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Updated April 2022
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Buying guide for Best air fresheners

What do pets, kids, and fried fish all have in common? They can leave behind stinky odors. Your first instinct is to grab a can of air freshener and attack the offending odor. The world of air fresheners has numerous options, from sprays to gels, and it helps to know the differences and what they offer.

The dozens of types of chemical and natural air-clearing products on the market can be separated into two categories, but they also tend to overlap: air fresheners and odor neutralizers. If you’ve wondered why your air freshener isn’t doing what you want it to do, it may be because you’re using the wrong type for your needs.

Air fresheners temporarily mask offensive odors in the air. Odor neutralizers eliminate unpleasant scents in the air by creating a chemical reaction that zaps them away. Each type has its pros and cons.

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Make your floor vents disperse scent throughout a room by attaching a clip-on car air freshener or applying dabs of your favorite essential oils to the vents.


Air freshener types

Since they’re inexpensive, you can experiment with popular types of air fresheners (we’re not including scented candles here) to find your favorite. Each type handles odors in a different way and with varying effectiveness. You might like one type of air freshener or odor neutralizer for a specific room or purpose.

  • Air freshener spray: Common air fresheners come in portable aerosol cans which use compressed gas to propel the fragrance into the air in a fine mist.

  • Liquid air fresheners: Scented liquids are dispersed by semi-stationary gadgets such as electric plug-in refill bottles, automatic spray kits, and diffusers. They’re usually filled with a solvent like isopropyl alcohol which dissolves when the freshener or essential oil is sprayed. The solvent helps carry the fragrance into the air, and then it quickly evaporates.

  • Solid air fresheners: Cones, stick-ups, and wax-melt products with fragrance embedded into the wax can be hidden while emitting scent into the air.

  • Bead air fresheners: Gel-infused beads slowly evaporate for consistent fragrance release. There are beads (also called crystals) which attract and trap excess moisture from the air while eliminating stale odors. Though beads are sold in a container with holes in the top so fragrance can escape, the canister needs to be kept away from children and pets and from any area where it could be easily knocked over.

Air fresheners for specific rooms: Though most air fresheners and odor neutralizers work anywhere, you may want a scent or function for specific rooms. For example, there are air fresheners formulated specifically to eliminate bathroom and toilet odors. Of course, you could use this product in other rooms, too.

Similarly, you may want to eliminate odors in your garage or basement. But a sprayed floral scent won’t do the trick as well as a scented moisture-absorbing gel, which can eliminate the smell of must. In that same vein, an odor-neutralizing spray that also sanitizes the air could be useful in a baby nursery.

Expert Tip
Make sure to find and identify the cause of your odor to prevent wasting product. For instance, if you’re cooking fish, wait until you’re completely done cooking before spraying your kitchen down. If stinky shoes are the cause, remove the shoes from the room, and then apply your spray.
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Air fresheners last for varying amounts of time. For example, a battery-operated automatic dispenser set at the lowest setting for a mist may last for up to 60 days before you need a refill. A four-ounce bottle of natural essential oil air freshener typically has 200 spritzes before you need a new one. A solid cone may last up to 30 days if you slowly twist the top up to expose the wax. A small tub of beads may last up to 60 days.


Ergonomic cap

Spray caps should be easy to access, and all sizes of fingers should be able to fit and comfortably press the nozzle.

Noise level

If you want a silent spray and not one that sounds like a hissing cat, look for cans and automatic dispensers that state they feature softer, quieter mists.

Designed diffusers

Electric and battery-operated automatic spray dispensers come in numerous colors and finishes, which helps the device blend in with your home décor.

Motion sensor

An air freshener dispenser with motion sensor technology activates the unit to release scent. It creates a burst of spray when a tiny LED light beam is broken as you pass by the unit. Units with motion sensors don’t have timers.

Expert TIp
Air freshener should be your last step when it comes to cleaning each room.
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Automatic air freshener dispensers can be set to spray a burst of scent in varied increments of time, such as every nine, 18, or 30 minutes.

Boost button

An automatic spray dispenser that has an easy-to-reach boost button lets you manually spray freshener between timed spritzes.


Look for a round opening on the back of an automatic spray dispenser if you’d like to hang it on the wall.

A note about safety

Most people can avoid suffering chemical sensitivities or other reactions by using a natural, plant-based essential oil product. Some blends of 100% essential oil fresheners are even safe enough to use as a body spray, according to manufacturers.

Air freshener prices


In the $1 to $4 range, you’ll find single solid wax cones, wax melts, and stick-up air fresheners. A few multipacks of cone fresheners also fall into this price range.


In the $5 to $10 range, you’ll begin to find more multipacks of air fresheners, automatic spray refills, and larger packs of solid fresheners.

Expert Tip
Always store your air fresheners in a cool place out of sunlight.
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Over $10, you’ll find automatic air freshener dispenser kits (the device plus refills). There are also value packs of scented oil refills for plug-ins at this price. Higher-count spray value packs of four to six cans run in this price range. It’s also here that you’ll begin to find pricier natural and essential oil home air freshener spray pumps, typically in three- to four-ounce sizes.


  • Place your automatic air freshener dispenser four to six feet off the floor and low enough below the ceiling that a burst of spray has time to disperse before hitting the floor or ceiling. If it hits the surface before fully dispersing, it may create an oily residue or sheen.

  • You may want to use two automatic air freshener dispensers to freshen an extra-large room. For an average room measuring around 150 square feet, you could get away with one dispenser, but you’d likely need more than that for a room that’s double or triple the size.

  • You might be able to pinch-hit by using a spray air freshener in place of a spray fabric freshener. However, the fragrance won’t last as long. The scent of a spray fabric freshener lasts longer because of its binding technology. Also, be careful of water spots that may appear when using spray air freshener on delicate fabrics, such as drapery, curtains, and bedding.
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Air fresheners and disinfectants have a shelf life of about two years, at which time the effectiveness and fragrance begins to diminish.


Q. Can air fresheners be used in a car?

A. You can use car air fresheners in your home, but should you use home air fresheners in your car? For a quick fix, you could spray or spritz some air freshener in your vehicle, but don’t leave an aerosol can under pressure in the car. Air fresheners and deodorizers formulated for home use may also be too strong when used in a compact space such as a car. Stick to specifically formulated car air fresheners that clip to vents, for example. These release tiny doses of freshener for the average 75 square feet of a vehicle.

Q. Are air fresheners toxic?

A. There are concerns that air fresheners can pose health risks if they’re overused, placed near an open flame, swallowed, or allowed to touch the skin. Fragrance beads are especially attractive to toddlers and children who ingest them thinking that they’re candy. Always check the label if you’re concerned.

Q. Do air fresheners cause headaches?

A. Air fresheners made with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are synthetic chemicals, can trigger headaches, coughs, itchiness, or a runny nose. Many people are never triggered by these chemicals. To avoid headaches or other symptoms, try fresheners that use essential oils.

Q. What’s the difference between air fresheners and aromatherapy products?

A. There’s a bit of crossover between air fresheners with essential oils and aromatherapy products. Aromatherapeutic essential oil products are used to relieve symptoms of stress and other conditions. However, if you are serious about practicing aromatherapy, you’ll want to shop for products with therapeutic-grade oils, which are not typically included in commercial fragrances.

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