Home Decor

The Great Scent Debate: Diffusers vs. Candles

We're going head-to-head on which provides the best scent experience overall.

August 31, 2021
Photo by Ty Mecham

There’s nothing our home team loves more than a nice-smelling space whether it’s bright, fresh lemons or that Anthropologie scent. The part that some of us disagree on though? How the scent gets there in the first place—via candle or essential oil diffuser. (Yes, I know there are reed diffusers, room sprays, and little sachets of uncooked rice and oil, but these two are the most common, so we’re going to stick to that.)

Both have their pros and cons, and I would be doing my teammate dirty if I tried to sway you before our opening arguments. So without further ado, the lawyers in Candle vs. Diffuser present their cases.

Why we love each

Jada, Team Diffuser:

I love the convenience, safety, and customization of an essential oil diffuser. You just need water and essential oils, there’s no need to search for matches or dip the match in water after you light it to make sure you don’t burn down the house. And speaking of burning, a diffuser doesn’t have an open flame so it’s a lot safer for anyone who has kids of the two- and four-legged kind. Or for someone like me who’s forgetful and clumsy.

I also love that you can go with one scent or mix a few together instead of adhering to pre-made combos. After a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine, I bought a small bottle of balsam fir oil to make my house smell fresh and crisp. I’ve yet to find a candle that mimics that same clean scent without additional notes.

As cozy as they are, candles are a short-lived luxury—once you burn it, all you're left with is a crumbling wick and a bit of wax you’ll have to freeze and pry out of the glass jar. And okay, you also get the jar, but let’s be real—how many do you need at this point? With a diffuser, even the tiniest bottle of essential oil can last longer than a whole candle since you only need 10 or so drops each time. And if you get tired of smelling the same scent day in and day out, you can easily change it up by mixing a few together.

Caroline, the Candle Lover:

So, I’ve just never been a diffuser kind of gal. I’ve had them before—the oil and reed kind, the refillable water kind—and I’m never able to stick with it. I find the act of refilling the diffuser with water and oils and keeping it in a place it can be plugged in to be so cumbersome (I know, I need a real problem), but with candles, they’re always right there, ready to be lit. Plus I keep teeny cups and jars of matches all around the house (with striker paper attached!) so there’s always a flame available to light a candle. Easy peasy.

And sure, when I do have a reed diffuser I love catching a whiff of the scent when I come in the room from time to time, but I never really get the intense scent experience I’m going for. There are candles with weak scents, but by and large, I find that a burning candle produces the maximum amount of room-filling scent, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re an instant ambience creator, either. Even the prettiest diffusers, in my opinion, aren’t really that cute, but a candle? Always a vibe.

What could be better


Many diffusers either fall into the ceramic or plastic kind, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. I love my Vitruvi Stone Diffuser but the reservoir seems small compared to the actual size of the diffuser, and I have to top up the water everyday after running it for six hours or so. The plastic ones have a larger capacity, but they’re not as pretty. They also tend to have colorful LED lights that cheapens the overall look. I keep this Asakuki one in my bedroom so it’s out of sight. Both also need to be plugged in, so unless you have a lot of outlets, it can take some creative layout planning.


This one’s a given: candles have a flame, and flames are dangerous. I’m a person without kids or pets (yet!), so I have all the ability in the world to leave a candle burning and not worry much about it at all. But! If I had little menaces roaming around, being generally destructive, an open flame would not be a great idea. And while there are ways to mitigate improper candle-burning (leave it burn for two hours on the first burn, always trim the wick!), they can get ashy or tunneled, which detracts from the whole low maintenance thing I’m going for here.

Our Favorites:

1. Vitruvi Stone Diffuser, $119

Photo by Amazon

Understated yet sculptural, this stone diffuser doubles as decor on my coffee table. I have a white one and have been contemplating getting a second in Terracotta because it’s that gorgeous. The Vitruvi is compact yet powerful, covering up to 500 square feet for up to eight hours. I do have to top up the water every day if I run the full eight hours, though it’s not a deal breaker by any means.

2. Convival Handmade Porcelain & Stoneware Scented Candle, $32

Photo by Bobbi Lin

This candle was actually given to each of us employees as a holiday gift, and I LOVE it. I hadn’t even realized we sell it in the shop until I did some Googling to get a new one. This scent combines all my favorites: cedar wood, sage, musk, fruit, and winter fir, in the gentlest and most nuanced way possible. I purposely didn’t burn it often because I wanted to cling onto the scent. Plus, the stoneware vessel is an adorable one to scrape out and reuse.

3. ASAKUKI 300ML Essential Oil Diffuser, $24.99

Photo by Amazon

This one is perfect in my bedroom, where I start it up in the evening and let it run through the night. It covers up to 250 square feet and runs up to 10 hours. There’s an LED light inside that transforms the top plastic part into one of seven colors, which is fun for a nightlight. During the day, it blends more into the room and doesn’t look obtrusive.

4. Capri Blue Volcano, $34

Photo by Anthropologie

Okay, I know it's not original, but the Capri Volcano scent from Anthropologie is a classic for a reason. They used to come in blue tins and glasses, but since the scent is so popular, they now make them in all different vessels to match any decor style: matte black, neutral pastels, capiz shell, mercury glass, and bright florals.

Are you Team Candle or Team Diffuser? Let us know where you stand below!

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Jada Wong

Written by: Jada Wong

Jada is the market editor at Food52 with a decade of experience writing and editing for online publications such as Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, and Insider.