these air fresheners can cause health problems when used by a smoker to mask the smell inside a car. The chemicals emitted from the cardboard version can cling to dust particles floating in the air. These dust particles then bond with the chemicals found in cigarette smoke. When inhaled in closed confinement, these bonded chemicals can cause irritation of the mouth, esophagus and lungs.

In recent years, these chemicals have been analyzed as potentially dangerous to humans. The most common chemical, phthalates, has been known to cause reproductive problems, hormonal abnormalities and birth defects. Other known ingredients that cause serious health issues are formaldehyde, acetone and terpenes. These chemicals contain pollutants that, when mixed with ozone, cigarette smoke or dust can cause breathing complications, headaches and damage the central nervous system.

How to Avoid Danger

When using one of these air fresheners, you should air out your car frequently. If you smoke, this is especially true. Roll windows down for air circulation when driving. Keeping your windows down when the car is parked, even in the garage, can help.

Fresh air is the best air cleanser. Opening your car windows can go a long way to cleaning the air in your car.

Make Your Own

You can make your own air freshener. Using a piece of felt from a hobby store and pure, scented oil, you control what the air freshener is made of and avoid any additional chemicals used in factory production. These fresheners can be made cheaply and to your specifications on size, shape and scent.

Create a sachet of crushed and dried lavender flowers. Use all-natural potpourri. Baking soda is an excellent air freshener. Pour some into an old sock and place it underneath the car seat.

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