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Whether it's the atmospheric flicker of a candle, or an elegant splay of reeds on the mantel, there are lots of ways that you can scent your home. The two most popular methods use luxury candles or reed diffusers.
If you're like me, choosing between the two will put you in a predicament. Both can offer a wonderfully luxurious home scent, but whether one is better is open to debate. Experts will tell you there's no cut and dry winner, because they're each well suited to different homes. However, everyone has their favorites.
I tested the best candles on the market. They're aromatic, atmospheric, and are often cheaper than reed diffusers. If you're looking to set the mood and you want a strong scent, these are brilliant. However, if you would like consistent, low-maintenance fragrance throughout your home, reed diffusers are the better option. I tested both in my home for months, so that I could put them head-to-head.
As you can imagine, my house now smells incredible, but there was definitely a winner for me. I'm a qualified Master Perfumer and have worked in luxury fragrance, so I know what I like and I know what to look for. From scent throw to longevity and maintenance, I've compared the best candles and reed diffusers on the market. Infused with expert advice, this is the definitive guide for undecided or divided candle and reed diffuser enthusiasts.
Benefits Of Candles
Every quintessential self-care scene needs the flicker of a candle somewhere in the room. These atmospheric burners provide gentle and soft light, which has even been shown to improve focus. Viviana Hurtado, founder of an eco-luxe candle brand, says that 'the unique combination of inhaling the hot throw, combined with a candle's flickering light immediately quiets the mind, slows down racing hearts, and lowers blood pressure'. With the right scents, a bubble bath, and a good book, you've got the winning formula for the perfect wind-down.
The beauty of a candle is that you can control the intensity. Leave your candle open to the elements and you'll be able to smell it, but when you burn it, that's where you've got liquid gold. A lit candle releases strong scents all your room. While it smells good, it looks beautiful too. Once you've burned your wick down to the bottom of the vessel, your jar can be upcycled into a new life. There are even candles that are better after burning.
Granted, candles can be messy and a fire hazard, so you need to be careful around them. They have a shorter life span and are hard to find re-fills for, so the ongoing cost of candles can mount. However, if you buy a good quality wax (coconut, vegetable, beeswax) candle, it should burn for at least 50 hours.
After testing the best candles on the market, these are some favorite scented candles:
Viviana is the founder of Viviana Luxury, a spa-inspired home fragrance and candle brand, which specialise in Latin American casa and cultura. She prefers scented candles, because of their therapeutic glow, but will respect those who don't love a candle. She loves reed diffusers too.
Best eco-friendly candle
+ Cosy, neutral fragrance
This is called ‘hygge’, Danish for cosiness. Aptly named, this candle is all spice and warmth. It's delightful to look at and made with recycled materials. The wax and essential oils are all vegan-friendly and natural, and the FSC-certified lid acts as a coaster or a snuffer. Once you’ve burned through the entire candle (which lasts well for its size), you can buy a refill and use the same jar over again. Honestly, I don’t know how to critique it.
Best strong candle
+ Very strong scent
+ Can pair with other candles
- An acquired taste
Oud is the fragrance of the moment and it's only getting more popular. Known for its divisive, intense, earthy notes, you can try not to like it, but you will end up addicted. This is woody, a little musky, and very strong. For the cost of oud, it is reasonably priced and it still delivers on scent. The only drawback is that this is a paraffin wax. This means that it will burn quicker and not as cleanly as the vegetable or beeswax candles.
Best unisex candle
+ Subtle, versatile appearance
+ Unisex scent
This candle has a cult following and I've just joined them. Even those who aren't scent savants will comment on this fragrance in a room. The tinted glass makes it lower maintenance than Jo Malone, for example, which needs constant wiping and cleaning around the glass rim. It’s a simple style that could easily slot into the background of a variety of interior styles. It’s a dependable , daily burn that makes a great gift for anyone, including yourself.
Benefits Of Diffusers
I worry about things that don't even need worrying about, so imagine how I feel about candles when they're unattended. Diffusers can be left on the mantel without you needing to think about soot or burning the house down. They'll also release a steady stream of scent into your room, rather than in one intense burst. Used properly, they can last up to six months.
Candles are becoming increasingly re-fillable, but diffusers are better suited to re-using the same vessel. Once you've bought more essential oils and reeds, you can start all over again with scenting your room.
Jason Wells, aromatherapy writer and expert says that 'reeds are typically more discreet than candles, but they can be used to add a touch of style to your home. They're very low maintenance, but will typically have a lighter scent throw than candles, which means that the fragrance may not be as noticeable in large rooms. If you're looking for a diffuser that will fill your home with fragrance or cover up bad smells, a scented candle may be a better option'. They're also more of an initial investment and, depending on your reed diffuser, you might struggle to find refills too.
After testing the best reed diffusers on the market, these are my favorites:
Jason is an aromatherapy expert and writer for Calm Corner Shop, a site which covers all things aromatherapy, essential oils, and home décor. He's had years of experience with all things fragrance, so can sniff out the good from the bad.
Bright and fruity
+ Beautiful scent
+ Elegant vessel
- Not refillable
This iconic scent was described by one of our experts, Annie Collyer, as 'intoxicating'. If you're looking for a stylish and elegant diffuser, you've found it. Modern and elegant, this powerful scent will last you a long time. You can buy refills when you need to, which should be around about six months. It's also really reasonably priced.
Citrus and light
+ Fruity and well-balanced
+ Looks beautiful
- Quite light
Zesty and sweet, this blend of citrus kumquats and ripe berries harmonize perfectly with vanilla. I tested this in every room in my house and settled on it in the bathroom. This round and refreshing scent is light, so make sure you use it in a smaller space. Don't forget to show off the decorative glass vessel though.
Strong and soft
+ Very strong
+ Big vessel
- Reeds get sticky
I have tried a range of Rituals diffusers, especially the most powerful ones from their Private Collection. Unmistakable, distinctive, and yet not too heady, Cotton Blossom was my top pick for any large room. It balances notes of mandarin, jasmine, tuberose and violet with sandalwood and balsamic so that it's velvety, fresh, and soft.
Reed diffusers vs scented candles: head to head
If you're stuck in the reed diffusers vs scented candle debate, there are three key features of each product that you need to consider: scent throw, longevity, and price.
It's tricky to compare scent throw, because every product is different. However, candles aren't designed to be burned all day long. If you compare a candle burnt for an hour to a reed diffuser open for an hour, the candle will smell stronger. Over time, the two will balance out. I'd always choose a reed diffuser, because the scent throw will be consistent and not dependent on your regularly burning your candle. However, if you have pets - only ones that won't jump up - a candle will mask their smell much better.
Generally, reed diffusers last longer than candles, because the diffusion process is slower. As they burn down, candles also need more maintenance than a reed diffuser. Eric Kaiser, professional candle maker, recommends 'trimming a candle's wick to ¼ inch before each burn. This practice not only prevents the wick from 'mushrooming', but also promotes a clean, even burn, reduced soot, and prolongs the life of your candle.' The best wick trimmer is something like this one from Walmart . It doesn't need to be fancy. You can flip reeds in your reed diffuser to maintain potency, but this can be messy and it will use up more of your essential oils. So, once you've put them in their essential oils, you won't need to do much else with them.
Eric is an experienced candle maker with a unique perspective on candle creation, since he also has a technical background too. He's done lots of research into scent diffusers, so is ready with lots of expert insight.
Depending on the brand, reed diffusers tend to be more expensive than candles. However, you can re-fill diffusers and they'll last a lot longer. Michelle Alfano from ScentAir home fragrances, says 'regardless of which option your choose, it's important to choose quality products. Quality effects throw and longevity, so you may pay a little more, but you'll get more fragrance from a higher quality product. Often, higher quality also translates into finer materials for candle and reed vessels, which can really make a difference in experience with a product you're going to display in your home.'
Eric Kaiser, professional candle maker was telling me that 'cheap candles often use paraffin, which carries many potentially harmful drawbacks and can cause black on your candles and walls. Natural waxes, like beeswax and coconut wax are superior with a cleaner burn and better sustainability credentials, even if they do cost more'. The same applies for reed diffusers: always buy the best quality essential oils that you can. You'll smell the difference.
I've tested a candle and reed diffuser head-to-head in my home. Different scents and perfumers will make their products differently, so it's only fair to compare a reed diffuser and candle from the same brand. Jo Malone is my go-to for reliable luxury. They won't break the bank with prices, but it's still a treat.
Michelle is the Marketing Content Manager at ScentAir, a home fragrance and scent marketing company. They create scents to enhance environments and experiences through improved air quality and scents.
Best floral candle
This is a beautiful candle and, when it burns, you can smell the fresh floral notes, with a hint of fruitiness. It has a really good burn time. I've clocked over 50 hours with mine and it's still going strong. However, the glass needs to be kept clean, otherwise the wax and smoke can make it look a little grubby. I also find that in a small room, if I'm burning my candle so that the top pools - like it should - the scent can be overwhelming. It's a classic, but it's more high-maintenance than a reed diffuser.
Best floral diffuser
I love this reed diffuser. It has the top spot in our buying guide and it's well-deserved. Popular amongst celebrities, within a few hours I could discern the light, earthy bluebell scent in my room. It requires next to no maintenance and it looks beautiful wherever I put it. When it's finished, I plan on buying a re-fill, so that this scented heaven I've created never ends. This is nearly 1.5 times the price of my candle, but it'll more than outlast it. It's better value for money long-term.
Candles are brilliant for atmospheric, aromatic, mood setting. Burning them is a lovely ritual which just happens to scent your home. I'd always gift a candle over a diffuser, because I think they have more thought behind them. They can also give a more personal touch to gifting, because candles are so bound-up in self-care routines.
As a practical purchase, a reed diffuser is better. Reeds release a consistent home fragrance and they're flameless, so you don't need to worry about leaving them around. You can rely on the fact that they'll deliver the same scent that you choose throughout the room; sometimes flames can do funny things to candles. Some people say that reed diffusers are an eyesore, but they can look extremely elegant on the mantle.
If you pushed me for my favorite, I'd have to say reed diffusers. They're low maintenance and I want my home to always smell good. However, nothing beats some candlelight for an atmospheric evening.
Why choose a diffuser over a candle?
Lots of people choose diffuser, because they're lower maintenance, flameless, and diffuse a consistent scent across the room. They cost more money, but if you look at the value and how long you'll use it for, a diffuser comes out on top.
Does a candle last longer than a diffuser?
It depends how much you burn it. Each time you use a candle, you should burn it so that the whole surface is a liquid. This will prevent your candle from tunnelling and becoming hard to light. If you burn it properly and use it enough to make your room smell as strongly as a diffuser would, it won't last as long.
Which scents are better as candles?
The warmer, woody, spicy, and aromatic scents make really good candles. They pair with the flame aesthetics to create a really cozy atmosphere.
Which scents are better as diffusers?
Light, clean, and green scents make really good diffusers. The reeds will release consistent aromas into the air, so it's good to use fresh scents, so that you don't overpower your room.
Finally, is a candle or a reed diffuser better? The answer is that it depends on what you want. Candles can be atmospheric and they're great for an intense burst of scent. However, if you want consistent, flameless home fragrance, a reed diffuser the better option.
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Laura is our eCommerce editor. Before Homes & Gardens she studied English at Oxford University. Alongside her studies, she qualified as a barista and trained as a master perfumer. This makes her our certified expert for all things coffee, candles, and fragrance. She has passed our five-step tests to become a certified Customer Advisor, making her our resident expert. Laura has worked for luxury retail brands, reinforcing the importance of quality and style over quantity and fads. She looks for products which have been designed with thoughtful finishes.
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