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Lately, candles have felt more like a staple than a luxury. The right scent is transcendent, whisking you away on a sensorial vacation to another time and place. Being generally confined to the not-so-great indoors, these mental escapes are needed now more than ever.
But buying candles online is...complicated. The website description conjures up an idea of a scent in your mind, only for it to fall miserably short of the expectation you built while it was in transit. What do “lightly exotic mountain greens” even smell like anyway???
We traveled the world wide web to procure 8 buzzed-about candles for this candle round-up. We did all the ordering, anticipating, sniffing, and burning for you - and it’s a good thing we did. Almost every description failed to properly set the expectation of the actual scent (yikes). But it’s not all bad news. In a few candles, reality dramatically exceeded expectation, leading to us adding a few go-to candles to the rotation.
Before we get to the candle winners and losers, let’s indulge in some brief candle geekery. “Scent throw” refers to how far a candle’s scent travels across a room. There are two types of throw: cold and hot. A candle’s cold throw is the amount scent it gives off unlit, and hot throw is the amount it gives off when burning. You’d think a candle’s throw would just depend on its size, and that the cold throw is always weaker than the hot throw - but that’s actually not the case. Some small candles have a mighty throw and some candles have a stronger cold throw than hot. So not only do you have to worry about your candle smelling like the scent you’re expecting, but also if that scent permeates a room at all! Like we said, candles are hard work. Let’s have a look at the breakdown of the 8 below.
Expectation: Le Labo describes this candle as “an aristocratic scent, at once gentle, smoky and leathery.”
Reality: You’re in your New York City penthouse, taking in the panoramic view of the skyline at sunset.
In addition to Le Labo’s description, other sites note sandalwood, amber, cocoa, vanilla, cedar, spices, and musk in the scent profile, but there’s really no description that can effectively summarize the cult-classic Santal 26. It doesn’t smell like any combination of things – it’s a stand-alone scent in and of itself. It has to be experienced to be understood.
Cold Throw: 2/5
Hot Throw: 4/5
What else we love: Word on the street is JLo orders 50 of these candles a month, but we think ordering just one is the best place to start. The attention to detail, from the personalized label to the unboxing experience, seals this candle’s rightful cult status.
Expectation: Otherland describes this candle as “sandalwood, golden amber, warm musk: leather sandals, sandy toes, suntanned skin, glowing lanterns”.
Reality: You’re semi-transported to the sunset beach oasis promised. It just doesn’t get you all the way to your destination because the scent is really subtle. It doesn’t perfume a whole room, you have to be close to smell it.
Cold Throw: 1/5
Hot Throw: 3/5
What we like: That being said, this candle has become our desk companion.
We feel good about burning this candle right next to us because it is as clean as can be!!! There isn’t a great amount of transparency of waxes and sources of scents in the candle world. Made of coconut and soy waxes and free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates, Otherland candles are non-toxic, so you inhale at ease. Plus, the branding and unboxing are too good to overlook.
Expectation: Boy Smells describes this candle as “firewood, smoke, charcoal, palo santo and hay: Dry hay and black coals permeate throughout the burn. A lingering accord of bright juniper berry round out this modern, smoky scent”.
Reality: You’re warming up next to a fire pit with a drink in hand on a ranch in Montana, listening to the fire crack and the muffled sound of far-away horses under the wide-open sky.
The brand’s description, although accurate, doesn’t fully convey the magnificence of this scent. Even unlit, this small-but-mighty candle fills every corner of the room with its intoxicating scent. We bought a couple as backups for ourselves and a few to have on hand for the most impressive (yet effortless) apartment/housewarming gift.
Cold Throw: 5/5
Hot Throw: 10/5
What else we love: This bad boy ranks with the titans of luxury candles - but at a fraction of the cost and a hell of a lot more fun (case in point: the I smell BS matches that come with your order). Plus, their candles are (seemingly) pretty clean, so you can burn with reckless abandon - and trust us, you’ll want to.
Expectation: Capri Blue describes this candle as “the perfect blend of citrus and sugar notes. Like the excitement and energy of a summer night rendezvous”.
Reality: You’re at the mall in the early aughts wading through a wave of scent as you pass by the Bath & Body Works store.
Maybe that was a bit harsh. It’s just that with endless press features, a slew of 5-star reviews and the phrase “cult-following” peppered throughout their site….we expected more. It simply doesn’t live up to the hype. The sugary citrus is zesty and vibrant, but the scent fundamentally lacks depth and dimension, especially when compared to the heavy hitters on this list. Volcano fans - don’t @ us.
Cold Throw: 4/5
Hot Throw: 4/5
What we like: This candle comes in a seemingly endless assortment of striking containers, so it may be worth it just to have on display or as a gift.
Expectation: D.S. & Durga describes this candle as “the scent of the café in Leipzig where Bach wrote his famous Java Cantata in the 1700s. Imagine tightly packed tables of people breakfasting over buttery almond pastries and strong coffee. Smoking pipes, reading newspapers, talking. Creamers of milk, kitchen steam, tobacco clouds, a hint of an old fireplace in the corner, and burgundy leather upholstery on the seats”.
Reality: This candle teleports you straight into the heart of the scene painted above. There’s no better way to describe it.
While notes of pastry or almond can skew cloyingly sweet or artificial, this candle is balanced and authentic. An added bonus to the overall experience is the warm, lantern-like glow it casts when lit.
Cold Throw: 3/5
Hot Throw: 4/5
What else we love: If the spot-on scent description and aesthetic aren’t enough, D.S. & Dagura has looped in another sense to bring the candle to life with this Spotify playlist of German songs and songs about breakfast.
Expectation: Tom Ford describes this candle as “the cool breezes, sparkling clear water and lush foliage of the Italian Riviera...features crisp citrus oils. Surprising floral notes and amber undertones to leave a splashy yet substantive impression”.
Reality: You’re capping off a long day with a late-night digestif on a balcony overlooking the Amalfi coast.
While their description evokes a sunny, lively scent, the amber is more dominant than an undertone, making it quite warm and grounding. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting, but that’s absolutely no issue here. We can’t stop thinking about this indulgent, sultry scent.
Cold Throw: 4/5
Hot Throw: 5/5
What else we love: Everything about this candle is just so freaking luxurious. The gold-accented box, the pitch-black wax, the transportive scent…treating yourself to this candle is peak self-care.
Expectation: Voluspa describes this candle as “Goji Berry, Ripe Mango & Tarocco Orange”.
Reality: You’re back at the mall by Bath & Body Works. Not sorry.
Although it’s almost effervescent, the scent profile is totally flat - syrupy sweet sparkly orange with a touch of cranberry. Voluspa encourages people to buy a few candles to layer fragrances. Call us old school, but we think a candle should be good on its own.
Cold Throw: 5/5
Hot Throw: 5/5
What we like: On second thought, we do want to thank Voluspa for seeding this idea of clustering candles. Rather than investing in 3 new Voluspa ones for this purpose, we’re just going to try this out with ones we have on hand.
Expectation: Diptyque describes the candle as “Wintertime… In the hearth, a fire roars, throwing out its light and casting shadows. The wood crackles as flames slowly consume the logs, releasing their dense, smoky scent”.
Reality: You’ve cozied up fireside in a chateau in the Swiss Alps, glancing out the window at the snow-covered mountains.
Although it’s a distinctly wintery scent, Feu de Bois consistently tops the Diptyque best sellers list. We’re unsure of the witchcraft that is required to perfectly distill the full experience of a roaring fire into a (stunning) jar, but we’re here for it.
Cold Throw: 5/5
Hot Throw: 5/5
What else we love: You just can’t go wrong with Diptyque. Their iconic scents and jars are simultaneously unique and timeless. On the sad day you reach the bottom of your candle, the gorgeous vessel can start a new life as a vase, bobby pin holder, pencil cup, etc.
To get as many mental getaways as possible out of a candle, you have to maintain it. A loving candle parent needs two tools of the trade. The first is a wick trimmer. Each time you burn a candle, trim the wick to ¼” before lighting to avoid smoking and extend the burn time. The angle of the trimmer lets you really get down in a candle and snip the wick evenly, while also taking with it the soot that accumulated during the last burn.
The second must-have is a candle snuffer. Blowing out your candle causes more smoke, sprays soot into the wet wax, and can bury the wick. A snuffer cleanly and effectively extinguishes the flame and, honestly, you feel slick doing it. We love this trimmer and snuffer set.
When you get your new candle, the first burn is the most important. To ensure a strong start, burn until the entire surface is liquid. Failure to do so can result in tunneling: wax clinging to the sides with a pit in the middle that builds with every burn. Not cute.
Lighting our new favorite candles is one of the only things keeping the bitter pill that we are not on any sort of vacation, at bay.
The ability of Boy Smells Ash and Diptyque Feu De Bois to swiftly fill a room with intensely smoky earthiness creates a wintery getaway in the dead of summer that we’re loving. And we’ve come to rely on Le Labo Santal 26 and Tom Ford Neroli Portofino for those days we really just need home to be a lavish 5 star hotel instead (ya feel?). D.S. & Durga Breakfast Leipzig has become part of our heavy rotation as it most closely mimics our desired destination. With our eyes closed, it’s almost as if we’re eating a fresh pastry with a coffee at a cafe in Europe. But until we’re able to do so IRL, you’ll find us at home, sweats on, candles ablaze.
Happy candle hunting, we hope you had as much fun reading this one as we did researching it!