Common Scents


This article was first published at One Generation to Another February 5, 2008. Read through it and on the other side are directions for turning used potpourri tarts and candle stubs into beautiful, new candles.

Close your eyes…think of the smell of your elementary school cafeteria…the ocean…a baby’s neck. What about your grandmother’s house, a bonfire on a cool October evening, or your first boyfriend (or first girlfriend if you are a Renaissance Man reading this blog…btw…kudos to you!) Helen Keller, blind and deaf since near birth, once said, “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived.” Smells are some of the most intense memory joggers and the first, and sometimes the last, impressions we have of people and places. To me, HOW your house smells is just as important, maybe even more so, as how your house looks. The smell of your house can make people hungry, put them at ease or make them wish they were wearing a gas mask. Do you bring an objective nose to your house?

Truth be told, I have the nose of a bloodhound. “Can you smell something?” or “What is that smell?” are as common colloquialisms for me as “Have a nice day.” or “Gimme a call.” I truly believe it was my overactive olfactory nerves that saved my life and the life of 3 of my friends. (Actually, 1 boyfriend, 1 brother and 1 future sister-in-law…but I digress!) Before retiring for the night I kept asking everyone, “Do you guys smell something?” to which I got weird looks and dismissive comments. Later, snuggled on the floor in a makeshift bed, I was running through my mental data base of catalogued smells. As curious as concerned, I couldn’t quite place the smell, but couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something “Not quite right”. Finally, I turned on the lights and went on a quest to track down the perplexing odor. Ah, so that’s what smoldering foam rubber smells like! Apparently, a fugitive spark from the fireplace burrowed into the cushion of an old armchair. By the time I made the discovery, it had melted through the foam and was igniting the wooden frame. My brother and boyfriend were able to successfully throw the antiquated chair into a snow drift just before it burst into flames! Frankly, I think my nose should have received some accolade for superior sleuthing, when in fact all it got was a bad cold…probably from standing around outside barefoot, in the middle of winter, watching an evaded disaster burn! If only we had had a Singapore Sling. (Sorry, inside joke here!)

I suppose I’m overly sensitive to smells, but it’s amazing the mood altering effect scents can produce for most people. Understandably, we want our houses to smell appealing, but how do we get our houses to smell, well “homey” and inviting? Have you ever gone into a store and asked a clerk, “What smells so good?” Chances are she’ll tell you it’s this potpourri, that candle, or those essential oils. You expectantly purchased “it” with the hopes of creating the same aroma in your house. You are delighted on the car ride home because you’re slathered with wafts of fragrance, producing a delightful aromatic ambiance. But, upon getting the new scent home, it only takes minutes before the scent is lost. What happened to the fragrance you bought? To answer that question, let’s back up. Put your candle back in the bag, get in the car, drive in reverse, and walk backwards into the store. Take a look and smell around! First, you know that candle that smelled so good in the store? Well, they have 20 of them on display, each giving off a small amount of fragrance! And, right next to it is 30 bags of potpourri. And, oh, look over there, sachets and aroma therapy diffusers are pumping mega doses of aromas in the air. Your sense of smell is on overload, and your brain is unable to discern individual scents, and, in reality, that jumbled smell is what you are trying to duplicate.

Let’s state the obvious…you cannot afford to buy out the store’s entire scent assortment. So, given that fact, how can you replicate a good smell that doesn’t dissipate in 5 minutes or empty your wallet? Here are a few suggestions:

:: I have found scents activated by heat pack the biggest punch. My preferred method is using wax tarts and an electric “melter”. There are many on the market, ranging from small ones that heat 1 tart at a time, to larger ones, which I use, that can hold 3 or more at a time. There are also potpourri pots that use liquids, warmers that you can set whole glass encased candles in, and “diffusers”.  There are also many yummy recipes for stove top potpourris using citrus rinds and spices, that can simmer right on your stove and use inexpensive, and often discarded, ingredients found in your kitchen.

:: Learn to “reuse” scents. For example, after I’ve “used up” the scent in my tart warmer, I pour it off into a candle mold. Because I melt different scents, they are usually in different colors, and this creates a beautiful striped pattern. And although the fragrance is not intense, it still gives off a lovely, subtle scent. My eldest son has absconded with these candles for years! (Directions for how to do this can be found at the end of this article.) When dried potpourri’s fragrance has waned, simply add a couple drops of essential oils, mix, and ta-dah, good as new. Throw room sachets into clothing drawers when they’ve lost their punch. Although they can no longer influence an entire room, they can still produce a lovely effect in a small, closed in area like a drawer or closet!

:: Location, location, location. Place your fragrances in areas most commonly used and in areas most likely able to contain the scents. Rooms with high ceilings seem to lose their fragrances easily…I’m sure they have a tendency to drift upward, enhancing the ambiance for domestic ceiling spiders, but doing little for visitors. Also, stay away from open windows, and other areas that can draw the scent away from the room. On the other hand, a basket of dried potpourri, placed near a heat register, can throw the scent into the room whenever the furnace kicks on.

:: “Fragrances” can often be expensive. Become a “scent sleuth” and keep your eyes…well, your nose…open for the unexpected. For example, many common bath soaps have wonderful fragrances, but let’s face it, who wants to set a basket of Irish Spring in your living room? Solution…unwrap the soap, cover individual bars in a cotton print that coordinates with your room, and place in a decorative basket or bowl. For a fraction of the cost of designer fragrances, you’ve given your room a delightful “bath”! (As an added bonus, when the scent begins to fade, use them in the shower. Let’s face it, between your shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, and perfumes, who’s gonna miss a little scent in their soap?)

:: Create “scentsational” environments. Although it is okay, even desirable to “mix” scents, your house should not be a nasal battleground. I like to use “families” of scents. In the fall I like to use “spicy” aromas that remind us of mulled cider and falling leaves. Around the holidays I lean toward evergreen and cranberry scents. Spring is the only time when I allow “flowery” fragrances in the house. I prefer jasmine and lavender, however, be careful not to allow the scents to become so intense that your house begins to smell like a Brothel! Then, in the summer, I just look for soft, subtle, powdery scents; the idea is to create a “cool and calming” environment.

:: Finally, and this is certainly a subjective comment…don’t be a tease! Experience has taught me to stay away from scents that smell “good enough to eat”. Although “Buttered Cookie”, “Fresh Apple Pie”, and “Chocolate Brownie Fantasy” may smell yummy, that does little to console a hungry child or enticed mate, when they come home and start foraging for the delicious treat they are smelling! If you generate a hunger stimulating scent, make sure you can follow through with the food! BTW, nothing makes your house smell quite as good as the real thing! So, for the best scents, bake!

One day a friend told me, “Every time I go into a store that sells home fragrances, I think of you.” I took that as a lovely compliment! Although all scents smell a little different, there is commonality in all of them. We work hard at making our houses look good; we labor over paint and furniture selections. We clean, ah, usually, and rearrange, in hopes of making our houses not only lovely to look at, but comfortable. I believe “scent” is just as important as any thing else you do in your house. Take a good “sniff” around. How does your house smell?

After a couple of years of melting aroma tarts in a potpourri pot and pouring off the wax when the scent began to wane, it occurred to me that I was simply wasting the wax. I set off to our local craft shop, bought a candle mold and wicks, and returned home ready to “waste not, want not”. From that time one… oh perhaps for the past 20 years, I have been making candles, 1 inch at a time. Although the scent is not as potent as the original tarts, they still give off a lovely, subtle smell. I also began to melt down other candle stubs, and adding them to the candle mold. The results are beautiful, lovely candles; the only cost being the pennies for the wicks.
scented wax tarts and candle stubs
potpourri pot
wooden skewer
candle mold

Melt your wax tarts or candle stubs in your electric or candle heated potpourri pot.

To prepare the candle mold: wrap the top of the wick around a wooden skewer so the base of the wick touches the bottom of the mold. The wick should be in the middle, and the skewer should be long enough to extend the sides of the mold, holding the wick in place.

When the aroma from your tarts or candle stubs is mostly spent, pour into prepared candle mold. Do this on a heat resistant surface. If any wax gets on your counter, allow to cool completely. It is then simple to slide a spatula under the wax to remove. Place the cooled wax back in your potpourri pot to be remelted the next time you use it. Do not move the mold while it is cooling. After cooled, store until the next time you have wax to pour off.

Continue this procedure until the wax is near the top of the mold.

Hold the candle by the wick and remove from the mold.

Trim the wick to about 1/2″ and, tah dah, a beautiful, unique candle!

Copyright © Wee Folk Art 2008 – 2010. All rights reserved.



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  1. Great article! I agree about having a house smell good. Thanks for some ideas I hadn’t thought of. I’ve collected candle stubs for a long time and made votive candles. But I love these. I don’t have an electric potpourri pot but I melt my candle stubs in a pyrex cub in the microwave. Works great. Later today I’m off to get a larger candle form. I’ve got so much wax I’m thinking Christmas gifts!

  2. Woot! I can do this. I have a potpourri thingy I bought at a garage sale last summer and haven’t used it yet. Being the pack rat I am, I have lots of candle bits. I’m going to have to get the mold and start cranking out candles. Don’t know what the inside joke is, but can ya ever go wrong armed with a Singapore Sling? hehe

  3. wow these are beautiful.
    what an awesome way to use up the candle misshaped ends…
    I love the green and red – it’s already making me think of Christmas 😉

  4. I like candles very much! Once I tried to make a candle by myself, but I failed. Maybe I`ll try again!

  5. hey…I read your story about the fire and I can totally relate! My story is almost the same but it was one of my sister’s cig butts in a can on my back step. By the time I ‘followed my nose’ the can had ignited and it was only about a foot awat from the siding. Scary to think if we has just went to bed. Every family needs a member with over active olfactory bulbs but it sure doesn’t seem like a gift if you have a gassy family 🙁

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