Has a whiff of vanilla ever transported you back to childhood? Does the smell of peppermint instantly pep you up? If so, you've experienced the power of scent.
Scent can impact mood because the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that detects odors, is located in the limbic system, says Erika Shumate, CEO and co-founder of the fragrance brand Pinrose. The limbic system is also where emotions and memories live.
"Smells send direct messages from the olfactory bulb to the emotion and memory parts of the brain," she explains. "That is why when you smell a fragrance, it can bring you back to a former time in your life instantly. With the same intensity, certain scents can give you more energy or calm you down."
So how do you harness the strong emotional power of scent? Read on to discover the different products you can use to emit fragrance throughout your home, plus which scents calm, excite, soothe, and more.
When it comes to adding fragrance to your home, most people prefer to burn a scented candle. "Candles are by far the most popular because they not only emit fragrance beautifully, but also provide ambiance with their warm glow and artistic vessels," says Stacy Brown, senior product designer at Capri Blue.
Because they require a bit of maintenance, candles are best for rooms where you spend a considerable amount of time, such as living rooms or your kitchen, says Nick Rabuchin of Vancouver Candle Co. "You must commit to at least 3 hours of burn time and regularly maintain the wick to ensure it burns cleanly and consistently," he explains. "Fragrance is emitted once the melt pool reaches the edges of the jar."
Wax melts and warmers offer a wick-free alternative to candles. When placed over a flameless heat source, fragrant cubes or pods of wax dissolve, releasing scent into the air. Melted wax can fill a room with fragrance in minutes, but the warmers typically require a little elbow grease as you must clean out the container before replacing the fragrance.
Another flameless option for intimate spaces like bathrooms, entryways, and laundry rooms is reed diffusers. Unlike their plug-in counterparts, reed diffusers do not require an electrical outlet; however, they do take a bit of experimentation to emit the ideal amount of fragrance. If you turn over all of the sticks at once when they dry out, the scent can be overpowering. Be careful to display a reed diffuser in a place where it cannot easily be knocked over. Cleaning up spilled diffuser oil, which can stain fabrics and carpeting, is a sure way to cancel out any calming aromatherapy benefits.
Essential oil diffusers, which work like humidifiers, adding fragrance while also cleansing the air, says Tirzah Shirai, founder and CEO of Twig and Petal. For maximum potency, she recommends choosing a diffuser that uses water instead of heat to break down the essential oil molecules and release them into the air.
Room Sprays and Gel Beads
If you're looking for an even faster fragrance fix, reach for a room spray. While the scent dissipates shortly after spritzing, room sprays are perfect for quickly covering up odors in bathrooms, kitchens, and closets. Similarly, scented gel beads and plug-in fragrance diffusers can fill a small room in a short amount of time but with a continuous fragrance.
There's something "very elemental, analog, and balanced" about the ritual of lighting a match and burning a stick of incense, says Suji Meswani, co-founder of Skeem Design. You can also use Palo Santo, a stick of wood that you ignite and burn for about a minute, to infuse the air with fragranced smoke. While incense is available in a variety of fragrances, Palo Santo comes from a specific type of tree in South America and has natural aromatic properties with hints of mint and citrus.
Because fragrance is so personal, you can't go wrong with any scent that makes you happy. But if you're looking to use fragrance to affect your mood or feelings, here are some general guidelines to follow, according to experts.
Kitchen: For your kitchen, Capri Blue's Stacy Brown recommends scents you would normally associate with cooking and baking, such as herbs, fruits, citrus, and sweets. To cleanse the air from the smell of food, Shirai suggests spice-based scents like cinnamon and clove.
Dining Room: "Since smell and taste are intertwined, you would not want your delicious meal to be interrupted by a strong fragrance or something overly floral," says Brown. Go with a light citrus scent or no fragrance at all.
Bathroom: Shirai recommends an essential oil blend of grapefruit, bergamot, orange, mandarin, and lime. "Fresh, clean odors can do wonders in the bathroom. Oceanic, dewy greens, bright herbals, and citrus aromas are perfect," agrees Brown.
Living Room: Use the living room to experiment with different scents, depending on the occasion. Brown likes lush florals for small gatherings and spicy exotic scents for festive parties. Jennifer Genson, a fragrance expert at Yankee Candle, recommends fresh fragrances like cotton to create a clean and relaxing ambiance after a long day at work.
Bedroom: Delicate floral fragrances like lavender are ideal for the bedroom because they are soothing and calming, says Genson. To promote sensuality, Shirai suggests a fragrance with notes of rose, orange, and vanilla.
Foyer: Genson recommends aromatic and woody fragrances like sage, rosemary, sandalwood, and vetiver for a fresh and welcoming first impression into your home.
Home Office: When it's time to be productive, you'll want a fragrance that can improve alertness. For a stimulating scent, Pinrose's Erika Shumate suggests bergamot and other citruses.
You can also choose your home fragrance according to the season rather than your room, which is the preference of Skeem Design's Meswani. "As we move into spring and summer, I'm looking forward to burning our Citronella Sea Salt candle," she says. "For winter, sweet balsam or a cedar scent feels the most cozy for a bedroom or living room."