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How to Pick the Perfect Home Fragrance

Posted by Elizabeth Burton on

How to Pick the Perfect Home Fragrance

How to Pick the Perfect Home Fragrance

picking the right scent for your home

For decades, scent has been used in commercial settings to drive customer behavior. Realtors have long used scent in open houses to elicit a sense of home amongst potential buyers. Of course, the power of scent has been harnessed for many other applications. Different scents establish different types of atmospheres, affect moods and reinforce the message a space intends to send to its inhabitants or visitors. Scent is a powerful motivator -- linked to our memories, to cultural expectations and to different phases of our evolution, much like color and texture. However, according to Christopher Bergland in a recent article for Psychology Today, “olfaction...is the most primal and mysterious of our six senses.” Bergland writes that while “most people undervalue the power of scent,” scent has “the power to drive your behavior." It does so on both "an instinctive and subconscious level.” Choosing the right home fragrance can enormously impact the experience both you and your guests have in each space. Follow below for more information about the psychology of scent and how to pick the perfect home fragrance for each room in your home. 

The Psychology of Scent

Responses to Scent Vary Personally and Culturally

Our emotional and behavioral responses to scent are both universal and subjective, tied to our evolution as a species and to our personal memories. Kirsten Weir writes in her article “Scents and Sensibility” for the APA that “smell holds surprising sway over cognition, emotion and even other senses.” Weir explains that context, state of mind and expectation all play critical roles in how individual people experience and react to certain scents. Creating a narrative around a scent can supremely impact the reactions others have to it. For instance, one person might find the scent of cut grass refreshing and invigorating. Another, however -- perhaps someone who has struggled with hay fever or allergies -- might shrink away. Furthermore, writes Weir, culture and tradition might impact one’s response to certain scents. Weir writes that -- for example -- “while most Americans wrinkle their noses at the scent of seaweed, most Japanese (who grew up with seaweed on the menu) find its aroma alluring.”

How to Pick the Perfect Home Fragrance to Elicit Certain Behaviors

picking the right scent for your home

Measuring the Brain’s Response to Scent

While responses to some scents -- particularly food smells -- are personal and subjective, rooted deeply in past experiences and cultural norms, others are more universal. These more predictable and reliable reactions to certain smells are tied to basic human physiology and our perceptions of basic scent profiles. For example, one might become more alert when exposed to a sharp, bold scent like peppermint or citrus. On the other hand, one might become lulled or comforted when exposed to a warm scent like cinnamon or vanilla. Kandhasamy Sowndhararajan and Songmun Kim explain these common reactions in their study “Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity,” published in Scientia Pharmaceutica. Kim and Sowndhararajan write that “the sense of smell plays an important role in the physiological effects of mood, stress, and working capacity.” 

Studies of electrical responses in the brain to olfactory stimuli “have revealed that various fragrances affect spontaneous brain activities and cognitive functions." These responses "are measured by an electroencephalograph (EEG).” Sowndhararajan and Kim note that “the olfactory system is described by relatively direct connections to brain structures involved in memory and emotion." These structures include the "hippocampus, thalamus, and frontal cortex." As such, "fragrance and sense of smell are very important in the direction of human behavior.”

Eliciting Reliable, Repeatable Reactions to Scent

Sowndhararajan and Kim explain that very little scent is required to elicit the intended reaction. They note that “even a small amount of fragrance compounds taken by respiration causes indirect physical effect by activating olfactory memory.” While conducting their study, Kim and Sowndhararajan found that some scents produced variable responses. Conversely, others produced repeated, predictable responses in nearly all tested participants. For example, exposure to lavender resulted in “increased drowsiness” while exposure to rosemary resulted in “increased alertness.” With some scents, attitude and behavior could be directed reliably. For instance, the study found that “cypress produced [a] favorable impression after physical work and juniper produced [a] favorable impression after mental work.” Many studies have been conducted in recent years around the effectiveness and application of certain scents -- to repeatable, reliable results. Given this wealth of available information, using scent in the home to elicit desired reactions is quite possible.

Tips for Choosing the Right Home Fragrance for Each Room

Increasing Productivity and Creativity in Your Home Office

picking the right scent for your home

Scents for Reducing Stress and Improving Memory

Thankfully, there are a number of natural, stimulating scents one can use to increase productivity and creativity while working from home. As such, users can choose based on their personal preference. Sowndhararajan and Kim identify rosemary essential oil as one of the best for home offices. This is because olfactory exposure to the herb has been proven to “produce a significant enhancement of performance for overall quality of memory.” Citrus scents -- particularly orange -- produce a calming effect while still supporting alertness (meaning that they do not decrease productivity while lessening anxiety). Rather, they have been proven to “reduce anxiety and improve mood” without encouraging drowsiness. This is opposed to other scents like lavender and chamomile tend to do while calming the brain. Kim and Sowndhararajan identify bergamot as another great choice for home offices. Bergamot is particularly effective if one is under a great deal of stress but still needs to be productive. They note that in the course of their trials, exposure to bergamot essential oil “relieved work-related stress of teachers with various workloads.” 

Fragrances for Improving Cognitive Function

In her article “Office Hacks: 5 Essential oils to keep on your desk” for Maria France Asia, Sarah Khan endorses these three scents. She also adds lemongrass, tea tree oil and cypress to the list. She writes that the “vibrant, earthy notes” of cypress and lemongrass “can instantly invigorate you.” Tea tree oil is also effective, notes Khan, as it can make surrounding air feel sharper and cleaner. For a seasonal scent with incredible benefits, one might consider adding a dash of cinnamon to their home office. Lindsay Holmes recommends the spicy scent in her article “11 Scents That Can Do Wonders For Your Well-Being” for The Huffington Post. She writes that researchers have found “the sweet-smelling spice” capable of improving “cognitive functions like visual-motor response, working memory and attention span.”

Creating an Atmosphere of Peace and Serenity in Your Bedroom

picking the right scent for your home

Lavender is almost universally recommended for rooms in which a calm, tranquil environment is desired. Sowndhararajan and Kim write in their paper for Scientia Pharmaceutica that lavender has been proven to reduce both stress levels and physical pain. It can also induce drowsiness, helping those who struggle to fall asleep get there faster. In her article “The Best Essential Oil Scents for Every Room in Your House” for Reader’s Digest, Jessica Sinrich supports these results. To do so, she consults essential oil expert Maat van Uitert and hypnotherapy doctor Kac Young, PhD. 

Maat van Uitert writes that “‘the linalool chemical constituents in lavender oil help you relax." This is "because they signal your brain’s temporal lobe, where you’ll be reminded of past positive experiences.’” Jasmine is another effective scent for bedrooms, notes Bryan Raudenbush. The psychologist at Wheeling Jesuit University explains in the Psychology Today article “The Hidden Force of Fragrance.” Raudenbush notes that his team’s research “has shown that the scent of jasmine in your bedroom leads to a more restful night of sleep." It also leads to "a greater level of alertness the following day.”

Establishing a Sense of Comfort and Cleanliness in Your Kitchen

picking the right scent for your home

Lemon and other citruses -- as well as spicy scents -- are best for creating a fresh and invigorating atmosphere in your kitchen. Jenn Sinrich writes in her article “The Best Essential Oil Scents” for Reader’s Digest that lemon is great for kitchens. This is because lemon is “a sense awakener.” Lemon can “clarify the mind, dispel anger and provide a sense of new energy.” This effect is ideal for those nights one comes home from work with little energy to cook dinner. Cinnamon, on the other hand, is perfect for cozy, hygge-inspired home kitchens. According to Maat van Uitert, “‘cinnamon elicits feelings of warmth and comfort.” Because “‘cinnamon is so prevalent in baked goods, many [associate it] with warm memories of baking...and spending time with family as a child.’”

Encouraging Feelings of Warmth and Fellowship in Your Great Room

picking the right scent for your home

One’s primary goal for their great room or living room is often to create an inviting space filled with laughter and warmth. The ideal great room encourages family and friends to gather and reminisce -- or create new memories! Home fragrance company Keap recommends “refreshing and comfortable scents” for social spaces in their blog post “The Perfect Scent for Every Room.” The post notes that whichever scent is chosen for the living room, it should be fairly subtle and easy to enjoy. It should also be “something that you enjoy being around for long periods of time.” One should avoid scents overly reminiscent of foods or cleaning solutions, which might negatively interact with served food or drink during parties. Keap suggests trying “a subtle and familiar floral or herbaceous aroma like cotton, geranium, or rose.” Placing fresh flowers around the room is a great way to add color and life while infusing the space with a soft scent. 

By understanding the psychology of scent and harnessing the effects of fragrance on the brain and body, you can create a welcoming, comforting and invigorating atmosphere in each room of your home. 


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