Top Candle Alternatives for Scent

While there are many varieties of scented candles on the market, there are also alternatives to scented candles, many of which have the same variety of scents that candles have. Let’s go over some candle alternatives now.

The top candle alternatives for scent are: 

  • Potted Plants/Fresh Flowers
  • Potpourri
  • Reed Diffusers
  • Oil/Wax Warmers
  • Essential Oil Diffusers
  • Incense
  • Air-Freshener Spray/Plug-In Air Freshener

Why You Might Want Alternatives to Candles

While scented candles are nice, there are circumstances where a traditional open flame candle isn’t feasible. Most college dorms and some apartment buildings have rules banning open flames. If you have a particularly rowdy child or pet, you might decide that a traditional candle might be a bad idea. And some people have pyrophobia or don’t want to keep an eye on an open flame.

Some people don’t want their walls to be stained, which can happen with certain kinds of candles, particularly paraffin candles. 

Potted Plants/Fresh Flowers

Flowers are a common scent for candles. Name a flower and there’s probably a candle version of it. If you’re unable to use a candle, why not go for the real thing? Like candles, flowers are available almost anywhere. If you live in the right place, you can probably get them out of the ground and bring them home for free. If not, you can buy them at Wal-Mart or a flower shop. You can either put them in a traditional flower vase or plant them in a pot and have them grow.

This can be a fun family project. You can use this to teach your kids how plants grow and how to take care of them. Though plants are not without their hazards. Vases can fall and leave shards. A potted plant can be knocked over, and the carpet will need to be cleaned, but it is better than fire if you’re worried about that.

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Top Candle Alternatives for Scent

Potpourri has been around since ancient times. The concept is simple: Take a bunch of things that smell good, (flowers, spices, herbs) mix them in a small container, and leave it out in the open. How long it lasts can vary depending on what is in it but usually, it lasts around three months. 

You can buy potpourri at many stores. This can be good if you want to get scents out of season or the scents of flowers that don’t grow in your area, but these often have artificial chemicals in them that some people may be sensitive to. It is possible to grow your potpourri in a garden depending on the climate. This can be a good hobby, but you’ll have to be mindful of any allergies’ people in your house have.  

Sometimes you don’t need to buy or do anything. You can make your potpourri from things you have in your kitchen. Things like cinnamon and orange peels for example. Some people even use their slow cookers to make their potpourri. Many slow cooker recipe sites have a section dedicated to making potpourri in your slow cooker.

Reed Diffusers

Reed diffusers are a popular candle alternative. How they work is pretty simple. Take a small bottle of fragrance oil and put reed sticks (traditionally rattan reeds are used) in the oil. The reeds will soak up the oil through their pores and the scent will come out of the top of the reed sticks.

Caring for the diffuser is simple. Put it on top of some paper towels to avoid spills. Fill whatever vessel you’re using (most reed diffusers come with their vessel) about halfway with the essential oil of your choice. Place reed sticks in the oil for a few minutes before flipping them over so the oiled end is in the air. Over time, the reed stick pores will become clogged so you will need to flip the reeds over about once a week. As household dirt accumulates, the reeds will become less effective and will have to be replaced. This typically happens in two months.

The best place to put a reed diffuser is in an area with good circulation but avoid windows, fans, air conditioners, and corners.

Oil/Wax Warmers

Your dorm or apartment complex may have rules about open flames but electric wax warmers are a good alternative. Since wax warmers use an electric implement to warm the wax rather than an open flame, most dorms and apartments will allow them. There’s no open flame so you don’t have to worry about an accident or a smoke detector going off. Since there’s no fire, you won’t have to worry about soot getting on your walls or in your lungs.

Oil and wax warmers can be better in other ways. Warmers burn at a lower temperature than a traditional candle. This means they last longer (great if you’re on a budget). Many warmers also come with timers that shut them off after a set time. This can be helpful if you are forgetful, get caught up in what you’re doing, or are gift shopping for someone with memory impairment. Of course, you still have to be careful of the hot wax but the hazard is overall reduced. The best part is that you can find the same large variety of scents that you would for candles.

You can also put a regular candle on a candle warmer to get the same scent. Since there is no open flame, you won’t be violating any rules in your rental agreement.

Essential Oil Diffusers

Essential oil diffusers turn the oils that provide the scent for your candles and turn them into vapor. Taking care of them is easy. Fill the tank with as much water as necessary (this can vary based on the tank) and add in as much oil as you desire. One of the fun things about diffusers is that you can mix and match your oils. Some people will use one kind of oil, but others try to blend. This is an important difference from scented candles. Diffusers give you a way to customize the scent in a way candles don’t (just be prepared for some trial and error). Plus, you’ll get a cleaner scent. Since the oil isn’t being burned, the molecules stick together, so you get more of the smell you want rather than the scent of fire and soot.

Caring for your diffuser is easy. You will have to clean the diffuser after a few uses so it doesn’t get clogged with old oil. This is easily done with a damp cloth, rubbing alcohol, and cotton. Rub out the diffuser with the cloth and use the cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol to finish the job.

Top Candle Alternatives for Scent

While burning incense isn’t allowed in some living arrangements, it can still be a good alternative to candles if you are allowed to use it. Candles take a long time to burn, so their scent takes about an hour to take effect. In contrast, the effect of incense is instant. While you do have to be more careful with incense than a candle warmer or an oil diffuser, incense is still safer than a flame candle. However, incense does come with smoke. You’ll want to get a wide incense holder. Narrow incense holders can lead to ash getting on your furniture. A wide holder will catch the ash. You may want to try looking for organic incense. Otherwise, you’ll be running into the same problem you have with paraffin candles.

Air-Freshener Spray/Plug-In Air Freshener

When all else fails and you can’t use a candle, a typical air freshener spray can provide quick relief for bad smells. A common criticism is that the ones made by big companies can smell overwhelming but many smaller companies that sell their products online sell sprays that are more tolerable. But sometimes, like after a kitchen disaster, you will need something overwhelming. In these cases, spray as much as needed and open a window.

Plug-In Air fresheners are less overwhelming and release their scents in timed bursts. Just make sure you’re able to give up the outlet.

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Related Questions

How will I know which alternatives are allowed by my dorm or apartment?

You’ll have to consult your landlord or resident advisor but in general, if it doesn’t have flames, it will be allowed.

Are there safety concerns with some of these?
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If you have a respiratory issue, you should consult your doctor when using these products. If you have a pet, you’ll want to consult your veterinarian. 

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