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The Best-Smelling Candles, According to 8 Candle Obsessives

Photo: Courtesy of the vendors

In the time before social distancing, I burned candles a few times a week: during the occasional bath, to banish the smell of cooked bacon or the lingering scent of the litter box, and because friends were coming over and I wanted the apartment to smell extra clean. But now that I’m home quite literally all the time, I’m burning them like nobody’s business — lighting candles (and combinations of multiple candles) for hours at a time. Turning my home into a vibe has become an important priority. And, as it turns out, I’m not alone. Candles have been ubiquitous as of late, flickering quietly in the back of Zoom calls and taking center stage in Instagram Stories.

To find out the candles worth burning during social distancing and beyond, I reached out to eight women with exceptional taste — and a particular affinity for candles — to find out their favorites, from a beach-scented votive to the woodsy candle that reminds one editor of hiking in the Catskills.

Sweet and Spicy Scents

Photo: Maison Louis Marie 2013

Several of the scent-nuts we spoke to said they gravitate toward warm, musky, woodsy scents, which they say can help transform the mood and energy of any space. “They make my space feel sexy and vibey,” says Siraad Dirshe, a social content manager at Flamingo and self-described “huge candle person.” One such candle is Maison Louis Marie No.03 L’Étang Noir, which Dirshe describes as “a bit dark and musky” and has notes of anise, nutmeg, and tobacco, along with ginger and vanilla. “It’s a nice middle-of-the-road candle,” says Dirshe. “It feels elevated but isn’t $80 bucks, so I don’t feel guilty burning it for hours at a time, and you can usually snag them on sale.” A slow burn time also makes it worth the money, she says, with an eight-and-a-half-ounce candle offering around 60 hours of burn time.

Another dark scent that’s slightly more spicy than musky is Malin+Goetz’s Dark Rum, which comes recommended by fashion stylist and home décor enthusiast Mecca James-Williams. “This was the first ‘expensive’ candle I purchased when I moved into my apartment,” she says. In addition to the rum, the candle has notes of leather, ripe plum, bergamot (for sweetness), and creamy milk, which according to James-Williams “makes the room feel much more romantic.”

Editor’s note: This Malin+Goetz candle is sold out, but the fragrance is still available as a perfume oil or eau de parfum.

For a “less grown-up version of Dark Rum,” James-Williams recommends Kush from statusy candle brand Boy Smells, which she first encountered while shopping at Kith and bought immediately after. This candle is a heady mix of cannabis, suede, and amber, which gives it an intoxicating warm scent. “It’s been on constant rotation,” she says, and likes that it leaves a scent impression on the room long after you blow it out.

Another warm but not too musky option is the Malin+Goetz Leather candle, which content creator Morgan Brown also wears as a fragrance. It has notes of sandalwood, amber, and leather, which Brown says reminds her “of a well-worn vintage leather jacket.” It’s not too overwhelming, she adds, and it “burns forever.”

Editor’s note: This Malin+Goetz candle is sold out, but the fragrance is still available as a perfume oil or eau de parfum.

Fresh, Clean Scents

If you’re looking for something clean-smelling and affordable that you can burn all day, Dirshe recommends Mrs. Meyer’s lavender candle, which Strategist writer Dominique Pariso also dubbed the best drugstore candle. “Lavender always makes me feel at ease,” says Dirshe, adding that the $10 price tag means she feels fine burning them more or less all the time— unlike her pricey Trudon Abd El Kader, which she only lights on very special occasions.

Kith x Malin+Goetz’s Vapor Candle is a favorite of content strategist Evelynn Escobar-Thomas. “Lighting it after cleaning my apartment makes that apartment-cleaning hit different,” she says. Its scent is inspired by cold air and fresh snow, with top notes of bergamot, currant, and pink pepper, along with charcoal, suede woods, vanilla, and birch. It’s clean but not soapy and has earthy undertones.

Vogue beauty assistant Akili King is partial to candles that remind her of the ocean: “A candle that puts me in a different state of mind is a special thing,” she says. One of her favorites is this candle from Vancouver Candle Co., which she packed to take with her to Chicago, where she is social distancing with her family. “It has a breezy, salty, ocean-y smell to it, which makes me feel like I’m on a vacation — a welcome sensation at this time,” she says.

Woodsy Scents

For some scent escapism, Coveteur senior beauty editor Hannah Baxter has been “craving anything that reminds me of a summer vacation spent hiking in the Catskills or visiting friends in Oregon. That means fir trees, evergreen, grass, cedar — warm, woodsy scents.” Among her favorites are Byredo Woods and D.S. & Durga Big Sur After Rain, the latter of which was crafted to smell like “rain water in eucalyptus groves off Highway 1.”

Citrus Scents

Several of our experts also mentioned using candles for a sort of DIY aromatherapy and spiritual cleansing. James-Williams likes to burn palo santo along with sage as a way to cleanse her home’s energy, and follows up with this palo santo candle (which is also infused with eucalyptus, cedarwood, and peppermint, plus cedar, mint, sandalwood, and amber) from Brooklyn Candle Studio to “elongate its effects.”

$21

Content creator Yaminah Mayo is also a believer in the candle’s ability to affect the energy of a home, and gravitates toward woodsy, musky scents which she says help to ground and stabilize her mood. “I’m a creature of habit, so I’ve been returning to the same comforting scents. I really love Voluspa candles (I buy them from Anthropologie) because they last a really long time,” she says. Mayo is partial to Panjore Lychee and Goji Tarocco Orange, both of which are bright, citrusy scents. Escobar-Thomas likes Voluspa candles too, and recommends its Blond Tabac scent that reminds her of palo santo and “provides a great earthy musk scent on a budget.”

In the bright-scents space, James-Williams likes this candle from L’Artisan Muse. “It gives off such a vibrant smell that it literally energizes you,” she says. Infused with pineapple, orange, and sandalwood, this soy candle is supposed to help you “vibrate higher,” which James-Williams says it somehow manages to genuinely achieve.

[Editor’s note: The Energy scent is sold out, but the Om and Zen scents are still available to help you relax and recharge.]