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How To Use Essential Oils In The Car To Make Journeys So Much Better (& Safer)

How To Use Essential Oils In The Car To Make Journeys So Much Better (& Safer)

A study by Harvard Health Watch estimated that most Americans spend over 1 ½ hours a day commuting in their cars.

Driving itself is a stressful activity, but if you happen to be on the road during peak hours, you could be stuck in traffic during part of your travelling time, getting increasingly irritated and angry.

Well, if you think there’s nothing much you can do but wait it out with your favorite music on, here’s a way to turn your idling time into a relaxing and invigorating aromatherapy session.

The essential oils used in aromatherapy can have wide ranging physical and mental effects on us. While some of them can bring down your stress levels, there are some that can increase your mental alertness and concentration. That means they can not only help you have a pleasant driving experience but can make it safer for you and others.

To understand how aromatherapy in your car––or anywhere else for that matter––can help you, let’s look at the relation between smells and mood.

How smells affect our mood and performance

According to Rachel S. Herz, professor of psychology at the Brown University, smells affect us depending on our previous experiences with them.

In other words, we associate a scent with the emotional experience we had at the time we first experienced it. That is because of the direct connection between the olfactory bulbs that process scents and the amygdala that deals with emotions.

Many studies have proven the subjective nature of scent-associated mood changes, but it is a different matter when essential oils are used.

Aromatherapists do not feel that previous associations are necessary to elicit expected responses from people when using essential oils. That is because these concentrated plant essences contain volatile bioactive substances that have specific physiological actions.

When they get dispersed into the air and reach our respiratory system, they quickly get absorbed into the bloodstream. They not only affect us emotionally but bring about physiological changes in us, although there may be individual differences in how different people respond to them.

Choosing the right essential oils for your car

You may want to use your favorite fragrances, but not all essential oils are suitable for use in your car. You should avoid smells that make you overly relaxed or sleepy.

For example, the essential oil of lavender is extremely calming and relieves anxiety, but it can make you over-relaxed at the wheel, or even drowsy. Chamomile is another soothing essential oil that can make you sleepy, and should be avoided in the car.

Some smells can make you overactive and reckless, which can potentially lead to over speeding and road rage. Eucalyptus is great at cleansing the air and masking foul odors. However, it can be quite overpowering, and can make you restless.

The right fragrance in the car should help the driver focus on the road, anticipate and recognize dangers and react to them quickly, and remove excessive anxiety and irritability.

Here’s a list of essential oils recommended for use in the car:


Its strong citrusy smell is energizing and invigorating, but it also helps bring down anxiety and frustration. It can put you in a better mood when you have to sit through traffic jams. Lemon essential oil diffused in offices has been shown to decrease work-related errors by 54%. It may help you avoid errors of judgment while driving too.


Peppermint oil is good for increasing mental alertness, but it can be too strong for children traveling with you. Use it judiciously and closer to the driver rather than dispersing it all over the car. Put a drop on a handkerchief and hold it your nose when you feel hot or nauseous.

Sweet/Wild orange

Orange oil is mentally and emotionally uplifting. It can also increase physical energy. It helps you be more aware and accepting of the environment around you, a great plus when you’re in the middle of congested traffic. The citrusy but slightly sweet aroma of orange oil helps curb nausea and carsickness.


Another uplifting and soothing citrus smell to help you remain alert yet calm while driving. This stress buster oil can relieve headaches and fatigue. It helps avoid the sluggishness that sets in during long drives.


Mandarin oil is generally considered a sedative, but it has more of a calming effect, rather than making the reflexes dull. It is a stress buster, relieving anxiety, fear, and mental disturbances. It can keep you alert on the wheel, but can help calm down restless children.


This brain-boosting oil is very useful for drivers because it can keep you fully awake and alert while driving. It increases focus and concentration and helps you make rational decisions quickly. If it seems to be too strong for the kids, use one to two drops on a tissue that you can tuck into your shirt pocket or under the collar, rather than diffusing it in the car.  


This invigorating and uplifting oil is a milder alternative to peppermint oil when you have kids in the car. It helps you concentrate better, without causing restlessness in children. Lemongrass oil is great at removing stuffy smells. It can mask the strong odors of sweat and vomit and create a pleasant atmosphere in the car.


The essential oil of sweet basil stimulates the mind and relieves mental fatigue. It is anti-depressive and has a calming effect on the nerves. It gives you a stoic frame of mind and helps you handle stressful situations with ease, making it ideal for our frustrating traffic situations.


Cinnamon oil extracted from the bark of the cinnamon tree is sweet and spicy. It keeps you alert while helping you have focus and concentration. It increases circulation by vasodilatation, hence removing headache and fatigue from long hours of driving.


If drinking coffee makes you alert and helps you concentrate, the essential oil of coffee can do the same. The invigorating smell of roasted coffee beans instantly removes fatigue. If you are prone to car sickness, this oil can make you feel better by relieving nausea.


Ginger is quite famous for its anti-nausea property, so ginger oil can help with car sickness. However, some people may find its pungent smell unpleasant. Pair it with any one of the citrus oils or lemongrass oil.  

Some essential oil to avoid in the car

Floral fragrances may be pleasant for passengers, but they may make the driver dreamy and less alert. As mentioned before, chamomile and lavender should be avoided for their soporific property; the same applies to vetiver too.

Most people find Sweet marjoram, geranium, bergamot, and cedarwood oils too relaxing. Make sure that you check out the effect of essential oils on you before using them while driving.

How to use essential oils in the car

You can buy diffuser cum humidifiers for cars that plug on to the changing portal, but you might want to use your own pure, high quality essential oils. Diffusers with plain reusable felt pads can be used with any essential oil of your choice. But you can do without these devices too.

The simplest way to diffuse essential oils in the car without gadgets is to place a tissue with one or two drops of essential oil on the dashboard. The heat from the engine will help disperse the oil.

Alternatively, clip a flat piece of cork containing a few drops of the oil to the air vent. You can stick the cork to the flat side of a clothes clip and then clip it on.

You can also replicate the felt car air fresheners you hang in the car. Get a sheet of wool felt––it is thicker and tougher than the ones made of synthetic fibers. Cut out any shape of your choice and punch a hole at one end. Thread a piece of twine through the hole and knot the ends together. This can be an interesting craft project for children; they can even add eyes or other decorations to it. Drop 2-3 drops of the chosen essential oil on the felt and hang it up.

Many people hang felt air fresheners from the rearview mirror, but it can be a safety risk. Hang them from hooks at the back of the seats instead.

On long, tiring rides, especially on hot days, a small spritz bottle may be better at dispersing essential fragrances. Fill it with water and add 2-3 drops of the peppermint or citrus essential oil. Whenever you need some perking up, a few blasts should do the trick. However, this shouldn’t be a substitute for occasional breaks along the journey.

If you are not sure your fragrance would be agreeable to your passengers, a ball of cotton or wool felt with a drop of the essential oil can be kept in the pocket.

If you have children or pregnant women as passengers, it is a precaution worth taking. Some essential oils that make you alert may make the children hyperactive. Not all essential oils are safe for use during pregnancy.

Less is better than more

Always keep in mind that essential oils are highly concentrated and potent. Although they have many beneficial effects, too much can be very bad for you. Since cars have limited space and ventilation, you should use only a drop of two at a time. 

Excess amounts of essential oils can cause a headache, migraine, nausea, and vomiting. Whenever you try a new fragrance, start with just one drop to make sure that it has the desired effect on you and others. If you or anyone else in the car feels stuffy and uncomfortable, lower the windows completely to let in fresh air.