How to make your house smell good: It’s a quest we’ve been tackling for millennia. Long before the embarrassing innovation of Poo-Pourri, even before the 1980s craze for dried potpourri, mankind dabbled in the olfactory arts. “Frankincense resin has been harvested and traded for thousands of years,” says Elise Vernon Pearlstine, biologist-turned-perfumer and author of Scent: A Natural History of Fragrance. “The smoke from burning the resin has traditionally been used to scent homes and clothing, purify the air, and welcome visitors,” he says.
We’ve come a long way since resin. Candles, diffusers, sprays, plug-ins, and even TikTok tutorials on stovetop potions have helped make our homes more pleasant on the nose. So what to use and where? We’ve compiled advice from fragrance experts and interior designers on air freshening or adding fragrance to your environment.
Whatever you choose, interior designer Jerad Gardemal of JF Gardemal Designs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, notes that it should be done with intention. He says, “Like a carefully selected original piece of art, the way your home smells is also a way to communicate your own personal style and evoke certain emotions when you enter a room.”
When it comes to making your house smell good, Chrissy Fichtl, founder of Brooklyn-based home fragrance company Apotheke, says the first step is finding a signature scent and knowing that’s your staple. “So always have a little fun depending on the season,” she says, adding that pine or cedar wood are her choices for winter, while tomato tarragon is a favorite for the warmer months.
If you’re going to establish a signature scent for your home, the entryway, whether it’s a foyer or foyer, is the place to do it. Guests will be greeted with it when they arrive and reminded of it when they leave. As for the boat? “I think the Pura device is great,” says Fichtl. “You can monitor odors from your phone and it’s also a night light.” A fit for the 21st century, the Pura Smart Fragrance Diffuser has a matching smartphone app. Users can upload two different fragrances to the device at once and choose which fragrance they would like emitted, as well as the intensity, all remotely. Let the fragrance of fresh linens, fireplace, or lemon greet you as you walk through the door.
Citrus is a universally accepted aroma for kitchens, not only because of its edible affiliation but also because it is invigorating. “The image I come to when I think of a candle in the kitchen is a sunny day, the windows are open, and you’re cutting fruit,” says Cartter Stout Sacchet, creative manager at Paddywax, the Nashville-based candle company. . “It’s about the story and the vibe that the fragrance creates.”
Paddywax makes candles that are so ideal for the kitchen that they will live there even after the wax has burned off. Her Orange Blossom candle from the La Playa collection, for example, is meant to be repurposed as a margarita glass. Other containers become guacamole bowls or vases.
Dual purpose is the name of the game at Safely, the line of cleaning products founded by Kris Jenner and Emma Grede with luxurious scents. The idea is that you can do away with candles altogether: simply rubbing with the brand’s Universal Cleaner degreases countertops and leaves behind a lingering fresh fragrance. “Right before bed, I love doing a final kitchen clean with our Calm Universal Cleaner and waking up in the morning to the scent still in the air,” says Grede.
To fight more, then, aggressive odors, spraying Poo-Pourri Before-You-Go Toilet Spray keeps the air fresh, even when opening a window isn’t possible. For the overall ambiance, Fichtl recommends opting for a fresh, ozone scent like Apotheke’s Canvas, which comes in both candle and diffuser forms. “It won’t actually clean your house,” she laughs, “but it does have the psychological effect of cleaning.”
Stout Sacchet agrees with the recommendation for ozonic, or clean and refreshing fragrances. He also recommends them in the form of a diffuser. “You won’t really get the scent impact of a diffuser in a larger living room,” he says, “but they’re great for smaller, enclosed spaces.” They are also safer than a candle in rooms without constant surveillance.
“Bergamot, eucalyptus, white musk, florals, and rosemary are pleasantly energizing scents that work well in living rooms,” says interior designer Sherrell Neal of Houston-based Sherrell Design Studio.
Stout Sacchet agrees that florals are great for a living room, adding that this is the place for more complex fragrances. “The kitchen and other rooms where you want that really fresh scent is where I would use citrusy single note fragrances,” she says. “But a lot of fragrances are now crossing categories, so you can have a woody floral or a sweet floral or a woody ozonic, and there’s a space here where they make sense.”
If you go the fresh route with your flowers, Pearlstine points out that most commercial cut flowers are odorless, so it’s best to grow aromatic bouquets in your garden. She says, “Spring blooms include hyacinths, peonies, freesias, and some violets, while dianthus, stock, tuberose, and lavender provide scented blooms in the summer.” And if she has a patio off her living room, Pearlstine recommends placing potted plants, such as small lemon trees, gardenias or jasmine, near a door or window to let the natural fragrance waft into the room.
Safely’s latest addition to its line of sprays and soaps is a plug-in diffuser that Grede says makes sense in an office. “Personally, I love our Bright addition to my office for an extra pep,” she says. “Evokes memories of summer with scents of citrus fruits that are grown locally in the USA.”
In terms of motivation, pretending you’re perpetually on summer vacation or anywhere but hiding in front of your laptop might be the best approach. The Homesick brand of candles produces a scent that’s actually called Home Office, and it notably doesn’t smell like stale coffee or microwave burritos. Instead, it’s inspired by water lilies and patchouli and is meant to bring the outside in.
Nostalgic, however, is most famous for its state and city candles, so it could make your office smell like Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City—even if you’re working from a cabin in the woods.
And speaking of New York, if you want to infuse your workspace with creativity, Pura’s latest fragrance collection is an ode to The Met. She chooses from scents like Terracotta Rose, a nod to Greek artisans; Immortelle Perfume, inspired by Roman marble statues; and Egyptian sandalwood for the museum’s collection of ancient Egyptian art.
Just as citrus is the go-to scent for the kitchen, lavender is the overwhelmingly accepted scent for the bedroom. And for good reason. “Lavender essential oil has been shown to reduce stress and aid relaxation,” says Pearlstine. She recommends applying a couple of drops to your pillowcase to help you relax and sleep.
If your exhaustion is combined with congestion, Pearlstine turns into eucalyptus. “I’ll add a few drops of eucalyptus or pine essential oil to a couple of cotton balls in a pretty bowl instead of using a diffuser,” she says.
Gardemal suggests a mix of lavender and lime for relaxation (he’s a fan of the Nouvelle Candle Company), and Neal notes that melon can have a calming effect. Meanwhile, Safely has a scent that’s literally called Calm and it comes in plug-in form. “It really evokes a sense of calm,” says Grede, who uses it in his bedroom.
But since the bedrooms are not only To relax, Fichtl recommends a charcoal scent. “He is masculine, he is smoky, he is moody…. He has that sexy cologne smell to him,” he says.
“I don’t keep candles or diffusers in my kids’ bedrooms, mainly because I don’t trust them,” says Fichtl. Accidents aside, the added fragrance is generally not recommended for young children, especially babies. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, “Their lungs are still developing and exposure to aerosolized irritants will provide no benefit.” Furthermore, Fichtl says: “The smell of your baby is enough.”
But if your adorable baby’s scent is completely overwhelmed by the stench of dirty diapers, there’s a solution. Arm & Hammer Stay Fresh Children’s Deodorants are packed with baking soda to neutralize odors. Refreshing Discs can be placed in diaper pails, baskets or near changing tables.
You need to scent the space that keeps your car, lawn mower and old baseball gloves? Not necessarily. But if you also have trash cans in there, it can’t hurt. If you go back and forth through your garage, this could be the spot where you place your Pura device filled with your signature scent. Or, as Fichtl suggests, you could get really creative here with candles that smell like burgers and fries. Apotheke’s Shake Shack-inspired pair of fragrances have top notes of green grass and sea salt as well. “If you’re having a cookout and really want to make a statement, I’d light a Shake Shack candle outside,” she says. “Why not?!”