What’s in That Car Air Freshener?

Can’t smell the forest for the tree air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror? That’s the concern of more and more people who report headaches, dizziness, and other negative symptoms from the “air fresheners” that hang in vehicles to mask odors.

It has been my concern since I bought a small used pickup truck a few years back.  It came complete with manual transmission, CD player, canopy, and the classic cardboard tree hanging from the rear-view mirror.  Almost immediately I had a severe headache from the scent emanating from the truck. I assumed that once I chopped that tree from the windshield the truck would lose its awful scent and the headache would be gone.  A year later after cleaning the upholstery with a home-made, all-natural brew and keeping the windows down every day to air it out, I still couldn’t drive that truck without feeling nauseous and getting a headache.  Now, I’m not suggesting it was due to a single scented cardboard tree as I’m sure it had been sprayed with other “air fresheners” too but it raises the question, “just what is in that tree?”

A consumer relations specialist at Car-Freshner Corporation in Watertown, New York, the official manufacturer of scented trees products for cars, said in a recent newspaper article: “I can’t tell you what’s in them because it’s proprietary information.”

This is a legal loophole that many companies exploit in the name of “trade secrets.” And Car Freshner (that’s no typo, that’s actually the spelling) even claims on its website that “we are so vigilant about protecting our trademarks.” While a combination of ingredients is actually a patent or trade secret, not a trademark, I have no doubt that the company is vigilant about protecting the blend of ingredients it uses in its products.  After all, it has been in business for 59 years and consumers still have no idea what they are breathing when they hang a tree in their vehicle.

According to the corporate website, the company founder Julius Sämann had lived in the Canadian pine forests extracting aromatic oils before inventing the hanging “air freshener.”  Having lived in pine forests all over Canada I can say with some degree of confidence that I’ve never smelled one that made me nauseous, gave me headaches, made me dizzy, or made it hard to breathe.   Actually, my regular walks in the Canadian pine forests have always eliminated headaches, helped me to feel clearer, and helped deepen my breathing.

I can’t speak to what Car-Freshner’s little trees contain and maybe we’ll never know thanks to regulators that allow trade secrets to take priority over public health and consumers’ right to know what they are buying and breathing.  I can, however, tell you that my research found that the number and severity of toxic ingredients in common air fresheners is shocking and disturbing.  Here’s a sampling:

Keep reading to discover the shocking ingredients in many air fresheners…Pthalates–The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC)—an international environmental organization—conducted a study called, “Clearing the Air:  Hidden Hazards of Air Fresheners” in which they found 86% of air fresheners tested contained dangerous phthalates.  Phthalates are used as plastic softeners, anti-foaming agents in aerosols, in vinyl found in children’s toys, automobiles, paints, pesticides, and in cosmetics and fragrances.  According to the NRDC research, “Most phthalates are well known to interfere with production of the male hormone testosterone, and have been associated with reproductive abnormalities.”

Acetone—is a blood-, heart-, gastrointestinal-, liver-, kidney-, skin-, respiratory-, brain- and nervous system toxin.  So, in other words, it can damage just about any part of your body and have a wide range of adverse effects.

Butane and IsobutaneYes, lighter fluid.  It a serious toxin to our brain and nervous system.

Liquified Petroleum Gas and Petroleum Distillate—It is fairly obvious why we wouldn’t want to add this to our air supply.  I’ve been half-jokingly telling my clients for years that air fresheners contain the byproducts of gasoline that the oil industry can’t put into vehicles.  It looks like it may not be far from the truth.

Propane—a cardiovascular and blood toxin; liver, kidney, respiratory, skin, and nervous system toxin known to be extremely dangerous and that’s why we operate propane barbecues outdoors yet we’re spraying this stuff into our indoor air.

Perfume–This single ingredient contains up to 400 different toxic ingredients, 95 percent of which are derived from petroleum products and are linked to a whole host of serious health conditions ranging from headaches and dizziness to depression and behavioral changes. Check out my article, “What’s Lurking in Febreze?” for more information.

Benzene—known to cause leukemia in humans.  Check out my article, “EXPOSED:  Is Your Child’s Classroom Toxic?” for more information on benzene and formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde–linked to cancers of the upper airways.

Keep reading to discover what you can do to make a difference…What Can You Do:

-Don’t buy from companies that value trade secrets over the public’s right to know what they are breathing.

-Write to Car-Freshner Corporation (domestic@car-freshner.com) and tell them you want (and deserve) to know the ingredients in their  products.

-Write to the Consumer Product Safety Commission asking them to ban hazardous phthalates in consumer products and requiring ingredient labeling of all consumer products.  Here’s the link to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and the e-mail for Canadian Consumer Product Safety division of Health Canada (Info@hc-sc.gc.ca).

-Make your office scent-free.  If you’re not the one in charge at your office request that they enact such a policy.

-Want fresh air? Open a window.

-Air fresheners aren’t the only products that allow toxic ingredients.  Personal care products are full of them.   Sign the petition to stop allowing the use of toxic ingredients in personal care products and cosmetics.

Subscribe to my free e-magazine Worlds Healthiest News to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow me on my site HealthySurvivalist.com, Twitter @mschoffrocook and Facebook.


Kelly S
Kelly S20 hours ago

they give me a migraine

Sonia M
Sonia M21 days ago

Good to know,thanks for sharing.

Lesa D
Lesa DiIorio22 days ago


thank you Michelle...

Monika K.
Monika K2 years ago

Thanks, will try to avoid it.

Andrew M.
Andrew M.2 years ago

Thank you Michelle for increasing the awareness for the hidden chemicals these air fresheners are laced with. It's a conversation very few in the health community are having relative to that of the food industry. If you consider yourself a food "label reader" this conversation might be of more significant relevance, especially for young immune systems. In enclosed spaces and through the respiratory tracks of small children, there is potential for greater chemical contact and hazard. We are trying to combat this issue as well with a consumer product we've developed that's all natural, non toxic and very versatile. We offer free samples for bloggers such as yourself and discounts for your community to try them. We'd love to get your feedback. www.purplefrogpatches.com. Thank you again for spreading the message.

Jake B.
Past Member 2 years ago

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Kate M.
.2 years ago

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Carolt M.
Past Member 2 years ago

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Vivian Y.
Vivian Y.3 years ago

Indeed. But I knew there is a new car air freshener
that is solid wood type. Maybe it can be less harmful to human health.

Williams G.
Past Member 3 years ago

Incredibly nice article, accurately what I was in search of. Thanks