Car-Freshner Little Tree air fresheners ~ fragrance review

Car-Freshner Little Tree air fresheners

Last week I stopped by an auto parts store to pick up wiper blades and halted in front of the car air freshener display. I’ve always had a weakness for the scented trees that dangle from a car’s rearview mirror. They’re so trashy, yet so classic, that — in my mind, at least — they pack serious chic. I bought five different Little Trees to review.

First, some Little Tree history: Car-Freshner Little Trees (“the Global Leader in Automotive Air Fresheners”) were developed in 1952 in Watertown, New York, by perfumer and chemist Julius Sämann. In Ireland, a Little Tree is called a Magic Tree. In France, Italy, and Portugal it’s an Arbre Magique, and it’s a Wunder-Baum in Germany. Car-Freshner defends its Little Tree vigorously and has the lawsuits to prove it. Don’t even think of using the Little Tree image as part of the logo for your new hipster carwash / craft cocktail lounge.

Each Little Tree comes sealed in plastic. The package recommends you snip the top of the package and ease the Little Tree out about three-quarters of an inch a week for seven weeks of aroma. The package concludes with the advice to “hang freely!”.

Now for the air fresheners:

Royal Pine: This is the classic. If you’ve only experienced one Little Tree in your life, it was probably an Astroturf-green Royal Pine Little Tree. It smells of rich, sappy, sugary pine. A side-by-side comparison with Pinesol shows Royal Pine to be sweeter and less ammoniated. I wouldn’t want it as a bath oil, but it’s just fine for the car. My Royal Pine Little Tree will find a home under my kitchen sink.

New Car: Also a classic, and my favorite of the bunch. To me, New Car smells like suede, ylang ylang, the residue of lavender-scented cleaning spray (which generally smells more like rose than lavender), with a dash of ashtray. It’s a fascinating composition, but I doubt it smells anything like a new car. That said, my car is 27 years old, so I’m no judge.

Black Ice: Black ice? Really? What could something named after ice smell like? “It smells strong, like cologne. Like Drakkar Noir or something,” the guy at the auto parts store said. “It’s really popular.” He nailed it. Black Ice is a generic fougère featuring more lime than lavender. Frankly, Drakkar Noir is more interesting.

Leather: When I saw leather-scented Little Trees, I congratulated myself. Here was undoubtedly the cheap thrill of the year. For $2.99, my pickup truck would smell like Knize Ten for months to come. Well, the joke was on me. The tree’s black and brown leatherette pattern should have clued me in. I’ve scoured my fragrance vocabulary to try to describe its scent, but I’m stumped, except to say that it doesn’t even hint at leather — the New Car Little Tree smells more like leather than this one does. Finally, first thing this morning I stumbled to the kitchen to make coffee and encountered the fusty scent of rotting food. As I dumped the compost and emptied the trash, it hit me: this was the smell of the Leather Little Tree.

Blackberry Clove: “Our most popular air freshener by far,” the auto parts guy told me. “It’s not bad, really.” Blackberry Clove smells like blackberry-black cherry sorbet cleanser. Its clove is subtle to nonexistent. I’m not big on ambient fruit-scented fragrance, but a 14-year old with an odor problem would love this one.

When I asked the auto parts guy which of the air fresheners was his favorite, he knelt to pluck a spray vial of Ozium off the rack. “I like this one. It doesn’t smell like anything.”

The air fresheners I bought come in packages of three (“3 pak” in Car-Freshner speak) for $2.99, but you can also buy them in packages of six, in singles, or as a spray. The Car-Freshner website1 shows an almost frightening range of fragrances, including many named after tropical fruit or cocktails; three vanillas (including Vanilla Pride, which has stars and stripes on it); and some “mood” scents, including Energy, Relax, and Fresh Surge. (Warning: after a few hours of nose-to-tree testing, the tip of my tongue turned numb.)

Are you a Little Tree fan? How do you freshen your car?

1. While you’re visiting the website, be sure to click on the Submit a Story link and check out the stories users sent in. I especially recommend Jake G.’s testimony for his Black Ice freshener. The man has a gift for narrative.

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93 Comments

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  1. The Bark says:

    Long, longtime reader finally posting a comment. As noted, these were invented (and are still produced) in Watertown, NY, my hometown. A college friend once asked if it smelled like Vanillaroma up there, but alas, no.

    And they do make an oud freshener, believe it or not (haven’t smelled it, though).

    • Angela says:

      Oud! Amazing! I knew the oud trend was strong, but I never thought it would make it to Little Trees. Plus, do you really want your car to smell like oud? Not me.

      And welcome as a commenter.

    • HemlockSillage says:

      Oh, you made me laugh out loud!

      I’m with Angela, though. I don’t want to imagine an oud air freshener in my car in Texas heat :D Be well.

      • Angela says:

        Oh wow–that could be a deadly combo!

      • The Bark says:

        I didn’t find leather to smell all that bad. Maybe more like pleather – certainly “fake” and not the stringent accords one would associate with the likes of Kniz Ten (which, strangely, never smelled like good leather to me – too floral).

        I’m personally waiting for oud scented baby wipes. Not that I have any kids, mind you, but it’ll give me something to look forward to:

        “Honey, what’s that smell?”

        “Oh, it’s junior’s bottom notes.”

        • Angela says:

          All right, The Bark, it’s time to get you down to open mike at a stand-up comedy club, stat!

          (Oud-scented baby wipes. Yikes! And yet…)

        • Holly says:

          That would be Boudreaux’s Butt Oud.

          • The Bark says:

            I hope it sprays nicely! Nothing worse than getting your Butt Oud clogged (but it does lead to an interesting prune scented flanker). :)

          • Holly says:

            Preparation H does a nice fig.

          • Angela says:

            You’ve got to be joking.

          • Holly says:

            It’s a combination toothpaste and hemorrhoid cream. “Piles of Smiles.”

          • Angela says:

            *groan*

        • Holly says:

          I had you going for a second there :-)

  2. relleric says:

    I once took the grey flannel pouch that Grey Flannel comes in, doused it with GF, and put it in my car. It lasted all of 2 days, even though I thought I was being overhanded with the dousing.
    Perhaps I should take some of my Bn9 Chinatown or Success and try the same thing? Perhaps that Clive Christian “C” for men would hang around a while?
    Great article! :)

    • Angela says:

      Once a reader suggested emptying sample vials into a little bit of uncooked rice to use as an air freshener. I wonder if you could put a couple of tablespoons of rice into the Grey Flannel bag and spray them?

      • eswift83 says:

        How random! Has anyone done this? Does the rice hold the scent pretty well???

        • Angela says:

          I did try it once with a pretty teacup on the mantel and some old samples, and it wasn’t bad.

  3. HemlockSillage says:

    Thanks for reviewing these, Angela! What a fun review.

    In general, I don’t like to have strong smells in my car. I like to be the strongest scented thing in my vehicle. Small problem: a couple years ago, my assigned parking slot was near the smokers’ area outside, and my car smelled strongly of cigarette smoke, even though I don’t, ever.

    I had some SMN potpourri that was sitting aournd, put it in a wooden box with sliding lid, and would adjust the lid as needed, based on the ambient heat. It helped. And sunlight. And shampooing the interior. Oh, and I confess I used fabric softener sheets under the seats before I tried the box idea. Please don’t pull my perfumista card for owning fabric softener sheets ;D Be well.

    • Angela says:

      I can tell already that your car is a lot cleaner than mine! Shampooing the interior earns you a triple-cold star for sure. I love the idea of a car smelling gently of SMN potpourri, too. Hey, the fabric softener sheet idea was good!

      • Angela says:

        Whoops–I mean triple “gold” stars, of course.

  4. Erin says:

    This was a great diversion from the ordinary perfume or home fragrance reviews — really enjoyed it! And quite stunned to learn that there is an Oud Little Tree. Does it come in the shape of an agarwood tree (Aquilaria malaccensis or Gyrinops)? (Not that any such real tree is involved…)

    • Angela says:

      Maybe they try to draw an agarwood tree on the Little Tree! Yeah, right. I bet they did the tree in a wood-grained pattern, like on the side of an 1970s station wagon.

      • Robin says:

        Here it is on Amazon, for anyone who wants to see it:

        http://www.amazon.com/Little-Tree-Oud-Wood-Freshener/dp/B0043RBEBU

        • Angela says:

          This is just too good to pass up. The next time I make an Amazon order, I’m going to have to toss one of these in. One thing you can say for Little Tree is that they’re on trend.

          • Merlin says:

            Well there only 16 left, so I guess you better not wait to long! lol!

          • Angela says:

            Hmm. I’d have to admit that I’m not quite motivated enough about it to hurry…

        • melissa says:

          Still less weird than Oud Pink Sugar tbh

          • Angela says:

            Of course, that means the next thing will be the Oud Pink Sugar Little Tree.

      • Erin says:

        Thanks, Robin! I feel more spiritual just looking at it. Angela, it looks like they went with your idea for the cedar instead.

        • Angela says:

          I wish I had an old VW van with batik curtains I could put the oud tree in.

  5. morgana says:

    Angela, my car is much younger than yours (only 24 years old!) so that New Car little tree may fit just perfect.

    • Angela says:

      Congratulations! Aren’t you proud of having such an old car? I am. Honestly, I brag about it constantly.

  6. Dilana says:

    The Agraia tassels make a fine alternative.

    • Angela says:

      And much classier!

  7. Merlin says:

    I wonder what Ozium does smell of? Calone? LoV?

    Or could it be the kind of thing that wipes out other odors without having any of its own?

    • Angela says:

      The auto parts guy said that it smells like baby powder when you first spray it, but it goes away soon, and it’s supposed to take the other odors in the car with it. He recommended that you spray your car when you get out of it at the end of the day, and by the next morning everything is fine.

      • Tiara says:

        Ozium comes in its own different scents, too! Vanilla is one and it’s awful. Country Fresh and Orange are available as well. Out of the different Ozium products I’ve smelled, none of them initially smelled of baby power!

        • Holly says:

          Ooh, you’re right! I forgot to mention that. I like the “original.” It smells like …. nothing.

          Hey, wait a second…. is the Emperor naked?

          • Angela says:

            If it can make something smell like nothing, then it’s done its job. In other words, I guess, it undresses the emperor.

        • Angela says:

          Perhaps my auto parts guy wasn’t big into baby products. He sure liked it better than Black Ice, though.

      • MikasMinion says:

        Ozium is NOT unscented (I was just autocorrected to odium which is amazingly appropriate). I have been exposed to it for so many years I really can’t break down the smell – you know, like Lysol smells like Lysol even when it is trying to smell like lemons? To me it smells awful but lots of people like it. If pressed I would go with generically herbal powdery cleaning product.

        • Angela says:

          I found myself adding “cleanser” to my Little Tree descriptions, too. It’s amazing how it’s a universally recognized fragrance group.

  8. Omega says:

    Love this. Lol..those trees never last long, I will still out for Blackberry Clove I guess, whenever I pass some of those trees again. Yeah, Black Ice..like someone sprayed Axe in their car or something, you know, make it seem like you sprayed cologne/body spray recently..a chick might dig that..or something:).

    • Angela says:

      I bet Blackberry Clove is a huge seller!

  9. nozknoz says:

    This is hilarious! I love the No-Smoking tree – very practical.

    • Angela says:

      Maybe they should print them with other messages, too. You know, like “no messing with the radio while I’m driving” and “take your old soda cup with you.”

      • Marjorie Rose says:

        *snort*

        How about “Yes, I know where I’m going.”?

  10. JolieFleurs says:

    I have a little 1986 Toyota pick-up that looks like 8 different kinds of hell, but runs like a BOSS. Seriously, runs like the day I got.

    In all these years, I have replaced the clutch once, a master/slave cylinder once, had the carburetor rebuilt once, bought 3 batteries and replaced the brakes twice. That’s it, nothing else, except spark plugs with each new battery. Oh and I had to replace the catalytic converter because it was stolen.

    She has certainly seen her fair share of Little Trees, but I like to keep Spiritual Journey incense sticks under the seats for scent.

    • Angela says:

      Mine’s a 1986 Nissan, and it sounds like they have almost exactly the same repair history! (Except for the several dozen mufflers that have rusted out on it.) Love the tip about the incense sticks, too.

  11. kindcrow says:

    Black ice??? Black ice and driving are a bad combination.

    • melissa says:

      It’s clever! If by “clever” one means “terrible.”

      • Angela says:

        We love a good pun….

    • Angela says:

      Yes. In so many ways, yes.

    • eswift83 says:

      Hah! True story.

  12. Holly says:

    This is just so adorable, Angela. I’ve been smiling all day. :-) And the comments … what a treat!

    I’ve done the dryer sheets and the incense, and also infused those little flower-shaped cedar blocks with cheapo oils. And as we’ve discussed previously when sachets and the like came up, I toss bags of cardamom pods and/or star anise in that zone behind the back seat near the window where the sun will hit.

    As for Ozium, yes it works!!! It has an initial metallic twang that quickly dissipates. The only problem I’ve found with it is that the larger size is only good for a few squirts, so the travel size-ish one is better.

    Gosh …. I seem to have quite a lot of experience with eradicating bad odors. Ah well, I’ll just leave it at that :-)

    • Angela says:

      You’re an expert car sanitizer! These are all great suggestions (I still want to try the cardamom and star anise trick), and thanks for Ozium review, too.

      • Holly says:

        Flanker blog: Now Don’t Smell This.

        • Angela says:

          So many entries for that one…

  13. Kelly Red says:

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned the infamous scene in the film “Seven” with like a THOUSAND car trees hanging from the ceiling in that creepy room!! I can’t even look at them without thinking of that scene.

    And I don’t care what you people say, I’m now on the search for an OUD car tree LOL

    • Angela says:

      I haven’t seen that movie! That does sound appropriately chilling, though.

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      I bet there will be a run on those Oud trees now. . . the seller won’t know what’s hit them!

      • Angela says:

        Hah! I have to wonder if they actually smell anything like oud, though. After my experience with the leather tree, I’m skeptical. But, looking at the design, maybe it’s an incense. That wouldn’t be bad.

  14. Thalia says:

    This is by far the best post I have ever seen on a perfume blog! I am so delighted!

    • Angela says:

      I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed it!

  15. Tiara says:

    Angela:

    Never let it be said you don’t cover the scent spectrum. From French perfume salons, to the drug stores and now to an auto parts store….you’ve covered it all!

    • Angela says:

      Yes, I go the extra mile for NST readers….

  16. Not a Tree fan; but don’t do what I did:

    I bought one of the cone-shaped solid air freshener things, and stuck it in a cup holder. It was a vanilla one, and worked okay for what it was worth ($1.00). I was so pleased – I opened it up for maximum scent and I scooted around in my new-to-me 1997 Toyota T-100 feeling quite smug.

    The problem was that it then got very cold in my neck of the woods, so that cone of vanilla sludge froze. Then it thawed to thick syrup, and melted all over…a l l o v e r.

    What a pain in the butt to try to clean all that up.

    Sigh!

    • Angela says:

      Oh no! Major design flaw! I’ve always wondered what those cones were made of. They’re so tempting to poke at.

      • I still don’t know what they’re made of! ;)
        They ARE fun to poke at.
        Oh, and btw, this was a terrific, and ingeniously unique, post. Thanks!

        • Angela says:

          You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  17. AnnieA says:

    Now I have “Warm Leatherette” running through my head…

    • Angela says:

      O.K., you are clearly hipper than I am. I’ve never heard of Warm Leatherette. (But if want to duel with earworms, I spent all day Friday trying to shake the goatherd song from The Sound of Music from my head.)

      • donnie says:

        Warm Leatherette: Chicks on Speed.
        I was at the car wash this noon and declined the offer of fragrance. (Fragrance snob.) I’ll do better next time.

        • Angela says:

          Thanks for the reference, and I have to admit I would have done the same as far as declining the fragrance offer for my car…

  18. 50_Roses says:

    I normally don’t use anything in particular to freshen my car. Mostly, I try not to get it smelly in the first place. Once, though, we acquired my parent’s old minivan which smelled VERY strongly of cigarette smoke from my father’s smoking. I tried various things, and nothing worked. It was spring, and I needed a lot of cedar mulch, so I used the van to haul it home. After I finished mulching the flower beds, I had a couple of bags left over, and I just left them in the van for about a month. The stale cigarette smell was gone! I took the bags of mulch out of the van to make sure they weren’t just masking it, but no–the smoky smell was really gone for good.

    • Angela says:

      That reminds me–once I heard that to remove odors you can leave some charcoal briquettes in a paper bag in your car. Maybe it’s the same principle as the cedar, and it absorbs odor. (Although I do think cedar sounds so much nicer.)

  19. Marjorie Rose says:

    When I first discovered OJ Woman, I practically bathed myself in it just before a long road trip. My seat belt smelled of OJ Woman for at least a month! It was fabulous.

    Otherwise, I’ve mostly avoided car air fresheners because they don’t smell very good and they start STRONG and then disappear! Didn’t seem worth the trouble. Didn’t think to gently skootch the thing out of the plastic bit by bit, though. . .

    • Angela says:

      Forget about all the Little Trees, and bring on the OJ Woman car! Yes!

      • Marjorie Rose says:

        Yeah. When I’d get stuck in traffic on my way home from work, I’d tuck my chin and take a nice long whiff of my seatbelt. Probably looked kinda odd, come to think of it! :D

        • Angela says:

          Who cares? Anyone who noticed was probably just jealous your car didn’t smell like fast food french fries.

  20. kindcrow says:

    This was a great post — deserves a mention on Car Talk! I don’t know if they are still making “new” episodes, though.

    • Angela says:

      I hope they are! I do remember the car guys once recommending spraying Linen-scented lysol (or am I imagining this?) down the intake vents just outside the front windshield to clear mold in a car’s ducts.

  21. Jessica says:

    I’m dating myself, but this is my first thought:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mxs6A1byIo

    • Angela says:

      It’s specially mentioned in wikipedia’s entry on Little Trees!

  22. sacre bleu says:

    This may be my favorite Now Smell This comment section, ever. You all are the best.

    • Angela says:

      I adore NST’s commenters, too. I swear I learn at least one thing and snort coffee through my nose laughing at something else.

  23. chrisskins says:

    I would never have a car scenter mess with my right to sillage without interruption. Sort of related, I may have been the only person to buy the Demeter Orange Rim Car Ltd. Ed. (Signed). I thought it smelled fab and I’d like it for a car, if I was ever going to scent one.

    • Angela says:

      What did it smell like? I can’t even imagine. But leave it to Demeter to come up something interesting.

  24. hajusuuri says:

    My boss has a yellow one (vanillaroma) hanging IN HIS OFFICE. I find every excuse not to go in to his office but I usually get the finger hook when I pass by his office and he’s not on the phone.

    • Angela says:

      Yikes! Well, at least you know what to get him for his birthday. Maybe one of the oud trees? (Or maybe that would be worse. Can’t tell.)

  25. fwickafwee says:

    I enjoyed your post (as always). The Car-Freshener Little Tree website is gold!

    I agree with your assessment that there is an almost frightening range of fragrances! This fragrance in particular caught my attention:

    “Pure Steel: Bright, masculine freshness combines with modern sophistication. Brace Yourself.”

    I don’t know if I was more drawn in by the non-slip steel flooring pattern, or my curiosity at the combo of “bright masculine freshness with modern sophistication.” What does modern sophistication smell like? old wet leather and clorox clean-up wipes?

    I have a few teenage nephews that emit a bright masculine freshness I wouldn’t necessarily want enveloping my car. If they’ve captured that in a Little Tree scent, then that’s definitely something I would have to brace myself for.

  26. Angela says:

    Yeah, I’m not sure I want an air freshener that warns me to “brace” myself. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what I try to avoid.

    If you think the smell of “modern sophistication” is baffling, you should see some of the copy in perfume press releases!

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