4 candle scents to avoid for fall and what designers choose instead for sophisticated seasonal fragrance

Steer clear of these overdone scents if you want your home to smell more authentically autumnal

A selection of candles and miniature pumpkins on a small table
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There's something about the arrival of fall that just calls for a candle. As we welcome the return of hunkering down season, the cozy glow of a flickering flame just instantly welcomes a hygge vibe to your home, and of course, if accompanied by a comforting fragrance, it sends a signal to your senses that the new season has officially set in. 

Typically, we reach for standard notes of pumpkin spice, sugared cookies, and baked apple pie for an autumnal aroma, but no one can deny these scents are seriously overdone. Yes, they're sweet-smelling and synonymous with fall but they certainly don't say 'sophistication', and they'll make your home smell almost identical to everyone else's. 

As Jennifer Sturgill, co-founder of Unplug Soy Candles, says: 'With the changing of the seasons, it's officially the time for all of the cliché apple pickin' fragrances to flood homes nationwide, but some of us (like myself) prefer more understated, sophisticated scents throughout their home.' 

If, like Jennifer, you're on the hunt for some of the best scented candles that promise to add luxury to your space, these are the four overdone fragrances to avoid and what to use instead this fall. 

1. Pumpkin Spice 

brown ribbed glass candle lit on a trinket tray with a similar rattan tray nearby

(Image credit: Amazon)

Fall is now synonymous with the PSL - that's pumpkin spiced latte to you non-coffee drinkers. Yes, the smell of baked pumpkin pie flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove is the epitome of fall, but every candle company in existence has now hopped on to the trend, resulting in some sickly sweet adaptions that don't do your home any favors. 

'All things pumpkin for the fall is becoming a bit of a cliché,' explains Heidi Stojanovic, co-founder of Foton Candles. 'Here at Foton we opted to ditch the pumpkin and instead focus on a more natural scent palette that would still make us feel warm and cozy but without the suffocating “imitation-pumpkin” scents you see all over store shelves.' 

Use instead: For a similarly warming home scent that's less sweet and synthetic, look for sumptuous spices associated with this transitional season, such as cardamom or clove. 'Cardamom is one of the most expensive spices in the world,' says Jennifer Sturgill of Unplug Soy Candles. 'A blended fragrance of earthy cardamom pods mixed with warm undertones of amber, vanilla, plum, and clove oils is sure to be a luxurious and aromatic scent you'll fall in love with.' 

Hot on the tail of pumpkin spice is the wintery scent of sugar cookies. It might be a teenage girl's dream, but the overpoweringly sweet scent is far from sophisticated. Throw in notes of vanilla, ginger, and cinnamon and you can quickly overwhelm a space. 

It's also not a scent that smells traditionally 'fall'. Yes, we've associated the comforting smells of baked cookies with holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving, but it certainly isn't customary. 'Here at Foton, we believe that less is more so we focus on developing cleaner season scents that hopefully help bring out a certain specific memory in people,' says Heidi. 

Use instead: 'For those who don't necessarily want their living room smelling like freshly baked cookies at 9 a.m. on a Saturday but love creating warmth throughout their space, suede or leather would be a wonderful choice for an upscale, and slightly unexpected, autumn fragrance,' explains Jennifer. 'We have perfected our Suede scent by blending vanilla beans, cedarwood, and elegant cashmere into one delicious scent.' 

3. Apple pie

A selection of candles on a small table

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Scents like freshly baked apple pie and spiced cider always make an appearance this time of year as we segue into the colder months. But, while these aromas have a calming autmnal feel, they've been so mass marketed that they fall short of any hint of luxury. They're also typically lack the depth and dimension of more high-end, rounded scents. 

Use instead: Rather than buy into gimmicky fragrances like apple pie, Heidi recommends scentscaping using natural fruit aromas such as berries, apples, or figs. While they might be harvested in late summer, the comforting connotations with fruit pies or crumbles still play on our senses but offer a less synthetically manufactured smell.

For a more fall-like feel, Heidi suggests looking out for scented berry candles with a hint of spice thrown in. 'Our primary new fall scent this year is called Mulled Magic. It combines the fresh and naturally slightly sweet aroma of heated berries with a touch of cinnamon,' she says. 'One of the most amazing things about scents is their ability to transport us into a specific place or memory from the past. For us, this scent reminded us of walking into our grandmother’s house in the fall when she was working on cooking jam from freshly picked cranberries and lingonberries to store for the winter.'

4. Caramel toffee

With Halloween celebrations comes candy - and that includes candy-scented candles such as caramel toffee and candy corn. Again, they might appeal to your kids, but these sugary aromas don't do wonders for a luxurious fall living room

Use instead: A fall-scented candle has to offer comfort, so think about naturally arrived, delicious-smelling ingredients like cinnamon. 'This can bring back memories of sticky cinnamon buns and most people can hopefully relate to these yummy, sweet treats cooking in the oven during the holidays,' says Heidi. We love Diptyque's Cannelle candle, which translates to cinnamon in French. It's a herbarium of woody spices that wraps you up in a warm hug.

For a lighter, cleaner scent Heidi recommends trying fir. Its balmy, aromatic fragrance will last you right through until Christmas. You could also try using a candle lamp instead of lighting the wick for a gentler, slower release of the scent. 

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.