In 2007, I started using Stella McCartney's first scent, Stella, on my 13th birthday—the combination of delicate, classic English rose and warm amber has felt like a veil of comfort ever since, although 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 Kirsten 1996, an ethereal and hyper-realist, yet vaguely and darkly erotic photograph by fashion photographers Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin. With leather, patchouli, iris, black pepper, amber, and vanilla notes, it's the most complex, bold, earthy, and intriguing, and yet equally romantic, intimate, and dreamy fragrance I've ever come across. I don't feel fully dressed until I have it on, and love these scents so much I wish my home smelled like them.
Yet, mimicking those scents in candle and diffuser form isn't so simple. As someone who 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. So, I decided to do the research myself once and for all.
Use our guide below to steer you in the right direction of the best home fragrance. First, get to know the difference between perfumes, candles, and oil diffusers. Then discover a range of fragrance types—from woodsy to citrus—to turn your home into the sanctuary you want it to be. Get ready to luxuriate and discover the best scent for your home.
Perfumes, Candles, and Oil Diffusers
Most perfumes are a mix of ethanol, water, and different aromas that evaporate at different rates, which is where the idea of "notes" comes in. Top notes are the assertive, sharp, and immediate smells that evaporate the quickest—they give you the initial impression of a perfume. Middle notes are best described as the heart of the fragrance, softening both top and base notes. Base notes are the foundation of the perfume and last longest. This complex layer of aromas can make it difficult to describe and place the scent of perfumes.
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 (which 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 function more like a long-wearing perfume, dispersing fragrance throughout a room. Room sprays also disperse fragrances similar to how a perfume does, meaning the scent won't last as long.
In fragrance-speak, perfumes are layered with a variety of scents and are referred to as "notes." Typically, a fragrance features top, middle, and base notes.
Find Your Best Home Fragrance
Earthy and Deep: Some earthy scents have that classic, fresh-cut grass smell while others are heavier, featuring dewy, damp, and mossy notes.
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 that is similar to lemongrass). If you love smells that bring in the outdoors, this is for you.
Juicy and Light: As an expansive category, fruity scents range from wintery and spicy to more tropical and playful blends.
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 cherry lip balm—just a little more grown-up.
The Notes: Orange, vanilla, and white musk, which make for a soft, fruity, and refreshing fragrance.
The Notes: Gardenia, sea breeze, spice. 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.
Bold and Mysterious: Spicy fragrances are marked by sultry, warm, and flirty notes. They can be bold, mysterious, and intriguing, as well as soothing and comforting. Spicy scents also tend to overlap with other fragrance families, including gourmand, woody, and floral scents (more on that to come.)
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, with an air of mystery and spice (but not too much).
The Notes: Vanilla and hemlock. This fragrance is sweet from the vanilla but spicy from the hemlock; it's reminiscent of spiced carrot.
The Notes: Cinnamon, clove, orange, roses, cedar, and amber. The sweet rose scent gives 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, and leather.
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.
The Notes: Blue chamomile, linen, white cedarwood, and sweet musk. It's subtle, 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.
Sweet and Warm: The gourmand fragrance family refers to anything that smells like a fresh batch of baked goods—think vanilla, chocolate, and coffee.
These fragrances tend to be seasonally specific, evoking yummy fall baked goods and winter coziness. The best gourmand scents won't be sickly sweet, so be careful not to overdo it!
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 for 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. This fragrance is warm, cozy, sweet, and delightful, just like a spoonful of golden dripping honey.
Refreshing and Aromatic: Citrus fragrances are marked by their fresh, uplifting scents. These scents often smell herbaceous and feel rejuvenating, reminiscent of summer sunshine or a satisfying 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. Spray your room with a few spritzes and transform it into a fresh, slightly spicy sanctuary.
The Notes: Peppercorn, ginger, grapefruit, and tanned leather. It's pretty dry and spicier than other citrus examples.
The Notes: Lime, peppery basil, and white thyme—in a word, zesty.
Fresh and Powdery: Floral perfumes are probably the most traditional and popular scents. For a classic example, look no further than Chanel No. 5.
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, although its floral notes are most dominant.
The Notes: Lemon, bergamot, mandarin, pine sap, and 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.