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With six kids, going into car travel prepared is a must. We often take games and activities, healthy snacks, and with all those bodies in the car… some ways to counteract the stink! I don’t take essential oil use lightly (they are much more powerful than many people think), but we do bring some essential oils in the car and use a special diffuser to freshen things up and set the (hopefully calm) mood while traveling.
It doesn’t always work, but at least it smells good!
Why Essential Oils in the Car?
That iconic “new car smell”? It’s the result of hundreds of chemicals off-gassing! The average car contains dozens of chemicals (like flame retardants and lead) that off-gas into the air we breathe. These have been linked with everything from headaches to cancer and memory loss.
Older cars may not be much better, as the flame retardants on seat fabric degrade over time, releasing toxic dust in the air.
Keeping the car interior and air clean is key to creating a healthier car environment. According to AAA, we spend more than 290 hours a year in our vehicles on average. That’s a lot of time spent in a potentially toxic brew!
Fortunately there are other ways to minimize toxin exposure. Essential oils help keep the car interior clean, purify the air, and reduce bacteria and viruses on car surfaces.
Health Benefits of Essential Oils (& Notes on Safety)
Essential oils do more than just smell good. They are powerful, concentrated substances that interact with our brain’s limbic system. When inhaled, essential oils affect the emotions to reduce stress and increase alertness (both very useful when driving!). Different essential oils also have antimicrobial properties to get rid of unwanted germs on car surfaces.
But with great power comes great responsibility. Certain essential oils aren’t safe for young children or infants, while others aren’t appropriate during pregnancy.
When diffusing around very young children and babies, avoid essential oils like rosemary, peppermint, and eucalyptus. That being said, cleaning vehicle surfaces ahead of time with these and other essential oils isn’t a problem. (I just wouldn’t use an essential oil cleaner in the car directly before loading the kids up for a trip.)
Another important factor: a vehicle is a small enclosed space, so scents can easily become concentrated. While I may use a larger amount of oil in a diffuser to cover my living room, much less is needed in a car.
Essential Oils as Car Air Fresheners
Conventional air fresheners have been linked with several problems, including brain damage, cancer, and asthma (to name just a few). Essential oils offer a safe and effective alternative. Here’s a list of different essential oils that can be used to freshen and purify the air. These oils are also safe to diffuse around children, though I’d still avoid diffusing in a car if traveling with a small baby.
- Balsam fir
- Cinnamon leaf
- Fir needle
- Pink Grapefruit
- Ho wood
- Juniper berry
- Wild or sweet orange
- Peru balsam
Choose your essential oils wisely and make sure the brand backs up their sourcing claims. I use Plant Therapy essential oils and especially their Kid-Safe blends which take the guesswork out of safe essential use.
Easy Ways to Use Essential Oils to Freshen Car Air
- Put a few drops of essential oils onto a cotton ball and tuck it in the car air vent.
- Drip essential oils onto a wooden clothespin and clip it onto the car air vent.
- A small diffuser can be plugged into the car outlet.
- Put some essential oils onto a terra cotta ornament and hang in the car.
- Make a car freshener with essential oils and wool felt. Cut the felt into a shape and thread string through a punched hole at the top. Put the essential oils on the felt, then hang in the car, preferably on the vent.
Car Diffuser Blend Recipes
Essential oils that cause drowsiness like vetiver, lavender, and chamomile should obviously be avoided when driving! The following blends can be diffused in the car, like the examples given above. Adjust the exact ratios in the recipes to your preference, but I’d stick with 4-5 drops at a time.
Motion Sickness Blend
- 2 drops spearmint or peppermint (use spearmint with children under 3)
- 2 drops lemon
Energy and Alertness Blend
- 1 drop tangerine
- 1 drop pink grapefruit
- 2 drops lime
Energy Blend #2 (safe for ages 3+)
- 1 drop peppermint
- 3 drops wild or sweet orange
Remember Where You Parked the Car Blend
This blend stimulates memory and brain function!
- 1 drop rosemary (omit for young children)
- 1 drop frankincense
- 2 drops lime
Calm the Kids (and Adults) Blends
These blends help relieve stress and anxiety, without putting you to sleep!
Calming Blend #1
- 2 drops neroli
- 2 drops sandalwood or ho wood
Calming Blend #2
- 2 drops juniper berry
- 2 drops cypress
Calming Blend #3
- 1 drop cedarwood
- 3 drops bergamot
Clean the Car with Essential Oils
I mentioned the toxins used in car manufacturing, but the cleaners for the car can be just as bad! I prefer to use natural cleaners in my home and in my car.
Here’s my glass cleaner recipe that would also work for car windows.
Car Fabric Fresheners
I use a simple DIY carpet cleaner to refresh the upholstery and floor. For an extra fresh clean scent (a welcome break from the norm!), try this car fabric freshener recipe. It has germ-fighting power from essential oils.
Car Fabric Freshener
- 2 cups baking soda
- 20 drops essential oil(s) of choice
- Put ½ cup of the baking soda into a coffee grinder, or shallow bowl if no grinder is available.
- Drip the essential oils onto the baking soda and process in the grinder until well combined. If using a bowl, mash the oils in with a fork. This should only take a few seconds.
- Put all of the baking soda into a wide holed shaker container and stir/shake to combine. A repurposed parmesan cheese container works well.
- Sprinkle the baking soda mixture liberally onto freshly vacuumed, dry car upholstery and flooring.
- Let the mixture sit for at least an hour, or overnight before vacuuming up. I use a handheld broom and dustpan to get the majority of the powder up first, so it’s easier on my vacuum.
Life hack: Spray Homebiotic in the car to introduce healthy bacteria that keeps bad smells at bay. (I figure if it’s good for my home, it’s good for the car!)
Homemade Car Cleaning Wipes
This all-purpose solution is great for hard car interior surfaces. A microfiber cloth works well, but for stubborn, textured areas, an old toothbrush can help. The oil adds a bit of shine and helps repel dust
- 1 cup distilled water
- 1/2 cup liquid oil (grapeseed, fractionated coconut, or olive oil)
- 1 T white vinegar
- 6 drops Sals Suds or Branch Basics concentrate
- 20 drops essential oil (optional)
Combine all of the ingredients in a glass spray bottle and shake to combine.
To use: Give the bottle a good shake right before spraying the mix onto a damp rag. Use the cloth to wipe down hard surfaces in the car. A little goes a long way here!
Essential Oils for the Car Filter
Adding a few drops of purifying and germ fighting essential oils to the car filter freshens the ventilation system. A few drops of lemongrass helps prevent mildew, or germ fighting blend reduces unwanted pathogens.
The scent is most noticeable when the air or heat is on and not for an extended time. However it’s still enough to help clean out the car’s ventilation system, which deals with a lot of pollution!
Do you use essential oils in the car? Which are your favorite ones to use?