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How to make scented candles: blending the fragrance

In an extract from their book 'The Scented Candle Workshop', Niko Dafkos and Paul Firmin of candlemakers Earl of East London explain how to blend fragrances when making your own candles

By House & Garden | May 21, 2021 | Category

Picture: Unsplash

We use a blend of botanicals and essential oils in our scents. But regardless of which types of oils you are using there is a tool that will help to categorize the oils into groups, and discover combinations that you might not naturally put together.

This tool is known as the fragrance wheel. There are many versions of the wheel and the first was created by Paul Jellinek in 1949. We have developed our own version of it, but have stuck to the main categories, which are:





When blending your own scents, refer back to this in conjunction with the scent pyramid (below) and the creative brief you’ve put together for yourself.

To start, it might make sense for you to establish which group you’re most drawn to. Think about the scents you like and find out where on the wheel these sit. Usually, we’ll end up preferring notes from a couple of categories. This quick exercise helps you somehow ease into using the fragrance wheel. Once you know which categories you like, you can do the same test with the brief you’re trying to answer. If you’re telling a story, consider which scents trigger those pictures, memories and emotions for you and which groups these sit under. If you find that the notes you’ve pulled out sit across the entire wheel, focus on a few and aim to build out the areas around it. At the beginning, we’d recommend keeping it simple and straightforward and blending oils that sit in the same or neighbouring groups. You want the first few blends to be successful to keep you blending, rather than frustrate you and make you stop.

Once you’ve got a feeling for the oils you’re working with, you can be a bit more daring. Try blending things that might seem odd to others but work just fine for you. Here are some categories and notes that we like that you can use as a starting point:


Water: marine notes, sea salt

Green: tomato leaves, cut grass, peppermint, spearmint

Citrus: lemongrass, mandarin, tangerine, lemon, orange

Fruity: bergamot, blackcurrant, sweet orange, other berries


Herbaceaous: basil, rosemary, parsley, oregano

Floral: rose, lily, geranium, jasmine, ylang ylang, lavender

Floriental: orange blossom, tuberose


Musk: benzoin, clary sage, myrrh, angelica root, labdanum

Spices: cinnamon, cloves, anise, cardamom, ginger

Nutty [sweet]: pistachio, almond, cocoa, vanilla


Woody: sandalwood, palo santo, cedarwood, cypress, cade

Earthy: oakmoss, vetiver, patchouli, frankincense

Some fragrance wheels include ‘Gourmand’ as a stand-alone group, but we’ve included nutty and fruity notes within our main categories.

Tip: We’ve all heard the old adage ‘opposites attract’, well, much like with flavours and sweet and savoury going well together, the same can be said for scent. Woody notes from the wheel, such as cedarwood, will blend well with a floral note such as jasmine.

The scent pyramid

While you might not necessarily be familiar with the scent pyramid you will probably have heard of top, middle and base notes within a scent, as this language is commonly used within the fragrance and perfumery world.

When it comes to creating a scent, you’ll be looking to create three different units, or layers, which are known as the top, middle and base notes. Each layer can include more than one note, and all these layers will be brought together into your final scent.

Top notes

Traditionally, top notes are the first impression of a scent; in perfume, they are what you can smell at the beginning and for anywhere from 5 to about 30 minutes after application. Top notes will traditionally be fresh, bright, sharp and welcoming. They are classified as top notes as they are strong in scent, very volatile and evaporate most quickly. In a candle it is often what you’d pick up on the cold throw. Top notes are the scents that will attract you, but they also operate as smooth transition into the heart of the oil blend. Bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mandarin, pine and basil are typical top notes.

Middle notes

The middle notes are also referred to as the heart of your blend. Mostly that’s because they make up the majority of your scent creation. Theyappear the moment the top notes evaporate and carry on the story. Middle notes last anywhere between two and four hours. Typically, middle notes are rounder, mellow floral profiles and gentle spices; they could be things like geranium, neroli, rose, nutmeg and cypress.

Base notes

When you hear people referring to a scent as luxurious and deep, that’s because the creator has done an excellent job finishing off the scent with base notes. Base notes deepen the scent further and, together with the middle notes, they form the main theme of your scent creation. Once all other notes have evaporated and are gone, these notes remain, giving you the very last impression of the scent. When you apply this logic to candles it is often the scent that will linger in the room once you have blown the candle out. Typical base notes are oakmoss, sandalwood, patchouli, benzoin and vanilla.

Layering Scents

When you are creating your own scent for your candle, you’ll want to create those entities separate to one another. Once you’re happy with your top, middle and base note blends, you take those forward to create your final scent. To check if these work together you can use pHneutral paper strips. Dip the paper strips into your individual scent elements, using one piece per scent to avoid contamination, and hold them in front of your nose in a layered way, as if you’re holding a fan. Hold the paper strip carrying the top notes closer to your nose, followed up by the strip dipped into the middle notes and finally, hold the strip you’ve dipped into the base notes furthest away from your nose. If you want to keep the base notes really light, you can even hold them in your other hand. Think of this process as using the paper strips to tell yourself and your nose that story of opening, middle and end.

To return again to the example of our Greenhouse scent, we’d worked with a citrusy blend –with lemon zest as the dominant note, which greets you as the cold throw. As you burn through the candle you then experience our light middle notes, with the tomato leaves and basil scent being most dominant here. We kept the base notes to a minimum for this one, so you’ll only get a hint of parsley seed coming through. Think of it as a plant, if you wish, taking it from the blossom to the stem and all the way into the root and soil.

Having said all of this, if you prefer to keep it simple and just create a candle that smells of cedarwood, get yourself some cedarwood oil and mix it into your wax.

Creating the blend

When it comes to the composition of the blend that makes up that final oil, there is no hard and fast rule to how your blend should be made. However, as a starting point we suggest making it one third top notes, one third middle notes and one third base notes, and then dialling up or down particular elements depending on the final throw of the scent. It will require patience and a fair amount of trial and error, but that really is the fun part.

Once you have created the blend you desire, you will need to scale the measurements up to make a total of 6–12 per cent of oil to wax ratio. Therefore, if you are working with 1kg (21/4lb) of wax, you should be working with 60–120g (2–4oz) of oil to create the desired throw. The exact percentage will depend on the strength of oils you are working with, for example if your scent is heavy and woody, it is likely you will need a lower percentage of oil when compared with a scent created primarily of lighter citrus notes.

Tip:If you’re creating a candle that’s heavy on top notes, you’ll have to watch the volatility of the final product and be extra careful with your wick tests to make sure you’re using the correct size for your vessel.

This originally appeared on House & Garden UK.