Candles vs wax melts: is the competition too hot to handle?

Here's our hot take on this home fragrance debate

Seashell candle
(Image credit: HimalayanCandle/ Amazon)

Move aside #TeamEdward and #TeamJacob, it's time to discuss an even hotter debate: are you Team Candle, or Team Wax Melt? 

When it comes to making your home smell amazing, it feels like there are endless options in home fragrance, and deciding which method is best for your space can feel like a serious struggle. 

So if you're finding yourself overwhelmed standing in TJ Maxx trying to decide between a scented candle or a wax melt, you're not alone. This is the definitive guide to the difference between candles and wax melts, each of their pros and cons, and everything you need to know before you shop for your next home scent.

Candles vs wax melts

Candles go without introduction. These vessels filled with scented beeswax, soy, or coconut wax come in a variety of shapes, sizes, scents, and colors to suit any and every aesthetic. Ranging from tealights to mega 3-wick candles, burn time can range anywhere from a 3-4 hours to upwards of 100.

Wax melts, on the other hand, are little shaped pieces of wax made with a more concentrated scent. When paired with a wax warmer that you plug into your wall, they're used as a flame-free alternative to candles to fill a room with fragrance. A high-quality wax melt can last you about 8 hours, with some claiming to run from noon til midnight at 12 hours a piece.

Pros and cons of candles

A pair of tapered candles with painted mushroom pattern

(Image credit: Urban Outfitters)

Pros: Candles have been around since the olden days, and there's a pretty solid reason for that: The. Vibes. Are. Immaculate. Nothing quite compares to the romantic feel of a candlelit dinner or is more relaxing than a candle paired with a bubble bath, and watching that flickering flame can also do wonders for your focus, concentration, and mindfulness when it comes to meditating and setting affirmations. 

The other big win with candles is their decorative impact. Whether you opt for a funky abstract twisted candle or one shaped like a Roman bust or female form, you're able to bring some major cuteness to your space. The vessels themselves can also vary wildly in shape and color from plain matte black to dreamy iridescent, and some candle's sculptural containers look like actual pieces of art.

They're also available at a range of price points, and you'll find a lot of high-end designers and fragrance houses make candle versions of your favorite perfumes, which means you can bring some luxury into your space and take that signature scent even more seriously (we're looking at you, Maison Margiela).

Cons: Realistically, the biggest cons of candles are caused by the open flame itself and potential safety issues it could cause. In dorms and rented apartments especially, you likely have a clause in your contract specifically saying that candles aren't allowed, and that's because there's a serious fire risk if you forget to blow a candle out and leave it unattended or burning for too long.

Every candle also comes in a vessel, and while many of those are adorable, some are more about function. Unfortunately, burning a bunch of candles at home leads to throwing away glass containers and the consumption of lighters and matches — which is not exactly ideal for sustainability.

ICYWW, some of our favorite candles include:

Pros and cons of wax melts

A pastel crate full of colorful, pastel star-shaped wax melts

(Image credit: HimalayanCandle/Etsy)

Pros: One of the biggest plus sides of these little scented squares is the fact you can fill your home with fragrance, without the use of a flame. This is beyond ideal for renters, dorm dwellers, and anyone living in a space with a strict 'no candles' rule who misses the cozy feeling of their favorite scent surrounding them at home.

For our aspiring perfume professionals, wax melts also give a lot of room to get creative. You can mix and match different scents to create your own custom home fragrance that makes you feel most comforted, and that you'll always associate with that feeling of sanctuary.

Cons: TBH, the ambiance of a wax melt doesn't hold a flame (ha) to traditional candles. While you do still get a light source and an element of decoration through the wax warmer, in most instances, the vibe is more like a bedside lamp than a moody or romantic flicker. 

At first glance, an individual pack of wax melts may also seem more affordable than many candles, but don't forget that they rely on a plugin lamp, meaning you need to use electricity to get the scent. While candles also have their drawbacks when it comes to potential waste and environmental impact, it is important to keep in mind that filling your living room with fragrance all day could cost you some serious coin.

ICYWW, some of our favorite wax melts include:

Our ~hot~ takes

Personally? I'm obsessed with candles and they serve as my main form of home decor, so they're definitely my preference over wax melts. But I had to know if this was a hot take or I was with the majority on this one, so I took it to the team to see where everyone stands on the candles vs wax melts debate: 

Christina author photo
Christina Chrysostomou

"I'm team candle all the way. First off, if it's a nice brand like Jo Malone, NEOM or The White Company — you've made your apartment look $$$$$ more expensive in an instant. Then, once the wax has burnt down, you can repurpose those cute li'l jars into a cute pen pot or a designer tumbler — just make sure you wash it out well if you're going to DIY the latter."

Annie Collyer illustration
Annie Collyer

"Personally, I tend to use candles over wax melts but that's mostly because I end up testing loads of candles through work. I love the luxury look of a candle, and there's nothing quite like lighting one before guests come over. I think candles, depending on the vessel, of course, look a lot more elegant than a wax melt in most cases. 

I do live with my Pug, Doug, so I am conscious about lighting candles when he is around, but the same goes for wax melts. I'd never light them in the room he sleeps and I'll always air the room the candle is inside."

Head shot of Real Homes staff writer Eve Smallman
Eve Smallman

"I’m a total scent girlie, and I love making my home smell good. I totes get why people use wax melts like the ones from Yankee Candle, as they’re super affordable and the scent lasts ages, but I’m firmly team candle. They look so much more stylish than wax melt holders IMO, are extremely easy to use, and the flickering flame is so aesthetic (even though I know it can be dangerous!). Cozy evenings in start with candles, and that’s why they’re my jam."

Get the best of both worlds 

A pearlescent bubble-shaped cube wax melt in front of a tealight wax melter

(Image credit: Etsy/HeartsOfWax)

So clearly, the verdict here at Real Homes is a resounding #TeamCandle, but if you're still feeling indecisive about where you stand, I totally get it and am here to give a few more home scent ideas.

If you have an absolute favorite candle from growing up that gives you all the nostalgic feels but can't light it up in your current space, don't stress. You can always pick up an adorable candle warmer (which will also extend the life of your candle majorly) or can even turn your favorite candle into landlord-friendly wax melts with one of our head ecommerce editor and home fragrance expert Annie Collyer's favorite DIYs. 

"You can actually make a wax melt from scratch or using leftover candle wax," Collyer says. "When I am at the bottom of a candle, I wait for it to cool down and take it into my kitchen. I boil my kettle and pour the hot water into the vessel, leaving it for around an hour. You should find that a disc of wax has floated to the top of your jar, and most of the time this should slide out into your hand. I break this up and use it as wax melts so it doesn't go to waste."

Nishaa Sharma
Staff Writer

Hi! I’m the social editor here at Real Homes, using my nine years of social media experience to bring you the latest and greatest in home trends, interiors aesthetics, and celebrity finds. When I’m not scrolling or filming the best home decor for your small space, you can find me exploring the cutest villages and brunch spots, or snuggled up on the sofa with a new recipe, my husband, and our puppy, Ebble.