As home décor and design enthusiasts, we spend a lot of time and consideration visually crafting our “perfect” home space, but how often are we actually thinking about the way it smells? From the psychology of scents, to removing unwanted odors, to incorporating home fragrance with style, we’ve created a comprehensive guide packed with everything you need to know to make sure your home smells as lovely as it looks.
Table of Contents
History of Home Fragrances
Craving a pleasant-smelling home is hardly a new concept. In fact, we’ve been finding ways to incorporate scents in our homes for centuries. Ancient hieroglyphics and artifacts show that Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Greek societies were among the first to incorporate scents in everything from sacrificial offerings, medicinal purposes, and of course freshening indoor space, according to The Perfume Society. But the use of fragrance specifically for home freshening purposes really began to take hold in 18th Century Europe under the reign of Louis XV who demanded a different fragrance for his apartment every day.
Today home fragrance technology offers a plethora of scents and dispersion methods and are used for more than just adding fragrance to the air, but also eliminating unwanted odors and adding style to our homes.
How Scents are Made
The art of creating fragrance is quite an involved process of modifying and mixing molecules from natural and synthetic sources to find the perfect balance of aromatic notes. Because naturally derived scents are proving to have farther reaching health and well-being benefits, they’ve seen a spike in popularity within the last decade. Here’s a peek into how they’re made according to Perfume.com.
- Extraction: The first step in fragrance-making, extraction is the process of removing oils from natural materials like flowers, herbs and other natural materials. Popular methods include expression (essentially pressing the material until the oil is released) and distillation (using steam to extract the essence).
- Blending: Extensive mixing and testing is then conducted on the extracted essences to find the desired blend. From here it’s mixed with a diluting medium such as alcohol or a carrier oil.
- Aging: Once the blend is ready, it’s often placed in a dark, cool area for several months to help the alcohol and oils bind together.
Smell and Memory: How Our Memory is Triggered by Scent
Smells are often linked to memories and have the ability to transport us to another place in time. All this thanks to the teamwork of the olfactory bulb (located in the brain’s emotional center) and the brain’s conditioned responses.
You see, when you come across a new scent, your brain forges a link between that smell and a particular moment in time: the person you were with, the emotions you were feeling, or the event taking place around you—like the smell of freshly baked cookies at Grandma’s house. Once that link is created, your brain is automatically cued up to conjure the memory next time you encounter the same scent, according to How Stuff Works. Who knew that’s why the moment fall rolls around we’re instantly craving pumpkin-spice-scented everything!
A Guide to Scent & Mood
Thanks to those conditioned responses in our brain, smells can also affect our moods. Find out which scents encourage particular moods and behaviors with our guide below.
- Uplifting Scents: Refreshing green scents such as peppermint, basil, cucumber, eucalyptus, freshly cut grass, and tangy citrus fruits like grapefruit, lemon, and orange are known to revitalize senses, alleviate fatigue and enhance alertness.
- Relaxation and Stress Reducing Scents: Floral scents like lavender, rose, orange blossom, and jasmine are said to diffuse tension and anger by reducing stress hormones in the blood.
- Romance Evoking Scents: Looking to add a bit of romance or perhaps an aphrodisiac to your life? Jasmine, neroli, sandalwood and vanilla are known to increase a couple’s connection when mixed with their pheromones.
- Scents to Sharpen Brain Power: According to researchers, cinnamon is linked to improving cognitive functions such as memory and visual motor responses.
- Sleep Encouraging Scents: Chamomile and lavender scents have deep rooted ties not only to relaxation, but also helping to cure insomnia.
How to Incorporate Fragrance as Part of Your Decor
It used to be that we’d hide the room spray in a cabinet or scented diffuser behind the TV, but thanks to thoughtfully designed technology, the fragrance vessels today are often as pretty as the scents they diffuse. Here are three ways to seamlessly work fragrance into your home.
A well-styled coffee table always includes some kind of conversation piece which adds interest to the grouping. To ensure an uncluttered look, choose a conversation piece that can also double as the fragrance diffuser for the room. Look for thoughtfully designed products that are pretty all on their own, and pair them with fresh flowers and a tray, or stack of books for a sweet-smelling look.
Who said functionality can’t also be pretty? Complement modern office décor with a sleek reed bouquet that diffuses a captivating, yet calming scent to ward off stress and other productivity busters throughout the work day. Try a reed diffuser like this one from Urban Naturals.
When room spray is housed in a jewel-like perfume bottle, it’ll have no trouble fitting right in with the rest of your home décor. Display right out on the counter in the bath, kitchen, or laundry room for those inevitable moments when you need an extra burst of freshness. Find a room spray you like in a bottle that accents your decor.
How to Remove Smells from Your Home
Balance pH Levels: Often the key to removing unsightly odors is finding an equilibrium between alkaline and acidic substances. When the two opposites come together they counteract one another, neutralizing the odor.
For Alkaline Odors
- Neutralize lingering odors like pet urine with acidic products like vinegar which work wonders in counteracting alkaline odors. Simply place a small bowl of vinegar in a discreet area of the home like under furniture or behind drapery, and let it work its magic, according to the Huffington Post.
- If you’ve got a smelly garbage disposal, try DIY Lemon & Vinegar Ice Cubes which help to clean and neutralize whatever’s rotting down there. Charcoal bricks and tablets are another easy way to eliminate alkaline odors. Similar to vinegar, just leave out in a bowl and they'll help to eliminate odors.
For Acidic Odors
- With a pH of around 2, baking soda saves the day when it comes to acidic odors. Can’t figure out the source of that refrigerator smell? Place an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator to help neutralize odors.
- If there’s a lingering cigarette smoke smell in the carpet, try sprinkling baking soda on dry carpet, and let sit overnight prior to vacuuming. However, for stubborn, ground-in carpet and fabric odors you may need to call in the experts for a professional carpet or furnishings cleaning.
Purify the Air: Air Purifiers come in many different forms – both man-made and natural – and are an effective way to remove odors from the air.
- Air Purifying Products: Air purifying products remove odors from the air rather than masking them. They’re great for eliminating unwanted pet, smoke, or cooking odors while also contributing fragrance.
Thanks to its exclusive burner, the Lampe Berger purifies and perfumes the air indoors like no other system. The diffusion by catalysis actually destroys odor-causing molecules.
- Houseplants: In the same way trees cleans outdoor air, certain house plants such as aloe and English Ivy are known to reduce harmful indoor toxins like formaldehyde, which is found in some household cleaners.
Open a Window: Never underestimate the power of fresh air in your home by simply opening windows during warmer weather to help keep the air circulating.
How to Add Fragrance to Your Home
The options out there for adding fragrance to your home is quite vast, so we’ve simplified the scope with a round-up of dispersion products and DIY’s that are sure to create a scented experience in your home.
1. Potpourri – simmering a pot of fresh ingredients like rosemary and lemon on the stove will not only make your kitchen smell amazing, but your entire home too! Find the DIY Pot Simmer recipe at Rachel Schultz. You can find tons of great potpourri recipes online, but make sure to use ingredients that are safe to inhale, and, if you're an allergy sufferer, be careful to avoid skin irritants.
2. Fragrance diffusers use capillary action to channel the fragrance and gradually release it into the air.
3. Keep folded clothes smelling fresh with DIY Drawer Sachets from The Pioneer Woman.
4. Put to use leftover herbs and bring the natural scent of the outdoors inside with DIY Herb Incense from Apartment Therapy.
5. Scented candles are another great way to introduce fragrance at home. Try these non-toxic DIY Soy Candles from Fall for DIY.
6. Refresh towels, sheets, and draperies with this DIY Linen Spray from Eye Swoon.
7. Fragrance vaporizers, like this one from Urbst, release tiny water particles and ionized scent into the air and are typically powered by electricity.
8. Hang a bundle of eucalyptus from your shower head for an aromatic experience that’s only enhanced by shower steam. Learn more bath enhancing techniques at Free People.
Scent Branding: What Your Fragrance Says About You and Your Home
Similar to selecting perfumes and colognes to fit our personal styles, choosing fragrances for our homes can also say a lot about our personalities, preferences, and lifestyles.
East Asian and woody scents create a cozier, earthy, and sometimes more masculine vibe, whereas, sweet fruits like pear or berry portray a more light-hearted sentiment. Meanwhile, fresh linen scents conjure up the notion you just deep-cleaned, or perhaps threw in a load of laundry.
If you love to travel, coconut and tropical fruits evoke the thought of a warm beach vacation, while French lavender transports you to the radiant purple fields in the South of France.
Home scents can also be a good way to reflect your geographic location, like ocean breeze for coastal living, or spruce trees in the north woods. Whatever scent you choose, make sure it’s complimentary to who you are and what your home is all about.
Dangerous Smells to Watch Out For
Unwanted smells in our homes are not only unpleasant, but they might also be your first indicator that something is wrong. If you happen to encounter one of these odors, you’ll want to act quickly to prevent any long-term health effects that may be associated with them.
- Mold: Mold has a pungent, musty smell and is typically found in areas of high humidity like basements and showers. It’s been linked to everything from headaches to cancer. If you happen to find mold, you may be able to treat it yourself depending on the strain and size of the patch. However, toxic molds like Stachbotrys, or black mold, should always be handled by a professional. Learn more at The Centers for Disease Control.
- Smoke: If you smell smoke in your home, it’s a good idea to do an immediate home search to see if you can locate the source of the smell. Feel closed doors for heat before opening, and if necessary get down low to avoid inhaling smoke. Of course, if you find a flame or excessive smoke, leave immediately and call 911. If there’s no apparent source, it’s still recommended to call your local non-emergency hotline to have your home checked out, as a faulty light fixture or electrical wiring may be to blame.
- Natural Gas: A natural gas leak is often identified by a sulfuric, rotten eggs smell and should be taken quite seriously. Low level exposure symptoms include nausea, fatigue, dizziness, irregular breathing, and headache, and high level effects are unconsciousness and even death. If you suspect a natural gas leak in your home, leave immediately and call your local gas company to have a look.
- Sewer Gas: If you’re smelling rotten eggs in your home, in addition to natural gas, it could be a sign of a plumbing issue. The rotten eggs smell is hydrogen sulfide, a gas emitted from decaying sewage and is often caused by a broken floor drain seal in the basement, but could also mean a broken sewer or vent stack. The health effects of prolonged exposure are often dizziness, headaches, sinus infections and bronchitis, according to Angie’s List. Though sewer gas is not considered to be as harmful as natural gas, it is recommended to give your local plumber a call as soon as possible.
We spend so much time thinking about how to make our home look beautiful, functional, and organized, but fragrance is too often overlooked. Scent is the least visible, but arguably most noticeable attribute of your living space. To make sure your home smells amazing, find a scent that reflects and inspires you, and incorporate it as part of your decor: