When Kirsten Schultz slid into a Lyft and noticed several air fresheners shoved around the vehicle, she was nervous that it might become a problem. Schultz, a sex educator from Madison, Wisconsin, has asthma and is sensitive to smells. She’d hailed the ride to travel just a few miles from a conference at Stanford University back to her hotel, but it was not long before the overpowering smell of the air fresheners began to make her feel sick.
“I had the window by me down, trying to get as much clean, nonfreshened air as I could,” Schultz says. “About halfway through the ride I realized, I am going to throw up.” She says she spent 10 minutes gagging before the driver realized what was happening. He pulled over, and Schultz lurched out, vomiting on the sidewalk less than a block from her hotel.
Schultz’s predicament is an extreme case of how people react to the car fresheners commonly found in Lyfts and Ubers. Many ride-share customers consider the chemical smells of scented trinkets like Little Trees a mere fruity nuisance. Some might even like them. But for a lot of people, those little cardboard evergreens are a more serious problem.
Responses to two surveys in the early and mid-2000s suggest that air fresheners trouble 19 percent of Americans with headaches, breathing difficulties, or other health issues. Recently, hundreds of ride-share customers have begun posting on social media about car fresheners causing similar problems, including triggering their asthma, and in instances like Schultz’s, forcing them to leave their lunch on the sidewalk.