The Scents that Sell

Scents that Sell: Tips from Experts on Staging a Home to Sell

Certain scents have a way of triggering specific memories or moods, for better or for worse. When you’re staging a home to sell, your space should prompt feelings of peace and comfort. Incorporating—or avoiding—certain scents in your home really can make the difference between prospective buyers loving or loathing your abode.

The Power of Smell


Psychology Today’s Dr. Jordan Gaines Lewis notes that multiple behavioral studies show “smells trigger more vivid emotional memories and are better at inducing that feeling of ‘being brought back in time’ than images.” Thus, all your new flowerbeds, decluttering, and neutral artwork efforts alone likely won’t score an offer; you should also use the power of smell to evoke positive feelings from prospective buyers.

Further, a 2004 study by Dr. Rachel Herz at Brown University revealed more brain activity from a group who smelled a perfume they associated with a positive memory than when the same group smelled a control perfume they hadn’t previously been introduced to—so it’s best stick to home staging scents that we know already positively resonate with homebuyers.

This led the Extra Space Storage team to wonder which scents homeowners should both avoid and incorporate into their homes when staging a home to sell. Even if you’re not staging your home and you’re simply interested in making your home smell better for guests, read on to learn these DIY expert-approved tips to get your space smelling so fresh and so clean.

Removing Unpleasant Odors from Your Home

  • Add scents to your air filters. If you’ve changed your home’s air filters and lingering smells (like pet odor) are a still a worry, home improvement expert and host of Today’s Homeowner Danny Lipford has a clever hack for making your whole house smell great asap. “Simply add a few drops of your favorite essential oil—or extract like vanilla or almond—to your air filters,” he says. “The entire volume of air in your home passes through the filter three times per hour, so the scent is dispersed quickly and will permeate the whole house in no time.”
  • Use an ionic air purifier. In addition to changing your filter and adding a natural scent, realtor Barbara Zorn with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Star says an ionic air purifier is the way to go. “If you have a large home, it may need two or three [ionic air purifiers].”
  • Do some deep cleaning. Zorn also suggests bleaching and painting the walls, as well as either cleaning or replacing flooring and HVAC ductwork. And don’t forget to regularly clean pet bedding, toys, and dishes, too. You may not notice your pet’s scent much, but potential homeowners sure will.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of fresh air and natural scents. As you clean your home to neutralize unpleasant odors, think natural. Karen Plaisted with Design Solutions KGP says fresh air is the best: “I advise my sellers to open the windows and air out the house.” If you want to add a scent as you clean, Plaisted advises sellers to use natural cleaners with essential oils like lemon, basil, and grapefruit.

Incorporating Pleasing Scents into Your Home

  • Avoid artificial wall plugins. Plan to add an air freshener plugin to every room? Think again, cautions Plaisted. “Plugins are too much!” Jennifer Shannon, real estate broker with CrestEdge Real Estate, echoes this sentiment: “Beware of scented candles and wall plugins. They come off as synthetic and generally overwhelm the room they’re in.”
  • Lighter scents are best. Shannon advises homeowners hoping to incorporate pleasing scents should try simmering herbs and citrus slices on the stove before showings. “These create light, natural scents that accentuate the home rather than distract from it.”
  • Skip floral scents, too. While you may adore all things flowers, realtor Dylan Diersen with Riesterer Team/First Weber warns against it, cautioning that you must consider prospective home buyers with allergies. Michael Kelczewski with Brandywine Fine Properties agrees, and highlights the potential issue of overpowering floral scents: “When staging a property, I tend to shy away [floral scents] and focus on widely appealing fresh types.” Instead, Kelczewski recommends another aroma. “Studies indicate that coffee scents are positively correlated to present a home optimally,” he notes.

Our Favorite Home Staging Scents

  • Orange, lemon, and grapefruit. Citrus fruits like these are known to enhance alertness—and orange scents are even linked to reducing anxiety. The Journal of Retailing even reported a link between shoppers spending as much as 31% more when a store was infused with an orange scent.
  • Green tea, cedar, pine, and basil. These simple scents aren’t distracting, and a light green tea scent may even encourage a sense of “upscale well-being.”
  • Vanilla and coffee. Vanilla is a scent that seems to be universally perceived as pleasant in psychological experiments; it’s associated with warmth and has “connotations of purity and simplicity.” And “enhanced cognitive ability” has been linked to the smell of coffee.

Overall, each of the staging experts we spoke with caution against over-scenting your home when staging a home to sell. “More often than not, buyers comment on whether the sellers are attempting to conceal a bad odor with fragrances, baking, or candles,” shares Sarah Lilly, a broker with Five Star Lakeshore Real Estate. You don’t want buyers to walk in and wonder what you’re hiding. Deep clean your home, avoid overpowering and artificial smells, and incorporate natural, neutral scents.

For more home staging advice, check out our complete guide to how to stage your home for sale.