Noses are tricky things.
Sort of like a flavor palate, we all have different “fragrance palates” — some scents are more appealing than others, some scents smell much stronger than others, and our noses can get used to our favorite scents, even if it’s not the same particular candle or fragrance blend. You may have heard people say that you get used to your own perfume and it’s true that your nose can become “nose blind” to your favorite scents.
I’m sure as it is with most candle-makers, I use the maximum amount of fragrance in my candles to give my customers the best possible cold throw (scent when candle is unlit) and hot throw (scent while candle is burning/wax is melting)! There are so many different factors that come into candle-making, some of which can be related to the actual candle-making process, but most of which come into play based on a specific fragrance as well as the person who’s smelling it. I’ve gotten many questions over the last couple years and a lot of feedback on the various scent selections of my candles so I thought it would be helpful to put together a blog post with some of the ins and outs of fragrances and why some may smell stronger than others.
SOFTER VS. STRONGER SCENTS
All fragrances fall into a place in the “fragrance profile” of a candle based on what exactly the fragrance is and how it interacts with other scents. Each candle (or perfume or anything that involves the blend of fragrances) has three different layers (for this example, we’ll use a candle that has at least three fragrances so I can touch upon all of them):
- Top Note: The fragrance that you smell the most. This is the scent that you first smell before any other one.
- Middle Note: The fragrance that you pick up second, or something that blends well with a top note or a base note.
- Base Note: Usually blends with top/middle notes in a cold throw and may come out more prominently in the hot throw. This scent may not always be identifiable on its own as sometimes it creates more of a feel or changes a scent profile for a candle versus being a fragrance you can easily pick out.
“Stonger” candles are usually a combination of more top and middle notes but of course can contain base notes as well. Including many top note fragrances in one candle can create a bigger “punch” and will hit you with fragrance immediately upon opening a lid! This can also be a candle that lets scent permeate throughout a room as a cold throw just with the lid off.
“Softer” candles may still have some noticeable top notes but have a different feel. Not every candle is meant to punch you in the face with fragrance! Softer candles are perfect for some who may get migraines from those packed-with-a-punch scents, or for a more peaceful atmosphere when you want to relax with a delicate fragrance, or if you just want something a little bit lighter and less intense. “Softer” candles may also have heavier mix of middle and base notes, creating that atmosphere without hitting you with that strong candle scent right off the bat.
I know it may seem like “softer” candles are weaker, but candles with heavier base notes really tend to stick around the room for the longest and linger! You may think a softer scent isn’t as potent, which depends on how you’re defining potency, but it does have the same concentration of fragrance with a different overall focus. It just all depends on what you’re looking for!
COLD THROW VS. HOT THROW
As mentioned above, the cold throw and the hot throw are how the candle smells when unlit and lit, respectively. A candle may have a little bit of a different feel when lit/burning than when sitting unlit. Base notes may be more prominent in a hot throw and middle notes can often times come out more noticeably in a hot throw too!
Scent combinations with many different top notes may also stand out differently when burning too. A candle with three different top notes may have a cold throw where one of them stands out, and a hot throw where another tends to take over, or even become a better blend of multiple fragrances as it burns. Each candle is unique and each fragrance combination can give you a different experience when lit or unlit! If you get a different vibe when a candle is lit, that doesn’t meant that something is wrong — the fragrances may just play off of each other differently while burning.
HOW COME I CAN’T SMELL THIS CANDLE?
Production process can affect the overall finished product of a soy candle, especially when there are so many factors involved, but most candle shops have a pretty straight-forward process when it comes to candle-making (or at least I know I do) to try to ensure the most consistent candle from batch to batch. It can be tricky with hand-made items but there’s no reason that a candle shop’s items can’t be consistent, even in small batches.
If you feel like you can’t smell a certain candle, whether cold throw or hot, there are a few reasons that could factor into that.
The hot throw may be more easily explainable and can involve quite a few different things! The first starts with the creation process.
- The wax: Different soy waxes allow different fragrance loads. Depending on the type of wax, more fragrance may be allowed to be added than another. Most shops will confirm that they use the maximum amount of fragrance that their wax will hold for each batch. “Just adding more fragrance” doesn’t work with soy wax. If you overload a wax with fragrance, it will actually drown the candle and start to take away from the amount you can smell, not add to it. The wax won’t be able to hold that extra fragrance oil and it will start to leach away and can cause burning issues.
- The fragrances: As discussed before, different fragrances have different “potencies” (not in a volume sense but in the sense of how much you’re able to detect them as part of a candle) so take note if the different in hot throw may be because of the fragrance itself. If you’re not sure, you can always ask the candle shop from where you purchased or consult their website if their fragrances/fragrance profiles are listed.
- The wick: Having the right wick is really important to a candle, and the wick can depend on both the container of the candle and the wax itself. You need just the right wick to get a better burn pool, which in turn allows more fragrance to be released with that wider area of melted wax.
- The container: You should still be able to get a decent throw from candles in smaller containers/narrower containers but wider-mouthed glasses or jars may help let some of that fragrance escape. This also has to do with that burn pool as mentioned above — a larger-mouthed container can allow a larger burn pool, which allows more fragrance, etc.
The cold throw is a little bit more tricky to reason out sometimes, and some part of this can pertain to a hot throw as well. For example, being used to a certain candle or scent can pertain to how you perceive a cold throw or a hot throw. If you tend to smell the same scent, or same type of scent, over and over and constantly (this could also include smelling the scent in lotions/perfumes/body wash, etc), then your nose can get used to that particular scent or fragrance profile. Usually we talk about this pertaining to a hot throw, when a candle has been burning for several hours. Your nose can get used to being in that scent for multiple hours so candle-makers will often suggest taking a break from the scent by leaving the room or extinguishing the candle for a while to let your nose regroup, so to speak, but this can also affect a cold throw. If you’re constantly exposed to a certain type of scent, your nose can get used to it, affecting how you may smell a candle just from opening the lid! The sense of smell is a crazy thing, my friends.
Another thing is that some people just perceive scents differently. Whether it’s a personal preference (a hatred for food smells, a love of apple, a longing for pumpkin, etc) or something you’re hard-wired with (a sensitivity to florals, an allergy to cinnamon), your own body can affect how you perceive different smells. The combination of a certain scent along with others can also affect how you perceive it. Many fragrances are noted on a candle label, but not all of them are top scents, and remember that each candle is a candle-maker’s interpretation a scent or fragrance concept and may not always match everyone’s initial impression of the description. I know I always try hard to be very accurate with my descriptions since we don’t have scratch ‘n’ sniff over the internet (it’s 2017 — can’t we have this yet??) but there will always be some surprises no matter what because we just have different interpretations sometimes, or notions on how something will smell based on its description. It can be a shock to your nose if you’re expecting to smell one note and come up with something different as a candle’s top note!
This one is just a personal preference of mine and I don’t have any science to back it up (there may be research but I haven’t done any!), but I feel like the selected scents and how well they blend really affect how I perceive a candle. Some scents just work well together. Some are similar and blend well. Other scents are not similar but join in candle matrimony for a unique scent combination. But there are plenty of fragrances that can clash or compete for your attention in a candle and I personally feel like a fragrance blend really affects how I smell a candle. If there are several top notes that are competing, I feel like they can tend to get lost in the battle instead of creating an overall feel, or the battle may be too overwhelming and become unpleasant. I don’t know if this really affects the strength of how we perceive a smell, but it seems like something I’ve experienced experimenting with many scents over and over!
SO WHAT’S THE POINT?
The point of all of this is that there are just so many different factors that go into a making a candle that affect its overall scent. I’ve received a lot of general questions on fragrances, ranging from requests on top notes for selected candles in the shop (which I added to each listing!) to seeing surprising feedback about a “stronger” candle that mysteriously didn’t have a good throw, hot or cold. I know that I can’t please every single person out there (although I certainly do try to make a universally pleasing product!) but part of the candle experience is education as well! I know, right? Who knew that candles were so complicated? But it’s true! Until I started making candles, I had no idea how scientific it was, not to mention things like candle maintenance being a factor as well. There are so many production factors involved, and then biological factors, and even mental factors (like if a scent reminds you of someone or something) that are involved with scents. All of these factors are the reasons I fell in love with the production of these bookish candles and the community only enhanced that love, so I wanted to write up this post to hopefully shed some light on a few things that I’ve learned throughout my years as a maker! There are a lot of different things that can affect your love/hatred/ambivalence towards a candle and these are just a few of the things behind the science of soy candles. I hope it was a helpful post and maybe it even changed the way you’ll perceive your candles from now on! I know it changed the way I experience everything, so much for the better!