A scented candle will traditionally take less than a half-hour to begin releasing its fragrance after lighting it. So, if you light your candle, let it burn, and still don’t smell a lick of fragrance, something’s definitely wrong. But why doesn’t your candle smell—and how can you fix it?

Here’s the TL;DR:

Your scented candle doesn’t smell because it’s low-quality and the fragrance oil didn’t bind to the wax or was of low quality. It’s also possible it hasn’t been burning long enough or is a room that’s too large or has too much airflow. Improper wick size, nose blindness, and position can also be to blame.

Oh, and before I go further, check the candle to ensure it doesn’t say “unscented” anywhere. Been there, done that. Now, if you’re 100% confident it’s a scented candle and it isn’t releasing any aroma (or a weak one), these are the nine possible reasons why!

1. The Fragrance Oil Didn’t Bind to the Wax Correctly

It’s time for a brief lesson in candle-making 101. A candle typically has three main components: the wick, the wax, and the fragrance oil. For the sake of this reason, I’ll be zeroing in on just those last two, specifically how they interact during the candle-making process.

main components of a candle: wax, fragrance oil, wick

A fragrance oil’s ingredients—which give a scented candle its aroma—are specifically formulated to be compatible with candle wax.

So, when making a scented candle, you’ll stir the fragrance oil and melted wax together, resulting in a homogenous mixture. “Homogenous” essentially means even, uniform, or well-blended.

The fragrance oil molecules become “trapped’ in the wax as the blend cools and hardens, binding the fragrance oil and wax together evenly. Light the candle’s wick, and it’ll heat the wax and release its aroma into the air for some (for votive)to 84 hours of burn time (for 12 oz.).

But that’s all assuming you purchased a well-made candle from a reputable seller. If you didn’t, your dull-smelling candle likely traces back to the candle’s production—the fragrance oil and wax didn’t blend properly.

There are several ways this can happen during the candle-making process:

  • The wax was too hot or cold for the wax type (for example, heating the wax to under 120 °F for soy or over 190 °F for paraffin).
  • The fragrance oil and wax weren’t compatible (the wax and oil may blend, albeit improperly, or the fragrance oil will become separated from the wax).
  • They used low-quality fragrance oil.
  • They added too much or too little fragrance oil.
  • The mixture wasn’t stirred well enough.

If the wax/fragrance binding is the issue, your scented candle may smell weak (or have no scent), or you might notice varying fragrance intensities. In the candle world, they dub this phenomenon a candle’s “scent throw,” which describes how well a candle distributes its aroma.

2. A Low-Quality Fragrance Oil Was Used

As it turns out, user error isn’t always to blame when a scented candle is seemingly scentless. A candle may also have a weak scent throw—or not release any aroma—if the manufacturer used a low-quality fragrance oil when making the candle.

Low-quality fragrance oils generally lead to an all-around bad fragrance experience. On top of a weak or nonexistent scent, these candles could also become discolored, produce excess soot, and raise safety concerns.

The scented candle below has smelled vaguely like crayons from the first lighting. (Excuse the appearance. I’ve been using this candle to take example images!)

candle with no scent

3. It Hasn’t Been Burning Long Enough

Ninety-six percent of us will knowingly burn our mouths on hot beverages or food instead of waiting for them to cool. That’s just like some of us simply expect to smell the soothing scent of lavender mere minutes after lighting a 3-wick candle.

Candles generally take a few minutes to a few hours to begin releasing their aromas into the air after lighting the wick(s). But to understand how “time” impacts a candle’s scent, you first need to learn how candles release their fragrance in the first place.

A candle’s fragrance oil contains scent molecules. Once you light the wick, the wax surrounding the wick will begin to create a small puddle of melted wax. This heat will also heat up the fragrance oil and allow it to vaporize, releasing the candle’s scent molecules into the air for all to smell.

If you only lit your candle a few moments ago, the lack of scent could be because these scent molecules simply aren’t warm enough. That, or your candle hasn’t had enough burn time yet.

The candle below was lit about two minutes ago (evident in the tiny melt pool forming at each wick). The lemony smell smacks you in the face within a few feet of the candle, but it’ll be another several minutes before it’s detectable half-a-room away.

recently lit scented candle with small melt pool

A scented candle could have a weak scent throw if the melt pool didn’t reach the edges during the first burn to create a full melt pool. Alternatively, a candle’s scent may be weak for the first few burns until the wick becomes fully saturated with melted wax and reaches full strength.

4. The Candle Is in Too Large a Room

Another possible reason for a weak-scented candle harkens back to “basic” physics. More specifically, the concept of diffusion. Diffusion is when particles move from an area of high concentration to low.

If you light a scented candle in a large room, it will still release its fragrance (assuming it’s a decent-quality candle) and typically within a half-hour. However, the aroma won’t be nearly as strong because there’s also a higher ratio of air-to-fragrance molecules.

The scent molecules not only have to travel further to fill the space, but the aroma might also weaken before anyone can smell it.

Think of it like putting a drop of food coloring in a cup of water vs. a gallon.

5. There’s Too Much Airflow in the Room

Somewhat piggybacking off that last reason are the concepts of airflow and ventilation. Open windows (and doors) and fans will improve the ventilation in a room. Better airflow is great for odor and allergen removal but not so great for a candle’s scent throw.

Again, the main reason for this is simple science (yes, diffusion). By increasing the airflow in a space, the airborne scent molecules could travel much too quickly. Or the breeze from a fan or open window might carry the fragrance elsewhere in the house.

As further proof that fans, windows, and scented candles don’t quite mesh, another unfortunate fact rears its ugly head. A slight breeze could force a candle to burn too quickly or unevenly. 

candle flames with no draft and in path of fan
A side-by-side comparison of a candle in a room without a draft (left) and in the path of a fan (right)

Candle wax that burns too quickly could also produce more soot or smoke as it burns. That’s why you may notice a smoky or vaguely burnt odor in place of your candle’s intended scent. 

6. The Candle’s Wick Is Too Short

Most scented candle fans (fandles, if you will) agree that the ideal candle wick length is ⅛ to ¼ inches. Any shorter than that, you risk a candle that tunnels or burns unevenly. Tunneling is when a candle’s wax no longer burns to its edges, burning a hole down its middle with each burn.

The wicks on the candle below are almost exactly 1/4-inch high, the upper end of the ideal range:

candle wick size comparison

If you trim the wick too short, you could also trigger the incomplete combustion of the wax, which basically means the flame doesn’t burn all the wax. 

Incomplete combustion can alter a candle’s scent for a few reasons. The first is the release of incomplete products of combustion—such as soot and unburned hydrocarbons. The second is that some of the wax remains unmelted, so some fragrance oil molecules become trapped and never release into the air.

7. You’ve Become Nose Blind to the Fragrance

I’m not completely done blaming science for this just yet. Instead, I’m shifting my gears away from physics and into the arms of good ol’ physiology—the study of how the human body works.

But more specifically, olfaction (the sense of smell).

As you inhale a scent for the first time, your brain sends a signal to your olfactory receptors, which detect odors in the air. From there, these signals travel to the brain’s olfactory bulb at the base of the brain to process what you sniffed and whether it’s dangerous.

But that all changes the longer you’re exposed to this fragrance. 

How? Since the brain doesn’t consider the aroma a threat to your survival, it essentially learns to ignore it (or at least somewhat “tune it out”). Instead, it prioritizes smelling other new, possibly threatening scents.

If you lit your scented candle a few minutes or hours ago, smelled the scent originally, and then noticed it fading with time, nose blindness (or olfactory fatigue) may be to blame.

8. Your Candle Is Positioned Too Far Away

I’ve already discussed room size and airflow , but a third room-related culprit for a weak-smelling candle is how far you are from the candle. Flowing, breezy air and a large room ultimately encourage a candle’s scent molecules to disperse much quicker than usual. 

A candle’s scent is often strongest within the few-foot bubble around it, with the scent fading the further you distance yourself. So, if you sit half a room (or half an apartment) away from your lit vanilla 3-wick, that could be why the scent appears almost nonexistent.

9. This Specific Candle Has Passed Its Prime

Unfortunately, even the most well-made “luxury” candles don’t last forever, which brings us to reason #9 (I’d argue it’s a twofer). 

First, while your average candle doesn’t have a “best by” date, most will expire within 12–18 months of purchase. When a candle expires, you’ll probably notice a faded scent and coloration, difficulty lighting the wicks, a waxy aroma, or even no fragrance.

Second, every candle will run its course after maxing out its burn time. Larger candles, especially, will lose their strength with each burn as the fragrance oils evaporate more quickly. Some big candles also contain weaker or generally less-concentrated fragrance oils.

This two-wick candle is absolutely ready to retire (R.I.P.). On top of tunneling, a buried wick, and having nearly burned through all the wax, the flame on the right extinguishes itself within a few minutes.

two-wick candle with multiple issues and a large wax shelf in the middle

Final Thoughts

Before you toss that scented candle, just make sure you’re sitting within a few feet of the candle, the candle is in an enclosed and small space, and the wick is ¼–⅛ inches. These are the simplest fixes and don’t require spending a cent.

Is it still scentless? If you’re not ready to part with that Bath & Body Works candle from ‘18 just yet, you can try a few things to strengthen the candle.

Or, you can just retire that bad boy!