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Toss the Tree: 7 Creative Air Fresheners for Your Car

BY: undefined undefined | Feb 13, 2014
Toss the Tree: 7 Creative Air Fresheners for Your Car

Ever been stuck in traffic and daydreamed you were somewhere else? Maybe a secluded tropical beach or the European countryside or just the café down the street? All you need to travel there is an air freshener, a little ingenuity, and a well-tuned nose.

One such nose belongs to Tedd Neenan. A perfumer and aromatherapist at Chicago's Aroma Workshop, Tedd and his team have been tapped for some truly nostril-bending commissions, including a stockbroker who wanted his cologne to smell like money (largely “green” smells such as grass, petitgrain, and marjoram) and an auto-show booth that wanted to smell like a garage. To make one customer’s technology presentation especially memorable, the Workshop suffused the room with the slightly plastic mélange of a freshly unwrapped gadget. “I’m not sure what you would call it,” chuckled Tedd. “'New iPad Smell'?”

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Usually, though, Tedd is helping people craft their own unique perfumes and bodycare products. As they test-sniff combinations of essential oils on paper strips known as moulettes, Tedd steers them toward the most harmonious pairings and tailors the proportions to how those scents will be used. He offered some advice for creating an air freshener that turns your car into a brain-getaway.

First, figure out where you’d rather be:

In the Driver's Seat of a Cleaner Car

Some commonplace materials don't add strong scents so much as absorb unwanted odors left by gym bags, takeout meals, and wet dogs covered in scratch 'n' sniff stickers.

Difficulty Level: Easy

What to Use: Activated charcoal, white vinegar, or baking soda. The final one can also be enhanced with essential oils. Tedd suggests cinnamon for cutting through harsher odors (like cigarette smoke) or lemon-lime if you need help waking up in the morning.

How to Use It: Empty tea bags can be a good low-cost container, since they allow air to circulate through your mix.

Cracking Open a Coconut on Your Own Private Beach

If the beach is your idea of heaven, you’ll have no shortage of possible aromas to play with—the sand, the water, fresh fruits, sunscreen, fluffy towels, cotton candy. It’s easy to go overboard, however. "A blend of three to four scents tends to be most people’s limit when it comes to distinguishing them," advised Tedd.

Difficulty Level: Advanced (consult a local perfume shop)

What to Use: Rather than try to capture every single aspect of the beach, zero in on what stokes your nostalgia the most. Tedd took this approach with his Waves formula, which mingles lichen, jasmine, oak moss, and rosemary. "You get that same rush like the first time you saw the ocean."

How to Use It: Tea bags work well here, too, so long as you dribble your mixture on a thick absorbent pad and then slip it into the bag. Aroma Workshop has used the pad approach when custom-building air fresheners that plug into the car's lighter.

Nestled in the Plush Armchair of a Cozy Cafe

Coffee can do more than fuel your morning commute. The fragrant beans also fill your car with aromas your body naturally associates with feeling alert.

Difficulty Level: Easy (super-easy if you tend to spill your Starbucks)

What to Use: Dry grounds of your favorite blend

How to Use It: Fill up a clean sock with the grounds and toss it onto a seat.

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Strolling the Garden of a Tuscan Villa

If you think this one is simply a matter of combining the real-world charms of Tuscany—the aroma of olive trees, wild jasmine, vineyards, bicycle baskets laden with cheese and fresh bread and 1-Up mushrooms—you might be in for a surprise. According to Tedd, "Essential oils often don't smell like the actual substances they represent, due to how they're processed.” So rather than aim for strict verisimilitude, capture the quality of the air itself.

Difficulty Level: Advanced (consult a local perfume shop)

What to Use: “To mimic the woody, outdoor air of Tuscany, I might start with fresh-cut grass, then add cedar or cypress to give it a nice, green note,” Tedd said. “There'd probably be some bright, sunshiney notes too, such as citrus."

How to Use It: For bonus nose-points, a 3- to 4-inch shard of terra cotta can act as a cheap (and authentically Tuscan) diffuser for your finished concoction. Simply place 20 drops on it, then set it on the floor of the car. The scent lasts about a week.

Swimming in Birthday-Cake Batter

Misting your car’s carpeting with the right mixture can make it feel like you're inside a giant cake, a dream so cruelly dashed by the homeowners association.

Difficulty Level: Moderate

What to Use: Vanilla essential oil or almond extract works well.

How to Use It: Fill a spray bottle with water and add your scent at a ratio of 20 drops per ounce. To prolong the scent, Tedd recommends using distilled water instead of tap water.

Bonus Points: For extra odor-fighting power, dilute a small amount of vodka into the water. The liquor’s high alcohol content kills bacteria, and makes cooties too sleepy to find their way back into the upholstery.

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Frolicking Through the Fields of Provence

Lavender does more than just call to mind the sun-dappled meadows of southern France, they might also reduce road rage—lavender's calming effects have been extolled for hundreds of years.

Difficulty Level: Easy

What to Use: Dried sprigs of lavender

How to Use It: Knot it inside a bundle of cheesecloth or put it in an aerated plastic bag. Loop it around your rearview mirror or stash it beneath a seat.

Your Own Personal Happy Place

"Smell really drives memory," Tedd said. So your favorite scents may not resemble a physical place so much as a cherished moment in your life. One of Aroma Workshop’s more popular scents, Big Sur, is based on Tedd’s memories of visiting his wife at her graduate school in San Francisco. The shop's Rain Lilac scent, meanwhile, aims for a more collective memory. "There's always a pleasant response to it, and watching people's eyes as they smell it. There's this direct Midwestern connection to that memory of springtime and Mother's Day and grandma's house. ... It's just boom!"

Check out the The Guide’s profile on Tedd Neenan at Finding Your Signature Scent at Aroma Workshop

Photo: © Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon