Small Measures: Homemade Eau de Perfume



We all know how powerful scents are in terms of memory. Who among us hasn’t caught a whiff of pumpkin pie and recalled our beloved grandmother, or a Fraser fir tree and thought of happy holidays long passed? The smell of tomato leaves can instantly transport us to the summertime tomato sandwiches of our childhood, while the aroma of freshly baked croissants takes us back to a bakery we once frequented. For those interested in the science of how smell and memory are in a perpetual dance, check out this link. In short, add a scent to the mix and you’re pretty much guaranteed memories for life.

My upbringing was characterized by very specific fragrances. To me, my youth will always smell like my mother’s signature scents, either Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps or Calvin Klein’s Eternity, my father’s Chanel for Men and my maternal grandmother’s Youth Dew by Estée Lauder. Those fragrances comfort me beyond description, even though they don’t speak to me for my own personal use. As a woman who is interested in making things and who has a profound love of natural scents (I’m always burning candles and incense and essential oils at home), I thought I’d try creating a signature scent of my own. Today I’m happy to share with you the results of my sleuthing. With a few simple ingredients, you’ll be whipping up bespoke blends of your own, creating enduring olfactory memories for years to come. — Ashley English

The full post continues after the jump . . .

To build your own fragrance, it’s essential to first understand the way they’re structured. Using either essential oils or fragrance oils (which may be synthetically or naturally derived), distinct scents are created by blending top, middle and base notes. These “notes” are essentially three different levels of scent, each with varying rates of evaporation.

Top notes are those scents you first notice, but they are also the most volatile oils, dispersing and disappearing the fastest. Middle notes are the moderators, linking the top and base notes together, determining which sort of fragrance family a scent becomes — earthy, floral, spicy, woodsy, etc. Lastly, base notes, or fixatives, impart the longest, fullest scent and are sourced from balsams, roots, resins and woods. An ideal ratio to aim for when creating custom blends is one containing 30% top notes, 50% middle notes and 20% base notes. Here are a few examples of scents from each note:

  • Base: Cedarwood, Cypress, Ginger, Patchouli, Pine, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Vetiver
  • Middle: Black Pepper, Cardamom, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Clove, Fir Needle, Jasmine, Juniper, Lemongrass, Neroli, Nutmeg, Rose, Rosewood, Ylang-Ylang
  • Top: Basil, Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lavender, Lemon, Lime, Mint, Neroli, Rosemary, Sweet Orange

 

This list is hardly comprehensive. There are so many scents, each falling into different note categories. To see what note classification a specific scent falls into, check out this helpful link on Aroma Web. If you have a commercially prepared fragrance you particularly love, check out this link to see what notes are used, and then experiment with re-creating it.

Owing to their different rates of evaporation, it stands to reason that a perfume’s fragrance will change over time. The more it is exposed to light and air, the more quickly it will deteriorate, which is why proper storage is essential. Here are several suggestions for maintaining the integrity and quality of your essential oils and fragrance blends:

  • Store your fragrances and essential oils in dark-colored bottles out of direct sunlight.
  • Put the cap back on the oils as soon as you’ve removed the drops needed. Heat, light, oxygen and moisture will compromise their quality and cause them to degrade.
  • If you are prone to skin sensitivity, test a small amount of your blend on your forearm for allergic reactions before using it liberally.
  • Essential oils are highly concentrated and some can burn the skin if applied directly, so always use a carrier oil such as jojoba, sweet almond or grape seed.
  • Always use glass or ceramic vessels when mixing and blending oils.
  • If stored properly, essential oils will retain their integrity for one year once opened.

Now, let’s get down to brass tacks and start mixing your custom eau de perfume!

The Goods

  • 2 Tablespoons carrier oil, such as jojoba, sweet almond or grape seed oil
  • 6 Tablespoons good quality vodka (I like Rain)
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons distilled or spring water (not tap water, though)
  • coffee filter
  • funnel
  • essential oils for blending (you’ll need separate oils for base, middle and top notes, totaling around 30 drops)
  • two dark-colored glass bottles, one for curing, one for storing (you don’t need both right away, though)
  • decorative perfume bottle, for gifting (optional)

The Deal

1. Begin by cleaning the bottles, either in your hottest setting in the dishwasher or with hot, soapy water.

2. Place the bottles on a rimmed baking pan and dry in an oven set to 110ºC. Remove from the oven once they are completely dry. Put a lid on one of the bottles (the one you’ll be using for storing) and set it aside until you’ll need it, which will be anywhere from 48 hours to 6 weeks later.

3. Place the carrier oil into one of the bottles.

4. Next, add the essential oils in the following order: the base notes, the middle notes and finally the top notes. The number of drops used for each note is up to you, so it’s time to play! Just remember the ideal ratio of 30% top, 50% middle and 20% base notes. Shoot for around 30 drops total given the amount of carrier oil and vodka called for here.

5. Add the vodka. Place the lid atop the bottle and shake it vigorously for several minutes.

6. Allow the bottle to sit for 48 hours to 6 weeks. The scent will change over time, becoming strongest around 6 weeks.

7. Check it regularly, and once you’re happy with it, add 2 tablespoons of spring water to the blend.

8. Give the bottle a good shake for one minute. Place a coffee filter into a funnel and transfer the contents from the curing bottle to the other bottle, which will become the storing bottle. Label your blend.

9. Your eau de perfume is now ready to wear. If you’d like to gift it, put some in a decorative bottle. Be sure to advise the recipient, however, to keep it out of direct heat or sunlight. Ideally, though, the best place for storing your creation is in a dark-colored bottle.

Here are three blends that I’ve created and just love:

Midnight Garden

  • 6 drops cedarwood oil
  • 15 drops clove oil
  • 9 drops lavender oil

 

Siren Song

  • 7 drops sandalwood oil
  • 14 drops rose oil
  • 9 drops bergamot oil

 

Brighter Day

  • 7 drops pine oil
  • 14 drops lemongrass oil
  • 9 drops orange oil

What about you? Have any experiences mixing custom scents you’d like to share, or particularly powerful olfactory-based memories you recall with clarity? I’d love to hear about them. Otherwise, bespoke fragrances are fantastic concoctions for gifting or for making a little special sumpin’ sumpin’ for yourself. Either way, gifted or kept, fragrances will stay with you long after the scent wanes.

Photos and styling by Jen Altman.

Elisabeth

Thank you for slightly demystifying the process here. I can see myself gathering a few friends and creating together. Ashley’s blends sounds intense and amazing while Jen’s photos are fresh and beautiful, as always.

estrersu

love perfumes and as I read your inspiration to make your own perfumes theiy are very simmilar to what my mother used so it is very probable i will experiment whit fragrances too, nobody believes me I cook with my nose, really!!!! I know when the foo d is ready with the smell of it, and I feel that I am not ready dressed if I donnt have my perfume, maybe I will have some difficulties because I live in Uruguay and we do not hace very much oils but I travel often to Buenos Aires, if I start doing this I write

Ashley

This is one of my favorite features of all time!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried a fragrance and said ‘Hmm, I almost like it except it’s a little too flowery’ or I liked it in the store but by the time I get home the scent that it’s settled to is no longer appealing. I am also so super psyched to know now how to play with the different essential oils. Thank you so much for the recipe!!! I cannot wait to start experimenting!!

Ashley

OK, I just looked up my favorite perfume… I cannot believe how much went into it!! It’s got four of each note in it, I had no idea that so much went into making perfumes! Now I’m even more excited to experiment! Ah!! Thank you!!!

Jennifer

Creating a perfume is a long-time fantasy of mine, and now you’ve shown me how to indulge without going to France. I can’t wait to try this. Thank you!

Erica W.

Thank you so much for posting this — I’ve wanted to figure out how to make my own perfume for ages — I’m going to give it a try (though waiting 6 weeks seems really hard!). I’ve gotten essential oils at http://www.soapsaloon.com in the past — very reasonably priced.

Jess

Oh my gosh, this is the best post ever. Thought I was weird for collecting things that smelled like my memories. My collections and their scents are my timeline. The most unique scent in my collection comes from a rock I found. My most prized is a tin that has perfectly preserved my strawberry shortcake doll. When I open it, I am transported to my favorite Christmas, 1980. I have a collection of wooden boxes each with its own smell that will take me back to different times. The candles I purchase must be a poignant scent for me. I am the candle industries greates target market. i just bought a scented notebook and candles from La Labo because they reminded me of my grandfather’s design studio. This is a topic I could go on and on about. Price does not stand in the way of a memory. :) Thank you for sharing. Stunning photos, and styling.

Terry

I would love to create my own signature scent. I have worn KL by Karl Lagerfeld for about 30 years and now that it is no longer made, I’m very sad-would love to be able to come up with something similar.

Heidi (AlpineGypsy)

You’ve touched a subject close to my Heart~

Scents are so powerful for me, and can transport me in time just like Jess – right now at work, there is a dish soap that reminds me of the laundromat my mum took me to as a child in 1979!

I also frequently travel back in my memory to a particular building of my elementary school – the smell of the wood was very distinct and gives me a queer feeling in my tummy. :o)

I’ve been experimenting with making my own fragrances for a long time, and it is one of the most delightful things to put on a scent that you have crafted with your own hands. It is a world, I realize now, that expands once you delve into it – the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. But it sure is fun learning!

Another source of wonderful essential oils I would recommend:
http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/aroma/ess.html

Thanks for the tutorial; I’ve never made Eau de Toilette, but can’t wait to try.

Heidi

Kate

thanks for this post! Can you tell me why you need to filter the perfume before storing? What impurities/elements are you removing by doing so? Thanks!

Adele

Thank you thank you thank you! I am a huuuuuge fan of Angel by Theirry Mugler but being a student I cannot even come close to afford paying ZAR R950 (thats roughly $100 +) for a 50ml bottle. I usually make a stop at the perfume section in the department store close to my work almost every week (why they don’t recognize me by now i have yet to understand). Now I can make it myself for under ZAR R100 (thats roughly $12) – depending on the Vodka I decide to use :D soo excited to try this

janet

Thanks for this! I’ve been wanting to make my own perfume for a long time, but never got around to researching the how-to. Can’t wait to start my own concoction!

Anne

This is great! I’ve always wanted to make my own fragrance, and this really explains the process well! Thank you so much :)

jules

Thank you, this is awesome! A few years ago a friend and I discovered this tiny adorable perfume “lab” in Manhattan that made custom scents … But it was SO EXPENSIVE! We loved the idea though. Can’t wait to try this.

Eka

I also am curious as to why the coffee filter is being used. Very thorough an informative. Permission to play! Thanks!

Kelly

Adele i love angel too.. What combo of fragrances did you use?

Heather

I have played with making my own body oil to wear instead of perfume, I just put it in a rollerball container for easy application. I like to use sandalwood, lavender, and jasmin. I think I unknowingly used the ratio you recommend. I will have to try this for sure, I don’t usually like normal women’s perfume, I do better with more masculine scents but men’s fragrances are too masculine.

Tessa

What happens with the spring water? you have it in the ingredients but don’t mention it in the instructions?

krista (urbanite jewelry)

Made my first few blends on Friday night and got my first whiff of them today. I’m already addicted to making the stuff!

Ashley–when you made your blends and let them sit for the 48 hours to 6 weeks, did your oils and the vodka separate? Mine separate as they sit but combine again wheni mix them. Hoping that’s normal!

Amanda

Krista, the same thing happened to me. I was looking through the forums on the basenotes.net website she posted and it seems that this recipe doesn’t have enough essential oils. This post says that for each ounce (or 2 tbsp) you should have 60 drops of essential oils. The recipe here is roughly 4 oz, so that means that it should have about 240 drops instead of 30.
What I did is measure out 2 tbsp of the perfume I had already made. I put it in a different glass bottle and added about 57 more drops. You should try it. It smells so much better now!

Andrea Lakeland

Great post thanks!
Maybe this isn’t the romantic type of olfactory memory you had in mind, but:
While I was growing up my father was building our new house on the same section (still isn’t finished!). Many years after I had left home I phoned up to talk to my father, and as my mother walked outside with the phone to get Dad who was working outside, I heard the sound of the bench saw over the phone. I smelt the wood dust. It was such a real intense physical smell and then I realised that I couldn’t be really smelling it all, it was all just my brain tricking me.

yusi

I know my question would sound a bit weird, but hope u could help :) I live in a place where the only source of Alcohol available is Ethyle Alcohol (rubbing alcohol/medicated), could I use it instead of Vodka?

Summer

Thank you for this! Attempting to make this weekend and maybe gift to my bridesmaids if all turns out as planned!! :)

Laura

What a fabulous DIY (great pictures, too). I need to work up my creative bravery, buy supplies, and give it a try!

Tara

Great post! Does anyone know where I can buy that velvet ribbon? It’s gorgeous!

Matt

so if I wanted to have a ‘pure’ sandalwood smell, and just put in, say, 25-30 drops of sandalwood essential oil into a 50ml airplane bottle of Vodka, shook it up and stored it somewhere cool and dark, would that be all I need?

veneisha burgess

i would love to know how to make my own perfum it would make my life worth living

Sky

I have a question! Do you think lavender, rose, and orange would smell nice?

suri

Hi, thank you for sharing this information, appreciated. i was wondering if you could tell me where to buy the vodka and the type of vodka used if possible, thank you.

:)

Cheryl

Why is it necessary to use a filter in the funnel when transferring from the curing bottle to the storing bottle?

Sarah

Hopefully your method of perfume making can save my skin- I have a science project due with a partner VERY SOON and since your method gives a nicer minimum of wait period, it could help a lot. Important question! Can you substitute ethyl alcohol for vodka? Being under legal drinking age could be difficult getting my hands on vodka for this, though.

Thomas

If your filling a 1.7 oz perfume bottle how do you figure the percentage of drops and alcohol. I keep getting different answers. If I wanted to create a fragrance to fill numerous bottles this size in say a 32oz bottle or what ever size as oppose to doing each bottle at a time. Thanks, Thomas

angie

Does one not need to use an emulsifyer in this perfumes for the alcohol and oil? and maybe a stabilisier to retain the smell ?

Chin

I’m really loving those miniature perfume bottles. They’re super cute!!! Where can i get some?

mary

I appreciate the wayyou brooke the whole process down. I make an aura spray that i’m often asked to make in a parfume. now I am confident to try it. Patchouli and Lavender.

Daniel

You need minimum of 95% ethyl alcohol to extract all the profiles from EO’s and Absolutes. Aromatherapist mix oils doesn’t mean it’s perfume. Plus the base notes usually are 50-55%, having that as a percentage for your heart notes won’t have proper structure.
Famed perfumer Jean Carlos outline this structure in his books and he is a trusted authority.
The above process will give you something that smells, but it’s not how you make perfume.

christina

if i was trying to have a perfume making party would I make each scent serpartely and then let the girls mix and match so they don’t have to wait 2-6 days for their results?

Carlos

Why do you use vodka and not grain alcohol or isopropyl alcohol?

Pure Inspiration Oils

I agree with Daniel. The base is typically the majority portion of the fragrance. The mid and top notes accent the final product. It is common to use everclear as it is 95% alcohol with 5% distilled water. This is a cheap way since perfumer alcohol is a controlled item with limitations before you are forced to buy a license. Also, vodka is a safe means of use as it doesnt change the fragrant composition. The only problem is that by adding distilled water you may cloud the end fragrant product. Also it may cause your perfume to wear off faster with less punch to those that smell it.

miss white

Thank you so much for sharing.Nobody does such a thing anymore.You’ve made it so afordable i could cry in joy now

Moira

I found the above posts very informative, so thanks to all. I managed to buy 90% ethanol so does this mean I still need to use distilled water?? I have also read numerous times that glycerin helps to hold the scent (especially the top notes) a lot better but I’m not sure what percentage I should use?? Would love and advise :-)

perfumes

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Dan S.

I really like these recipes. However I wonder if the % of EO to carrier/alcohol/water mix is way to low to be considered perfume. Other sites insist, in order to make a perfume, about 25% of the volume of the perfume container should be essential oil.

karen

Hi

Love your website and recipies. I am about to start having a go at making perfumes, and will try out your recipies above.
I would really like to make a perfume similar to calandre by paco rabanne which I used to wear years ago. I wondered if anyone has tried to make a similar perfume, and have a recipie for it.

kay

I’m going to save myself some money and clean out some empty beer bottles for curing and storage…

pam longworth

how can I replicate ,a product by puig that is no longer made. estivalia , lait de beaute hydratant. is it possible to have this made . many thanks pam

Leanne Boy

I adore Rive Gauche and cannot obtain it. Cud u help with its composition.
Also Masumi by Coty.

Karen McCabe

I would really like to make a perfume similar to calandre by paco rabanne which I used to wear years ago, and also coco chanel. I wondered if anyone has tried to make a similar perfumes, and have a formulation for either of them.

Amanda

This helped me tremendously! I’ve wanted to learn how to make perfume for as long as I could remember but didn’t want to do it until I knew exactly how to. I feel like I could actually make this without messing it all up now!

Tina

Great post! Thanks for sharing I would love to know where you got those adorable bottles from! I have been looking for bottles like these for years.

Kim

If you want to replicate a perfume try googling it and you should find the info you need. For example googling YSL Paris took me to a perfume site and the info:

Heart notes; Rose, Lime Blossom, Ylang Ylang, Violet, Lily, Orris, Jasmine
Top notes; Cassia, Hawthorn, Hyacinth, Bergamot, Geranium, Orange Blossom
Base notes; Oakmoss, Heliotrope, Cedar, Iris, Sandalwood, Amber, Musk
Scent: Floral

Wouldn’t like to try replicate that personally but you get the idea :)

Kim

I followed your recipe and the scent is wonderful. However, the vodka & water did not emulsify with the oils. What should I do? Thanks.

asif

thanks alot..
i much encouraged reading these recipes and love to make it my own.

jean

Jojoba oil = non polar
Alcohol = polar
you can’t mix it. so, there is something wrong in here.

Kim

An easier way is to make a perfume oil. All you need is a carrier oil like almond or jojoba & then you just add your essential oils to the carrier oil. The bonus with this is you don’t need to wait to use it, you can use it right away & there is no need to filter it. Another bonus is you only need a drop behind each ear & each wrist & the scent of perfume oils lasts a lot longer than a perfume. I make one using sandalwood, patchouli & ylang-ylang & sometimes I also add frankincense. They also make for a very relaxing soak in the tub & when you are done your whole body is scented.

Rina

Thank you so much for sharing. I am going to try and make some for Christmas!

oswelda

This is so amazing would make a lovely gift! What would you say would be best for a man in his 20s? Any of the recipies you posted or anything else? Would love to make my boyfriend something

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