I started using Stella McCartney's first scent, Stella, in 2007 on my 13th birthday—the combination of delicate, classic English rose and warm amber has felt like a veil of comfort ever since, though now it has to make room on the shelf for my grown-up go-to. I'd been on the lookout for a couple of years, but nothing felt right until I found Byredo's 1996, a fragrance inspired by fashion photographers Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin's ethereal and hyper-realist, yet vaguely and darkly erotic photograph, "Kirsten 1996." With leather, patchouli, iris, black pepper, amber, and vanilla notes, it's the most complex, bold, earthy, and intriguing yet equally romantic, intimate, and dreamy fragrance I've ever come across. I don't feel fully dressed until I have it on.
As it turns out, it's pretty hard to mimic both of those scents in candle and diffuser form. And as someone who clearly has an emotional response to sensory experiences, I've been frustrated that I can't find the best home fragrance to capture these comforting moods and aromas. But just because I can't dump a bottle of 1996 into a jar of hot wax and call it a day doesn't mean I can't find something comparable, right? Since I wanted a comprehensive list of all the main types of fragrances that broke down the various notes and corresponding associations, I decided to do the research myself once and for all.
If you, too, have a hard time picking out scents for the home but know exactly what kind of perfumes and smells you're drawn to and which moods you'd like to evoke, this guide will steer you in the right direction. Get to know the difference between perfumes, candles, and oil diffusers below, and then discover the main fragrance types to turn your home into the sanctuary you want it to be. Get ready to luxuriate and discover the best scents for home.
Perfume vs. Diffuser vs. Candle
Perfumes: Most perfumes are a mix of ethanol, water, and different aromas that evaporate at different rates, which is where the idea of "notes" come in. Top notes are the assertive, sharp, and immediate smells that evaporate the quickest—they give you the initial impression of a perfume. Then there are the middle notes, which are described as the heart of the fragrance, softening both the top and bottom notes. Finally, the base notes are the foundation of the perfume, which means they're also the longest-lasting. This complicated layer of aromas can make it difficult to describe and place the scent of perfumes.
Candles: If you're wondering why you can't just follow a simple DIY candle recipe to repurpose your favorite bottle of perfume into a candle, there are a few reasons. Because perfumes are made from alcohol and oil, the wax won't capture the top notes as well, nor will it release them with heat (it can also give the wax a funky texture). Most importantly, alcohol is flammable, which can be a fire hazard or mean that it burns off very quickly. As far as fragrance goes, remember that the candle's scent will fade after the fire is extinguished.
Oil Diffusers: Oil diffusers function more like a long-wearing perfume since the smell will be dispersed in the room, as long as the vessel is still full of oil and the rods are flipped consistently. Room sprays can also offer a similar scent that's probably closer to the dissolution process of perfumes but won't last as long.
WOODY: Earthy and Deep
There are tons of sub-genres of woody smells, from light to medium and deep. Some have that classic, fresh-cut grass smell while others are heavier, with a dewy, damp moss fragrance. There are even woody fragrances that are more evocative of old books, with a rich vanilla and musky undertone. So while some woody scents are inspired by nature, they're also pretty sultry, depending on the given blend.
If you like woody perfumes, you'll like these home fragrances…
The Notes: Frankincense, patchouli, sandalwood, and black musk are inspired by incense-heavy scents of the 1970s.
The Notes: Bergamot, plum, leather, rum, amber, patchouli, and vanilla. It's slightly boozy and sweet, which rounds out earthier notes.
The Notes: Leather, black pepper, tobacco, orange, berry, sandalwood, and patchouli. It's the perfect blend of both spicy and woody scents.
The Notes: Palo santo, leather, and vetiver (a grass similar to lemongrass). If you love smells that bring in the outdoors, this is for you.
FRUITY: Juicy and Light
This is a pretty expansive category, as each scent smells like the corresponding fruit it incorporates, so it can range from wintery, spicy scents to more tropical vibes, and playful, upbeat blends. They're basically the stereotype of the girl next door in fragrance form.
If you like fruity perfumes, you'll like these home fragrances…
The Notes: Cherry, plum, pomegranate, jasmine, cherry blossom, iris, rose, vanilla, tonka bean, and musk. It's playfully nostalgic, like a nod to first kisses and sweet, juicy cherry lip balm—just a little more grown-up.
The Notes: Orange, vanilla, and white musk, for a soft, fruity, and refreshing fragrance.
The Notes: Magnolia, peach, lavender, and apricot. Uplifting, delicate, and juicy, this floral fragrance is perfect for spring.
The Notes: Blackcurrant, redcurrant, bergamot, wood, and cinnamon. This floral fragrance is perfect for winter festivities.
SPICY: Bold and Mysterious
Spicy fragrances are also marked by sultry, warm, flirty scents. They can be bold, mysterious, and intriguing. If this description sounds elusive, that's because they evoke mystery, and thus, are hard to pin down. At the same time, they're soothing and comforting. Spicy scents also tend to overlap with other fragrance families, including gourmand scents, woody scents, and floral scents (more on that to come). They also tend to evoke a cozy, wintry spirit.
If you like spicy perfumes, you'll like these home fragrances…
The Notes: Clove buds, juniper berries, fir, hyacinth, tonka beans, black amber, patchouli, and vanilla. It's reminiscent of the outdoors, but it also has an air of mystery and spice without being too sharp.
The Notes: Vanilla and hemlock. Sweet from the vanilla but spicy from the hemlock, which is a bit like spiced carrot.
The Notes: Cinnamon, clove, orange, roses, cedar, and amber. The sweet roses scents give it a traditional floral vibe, but there's also something spicy and earthy about it.
The Notes: Black pepper, mugwort, saffron, cognac, iris, vetiver, patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, leather.
AQUATIC: Crisp and Clean
Inspired by rainfall, an ocean breeze, a blanket of fog, crisp mountain air, freshly laundered linens, or a day at the beach, aquatic fragrances tend to be more abstract and evocative. They can encompass anything characterized by marine notes.
If you like aquatic perfumes, you'll like these home fragrances…
The Notes: Apple, chamomile, coriander, lychee, mandarin, peach, plum, rose, and sandalwood. It's a combination of soothing aquatic note and classic floral notes.
The Notes: Blue chamomile, linen, white cedarwood, and sweet musk. It's an evocative scent, but also more subtle than most, making it the perfect room spray to linger and be your signature smell.
The Notes: Cedar, sandalwood, musk, smoke, and sea salt air. Like its namesake, it smells like Big Sur.
The Notes: Marine notes, geranium, and amber. It's light and easy breezy with some light floral notes.
GOURMAND: Sweet and Warm
The Gourmand fragrance family refers to anything that smells like a fresh batch of baked goods—think vanilla, chocolate, coffee, etc. These fragrances tend to be seasonally specific, evoking yummy fall baked goods and winter coziness, for example. These scents conjure up holiday memories and quiet nights by the crackling fire while a pie bakes in the oven. Of course, the good ones won't be sickly sweet or smell like a literal tray of cookies, unless that's what you're after.
If you like gourmand perfumes, you'll like these home fragrances…
The Notes: Star anise. Surprisingly light for a gourmand, this candle smells like a slightly nutty, fresh almond pastry.
The Notes: Almonds, red amber, and florals. Perfect to create a refined, sophisticated setting. It's creamy, slightly nutty, and perfectly sweet.
The Notes: Tonka Bean, vanilla, dried fruits, tobacco blossom, and cocoa. Creamy, rich, warm, and comforting, this scent is like a warm, comforting embrace.
The Notes: Honey, Cocobolo wood, and amber. Warm, cozy, sweet, and delightful, just like a spoonful of golden dripping honey.
CITRUS: Refreshing and Aromatic
Citrus fragrances are marked by their fresh, uplifting scents. It often smells herbaceous, and thus, aromatic. As a result, they can be quite uplifting and rejuvenating, reminiscent of summer sunshine or a really good morning yoga class.
If you like citrus perfumes, you'll like these home fragrances…
The Notes: Bergamot lemon, green fig, guaiac wood (from the palo santo tree), and vetivert. This candle smells like a Mediterranean vacation.
The Notes: Grapefruit, floral jasmine, cedar, and cardamom. Just spray your room with a few spritzes and you'll transform the room into a fresh, slightly spicy sanctuary.
The Notes: Peppercorn, ginger, grapefruit, and tanned leather. It's pretty dry and quite a bit spicier than the other citrus examples if you want to try something light yet intriguing.
The Notes: Lime, peppery basil, and white thyme. In a word, zesty.
FLORAL: Fresh and Powdery
Floral perfumes are probably the most traditional and popular scents. For a classic example, look no further than Chanel No. 5. Rose is a good one for this, if you want something light and familiar, yet not stuffy or overwhelmingly old-fashioned. Slightly sweet and sugary, classic romantic scents, floral scents range in intensity.
If you like floral perfumes, you'll like these home fragrances…
The Notes: Centifolia rose and Damask rose. It truly smells like a rose that's been freshly plucked from the garden.
The Notes: Rosewater, violet, morello cherry, rice powder, and orris butter. It was inspired by that iconic, nostalgic lipstick-smell from the '80s, though its floral notes are most dominant.
The Notes: Lemon, bergamot, mandarin, pine sap, samphire, among others. The white rose and jasmine aromas mix with the fruity, aromatic, and earthy tones, for a fresh floral scent.
The Notes: Lavender floral water, witch hazel, bergamot essential oil, and lavender essential oil. This room spray is thoroughly rejuvenating.