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“What’s that smell?” is a question that can go one of two ways — either your reed diffuser is doing its job or you forgot to take the trash out. “The olfactory system is a very primitive, protective function for our body,” explains Jimm Harrison, a master aromatherapist who teaches a certificate program in essential oils and aromatherapy at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. “It’s all about attraction and aversion.”
Essential oils not only smell great, they can make you feel great, too — physically and emotionally. Some oils have antimicrobial properties, which fight bacteria, fungi and viruses, while others can induce feelings of relaxation or concentration.
Similar to how you may love anchovies, but loathe cilantro, fragrances are completely subjective. “Every memory and every emotion has a fragrance attachment,” notes Harrison. “Lavender may be associated with relaxation, but for some people it can actually cause anxiety because they have an anxious memory associated with the scent.”
We asked Harrison for his recommendations on scenting each room of your house with essential oils. However, he was quick to point out that “essential oils don’t work like drugs,” so results will undoubtedly vary from person to person. Keep reading to find out his top picks for the entryway, kitchen, bathroom, living room and office.
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“I like to talk about essential oils in the form of ideas,” says Harrison. “You’re trying to create a feeling or an idea around a certain fragrance.” The entryway is the first impression a guest will have of your home, so you want to ensure the scent that greets them matches the mood you’re trying to create.
Harrison suggests using a combination of spice scents like nutmeg and cinnamon to evoke fond memories of baking cookies or celebrating the holidays. “Citruses also provide a happy, uplifting feel because we often associate citrus with childhood.” Think soccer game orange slices or a handful of Lemonheads. “I find most people have a positive feeling towards orange, lemon and grapefruit because of that.”
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“You want to choose oils that match the kitchen atmosphere,” says Harrison. “Herbs like cinnamon, oregano and thyme are very strong anti-bacterials and do fit in the kitchen.” Lemon is also a popular choice for the most-frequented room in the house. “Fresh and clean is what people often associate it with,” says Harrison. “But lemon also has antibacterial, antiviral properties.”
Keep your countertops sparkling clean by creating an all-natural, multi-purpose cleaner using a cup of vinegar and a few drops of your preferred antibacterial essential oil.
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Ever heard of Poo Pourri? The “before you go” toilet spray with hilarious commercials and a cheeky Twitter account? According to Harrison, the product has a “science-based function to it” that you can easily replicate with essential oils like tea tree or eucalyptus. “If you put a couple drops of essential oil in the toilet before using the bathroom, the oils actually break down the odor molecules. The fragrance of what you’re putting into the toilet doesn’t permeate the atmosphere as much when the oils are sitting in the water.” He also suggests using citrus or cedarwood oils in a diffuser with a 10-minute on, 20-minute off function to get rid of unpleasant odors without over-saturating the space.
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“The more you know about essential oils, the more creative you can be,” says Harrison. “It all depends on the atmosphere you’re trying to achieve.” Citruses are mood-boosting (always good for getting the party started), and spices are ideal for Yuletide gatherings. Hosting a book club meetup or a murder mystery dinner? Opt for something a little more grounded, like vetiver or teakwood oils, suggests Harrison. “There’s also Atlas Cedarwood, it’s very sweet and light, and Virginia Cedarwood, which has more of a woodier, almost sawdust fragrance.”
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“A family of oils that I really like, but some people are challenged by, are those licorice-y scents like anise seed, tarragon and fennel,” says Harrison. “It’s not so much the fragrance that creates the relaxation, but when you smell those oils, it triggers a response in the body that brings you into what’s called the ‘rest and digest’ mode.” It’s the same feeling you get when you eat too many Buffalo wings on Superbowl Sunday — you become sleepy and your breathing and heart rate start to slow down.
Suffering from insomnia but can’t bear the scent of liquorice? Harrison says Virginia Cedarwood is another good option. “It contains the compound that raises the rest mode of the body.” Adding some of your favorite scents into the mix can also help you catch more ZZZs. “If it puts your mind in a happy state, that can help you get into a relaxed state as well,” adds Harrison.
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“What most people associate with alertness and memory or mental activity is peppermint,” says Harrison. “It almost feels like a little pinch hitting your nose, which activates the nervous system and kind of creates an alert mind.” Rosemary and basil are known to improve focus as well.
To disperse a mind-activating scent around your home office, Harrison recommends using a diffuser or spray bottle. He also shares an unexpected ingredient that will help the oil disperse into water: “Add a teaspoon of vodka! It also makes it easier [for the oils] to evaporate into the air.” In a pinch, you could add a few drops of peppermint essential oil to a tissue and place it on your desk. It’ll prevent you from dozing off while you put together that finance report and your space will smell like Starbucks during the holidays — it’s a win-win.