Perfumista tip: how to decant perfume

Decanting

I suppose I should actually start with why you might want to decant perfume. Well, there are any number of possible reasons. Perhaps you want to start swapping (swapping article coming up soon!), or selling on ebay, or perhaps you just want to share fragrances with your friends or split a bottle of something you can't afford to buy full-sized. Or maybe you'd like to have some travel sizes of your favorite scents?

Decanting Supplies

To start with, you'll need some empty bottles, atomizers and/or vials. I personally use 2 sources for empty bottles, pilotvials and madinaonline, but you might want to post a query on one of the fragrance forums to see what suppliers are popular at the moment; I don't order often enough these days to know which suppliers are considered "reputable". If you're planning to start swapping, you'll probably want to have some small glass vials (the "standard" small vial is 1/32 oz), and then an assortment of larger sized bottles. I am partial to 1/8th oz decants — just enough to make up your mind about the fragrance one way or another — but I'm guessing most swappers prefer a slightly larger size, perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 oz. For bottle splits, you might need 1/2 or even 1 oz containers.

You will have to choose between splash, roll-on and spray bottles. Personally, I prefer splash except for travel (see below), largely because they are cheaper than the spray. Some people prefer roll-on, but I do not like the idea of having the fragrance contaminated with every use. I used to remove the roll-on mechanism from any such bottle I received (you can pry it out with a tiny screwdriver, like the kind that are sold to mend eyeglasses), but with many roll-on bottles, that mechanism is what creates a tight seal with the cap; if you remove it, you risk evaporation unless you move the juice to another container.

For travel, 1/3 oz atomizers are perfect. The biggest problem with travel atomizers is that they are prone to leakage. I have been very happy with the 1/3 oz atomizers from pilotvials, but again, you might want to ask around on the boards before you choose.

Glass is generally preferable to plastic. Other supplies that may be helpful: a stainless steel funnel, small plastic pipettes (check lab supply or hobby stores), clean straws (McDonalds!), small clear plastic baggies to hold the vials (I use 2 inch by 3 inch ziploc baggies, which you can buy quite cheaply on ebay) and labels.

A question that pops up frequently is "I've used up a decant, how can I clean the bottle and reuse it", and the answer is quite simple: don't. You can easily enough remove all traces of the fragrance from a glass bottle, but the caps and the spray mechanism, if any, are usually made from plastic, and there is virtually no way to clean them adequately.

How to decant from a splash bottle

If your fragrance is in a splash bottle, you can, of course, simply pour it into the new container. This can be risky depending on the size, but I've done it often enough when I've been in a hurry. A stainless steel funnel will help to avoid spillage, and I also find it helpful to stick the empty bottle into a wedge of clay or styrofoam so that it won't get knocked over while I'm working. If you don't have a funnel, you can fashion one out of tin foil. Avoid plastic funnels, as it is nearly impossible to remove all traces of scent once they've been used.

If you're trying to make a small sample vial from a splash bottle, disposable plastic pipettes are perfect. If you don't have one handy (and who does?) using a clean straw as a siphon usually works quite well. Again, it helps to stabilize the vial in a wedge of clay or styrofoam so that you don't spill.

How to decant from a spray bottle

Start by seeing if the top unscrews easily, but most are crimped on and cannot be removed without breaking the spray mechanism. In that case, the best method is usually to spray directly into the new container by holding the nozzle right up to the opening. This usually works well even with small containers, like sample vials, but some atomizers are much better than others. A very strong stream can make things difficult when you're trying to fill smaller containers (most of the fragrance just splashes out again). If you have trouble, again, a stainless steel funnel, or one fashioned out of tin foil, is helpful.

On splitting bottles

For those of us who already have large perfume collections, arranging bottle splits is the perfect way to get something new without having to take on another 100 ml of something you'll never manage to use up during your life time. A few words to the wise: always pre-measure the amount of liquid that fits into each empty container, in other words, don't assume that a 10 ml container only holds 10 ml. For the casual swapper, a difference of 1-2 ml is not a big deal, but it will make all the difference in the world if you're splitting a 50 ml bottle between 5 people and you are left with only a few drops after you've decanted the other 4 portions.

Have any other tips to share? Do comment!

Note: image via "The Art of Decanting Wine" on lifeinitaly.

Update: here is the article on how to swap perfume, and here is an article on doing bottle splits.

Update 2: courtesy of Quarry Joy, the image below gives you a good idea of what some commonly used decant sizes look like. I've had to resize the image so the print is rather hard to read; from the left, you've got 1 ml or 1/32 oz (the "standard" sample size), then 1.25 ml or 1/28 oz, 2 ml or 1/16 oz, 5 ml or 1/6 oz, 7.5 ml or 1/4 oz, 10 ml or 1/3 oz, 15 ml or 1/2 oz, 30 ml or 1 oz, 50 ml or 1.7 oz, 100 ml or 3.4 oz.

Common decant sizes

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45 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I also bought a cheap box a latex gloves s to wear so I don't get the scent all over myself, especially when spraying.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely fantastic article, much needed for all perfume newbies and veterans! I love those ziploc baggies, which are rather useful if you are a messy decanter like me – surely nobody likes their vials to smell of one and the same perfume :-) I could never be a surgeon, not that I'd want to, LOL!

    For me it's always first and foremost the friends sending you the samples that are important, you know. A lovely new scented discovery is a great bonus, but the fact that someone has taken their time to fill the vials with a love they want to share is what is precious and heartwarming. :-)

    Look at me, I'm all gooey!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great idea, and I actually have a box of those left over from some craft thing I did once.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I so agree — half the fun of becoming a perfume addict is getting all sorts of wonderful surprises in the mail, sent by people who actually try to think of things you might like and have never tried. It is almost astounding how generously people share of things they love, so can understand going gooey :-)

  5. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful article! Very informative.

    I now tend to agree on the roll-ons. Both my Chene and MKK have gotten some sediment in them. I'm waiting to use them up, but may go to decanting into small vials.

    I decant from my full bottles, mainly because that way I can have all of my favorite ones readily available, while the full bottles reside safe from light (and god forbid an earthquake) in the back of the closet.

  6. Anonymous says:

    That was a great article! I feel like my decanting/sample-making is really disorganized. I want one (small) area dedicated to the practice, maybe a spare shelf and counter in the laundry room just for my supplies. I feel like I spend more time running around collecting what I need (labels, tape, pen, vials, etc.) than making the samples.
    The vials and atomizers from pilotvials have been great. I bought some cheaper atomizers on eBay once but they were very tall and tended to fall over.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Great article – I had to learn all of what you described, the hard way, by trial and error. Glad the newbies out there in NST world have such a great teacher like you Robin!

    BTW – I have a question: You recommend using a stainless steel funnel to assist in decanting from an atomizer, will a plastic atomizer work just as well, or will it 'retain' any smells like you mentioned..?

  8. Anonymous says:

    I have received roll-ons via swap that already have sediment in them — and while I am not an unduly squeamish person, that is not something I want to see!

    I decant many of my bottles for my own use also, sometimes just because I like the smell better that way.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I finally stuck all my decanting supplies into a large box, with everything separated into smaller boxes by size of container, etc. Then as soon as I had accomplished that, I pretty much stopped swapping altogether, LOL…

    The vials from madina are cheaper than pilotvials, but I haven't been happy with the madina atomizers, and madina has somewhat less than perfect customer service. Still, for large quantities of vials/splash bottles, I don't think madina can be beat.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I am sorry but your question isn't clear to me — do you mean a plastic funnel? If so, I think in general stainless steel is preferable as it can be so easily cleaned with soap & water. Most plastics are very difficult to deodorize. I do have some Nalgene bottles that don't seem to retain odor — I think they are made with something called Lexan plastic, so perhaps there are plastic funnels that you can use without problem?

    And an aside, but of course after I bought a ton of the Nalgene bottles I started reading bad things about how they leach BPA into food so those are in the garbage anyway.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Lovely informative article.

    Yep I hate those floatie things in roll on decants. What are they?

    Is it 'skin'?

  12. Anonymous says:

    I assume it is the accumulation of whatever gets trapped under the roller — skin, lint, dust, what have you. Would rather not think about it :-)

  13. Anonymous says:

    On bottles – I have had good luck recently (two weeks ago) with Specialty Bottle (specialtybottle.com) and Snowdrift Farm (snowdriftfarm.com) – the latter is more expensive, but they sell tiny atomizers (2 ml glass and 1/3 oz stainless steel with glass liner) in addition to glass vials. The latter also sells “perfume alcohol” for those of us who like to make our own – though I wouldn't use it again as it smells faintly of isopropyl. Worth the trip to Nevada, where neutral-smelling 190-proof grain alcohol is legal.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, will check out Snowdrift Farm especially, I love little spray atomizers but they are usually too expensive to buy in bulk. I used to buy 2 ml plastic atomizers from someplace called Rachel's Supply, but even they weren't cheap enough to suit me.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the great article. Accessories for Fragrances is another company to try. The 2ml plastic atomizers are a good deal I think, and they come with a couple complementary plastic pipettes.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Ah, the joys of decanting! Having worked as a dispensary assistant at Penhaligon's, where I used to spend all day filling bottles and every other weekend making up samples, I had a headstart, but I had never tried to decant from spray bottles before I joined MUA. It's something else, isn't it?

    Great instructions. :-)

  17. Anonymous says:

    Forgot to say: *no one* sells decanting supplies in the UK (or even in Europe, actually). Shipping costs from the USA are astronomical. :-(

  18. Anonymous says:

    Yay for the complimentary plastic pipettes! My biggest complaint about all the suppliers is that no one shop sells everything I want — I have to go to multiple stores. A real perfumista needs to go into this business!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the article. I've got some of my collection in a refrigerator for very long-term storage, but I'm also thinking about vacuum-sealing some rare items, possibly with test tubes, wine stoppers, and a Foodsaver vacuum. Might anyone have any experience with this? Thanks —

    Nariz

  20. Anonymous says:

    J, I would not like to do it as a full-time job, that is for sure! But working at Penhaligons must have been fun.

  21. Anonymous says:

    That is so odd — you would think there would be a market for such things? The do-it-yourself craft market is so huge in the US.

  22. Anonymous says:

    No experience at all, sorry not to be more help.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Very helpful article! I've used a lot of the places you mention, and some others. Sniffapalooza magazine also has a section which lists suppliers; it's a great resource:

    http://www.sniffapaloozamagazine.com/Supplies.html

  24. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, I'll check out their list.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Not really, no. If you're interested, this is what it was like:

    http://freespace.virgin.net/lovely.perfume/Penhaligons.html

  26. Anonymous says:

    PS. I posted the above on MUA a few days after I joined.

  27. Anonymous says:

    What a great story, thanks so much for sharing the link! I'm surprised you still like perfume at all after such an experience — I would think that would cure me of any interest in scent.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the article! I've done a little decanting (used accessories for fragrances for wonderful customer service), but was interested in your preference for splash bottles. Do you use orifice reducers? Trying to picture how you “splash” the perfume :D

  29. Anonymous says:

    How kind of you to say so, R. What happened just after I left helped to put perfume out of my mind for a while. When I came back to London, after a few months, the 'perfume slate', as it were, was clean again.

  30. Anonymous says:

    My preference for splash is just for decants, not full sized bottles, and is as I said that is just because they are cheaper. If you do a lot of swapping as I used to, it is too expensive to use atomizers. Most of my swapping was for very small decants, like 1/8 oz, and if you buy 1/8 oz bottles in bulk they are dirt cheap…you could buy a dozen for about the same price as a small atomizer.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Ah, you did mention that. I am hoping I won't get up to that volume of swapping :D Good thing I'm lazy, haha.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Some of the members of BASENOTES have suggested the company called Sunburst Bottle Company for decant supplies.

    I haven't ordered from them yet but am thinking of it. Here is the addy:

    http://www.sunburstbottle.com/glass-bottles/glass-vials

    The tiny 1.5 ml Sampler Sprayers are only 27 cents eachk, at the most!!

  33. Anonymous says:

    I ordered from Sunburst once, and can't remember what it was but I do know I was happy with whatever it was :-)

  34. Anonymous says:

    Hi Robin, If there are 30 ml in an ounce why wouldn't 2 ml be called 1/15th of an oz rather than 1/16th, and why wouldn't 1 ml be called 1/30th of an oz. rather than 1/32 of an oz.? Why isn't perfume terminology mathematically correct? 1/32 of an oz is technically 0.925 ml. But besides that, it doesn't make sense that 1/30th of 30 ml is referred to as 1/32nd of an oz. Please explain and Thank you always for your great knowledge that you share with us all. Sharon

  35. Anonymous says:

    It is just a matter of rounding — in other words, the vial size is 1/32 oz, and that gets rounded to 1 ml, and so on.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I think a plastic medicine syringe would also work for drawing liquid out of something small, like a mini. (Sadly, I only realized this after I decanted my frag everywhere, lol.) Obviously, the syringe should be clean and new and never intended for medicine use afterwards. :-) These are *usually* available for free at your pharmacy.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Good idea, esp. if you can find a really nice pharmacist to give you a handful!

  38. Anonymous says:

    hey i was just wondering i live in Australia and as far as i kno decanting and swapping is not that popular…so sum of the supplies are a bit hard to find…does anyone have any ideas where i could fine small vials or atomisers for perfumes???

  39. Anonymous says:

    I'm terribly sorry but I've no idea…you might want to post a query on the fragrance board at MakeupAlley.

  40. Anonymous says:
  41. Anonymous says:

    thanks a lot i'll see if i can track them down and i'll post up where u can find them for anyone else looking…

  42. Anonymous says:

    Not sure if this is still an issue – or if anyone will see it on such an old blog entry – but this site was recommended to me: http://www.plaza33.com/shop/ . Pro: you can order single items /and/ in bulk, with increasing discount.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Zoe!

  44. cailin says:

    All of this has been tremendously useful…particularly getting round the problem of impossible-to-unscrew spray tops…thanks for the tip. My point here though….I am a mad decanter because I love mixing up fragrances…..one current success is with two Lush scents, Karma and the new Vanilla. I once told the local Jo Malone saleswoman that I routinely did this (Lime, Basil and Mandarin plus Grapefruit at the time) and she actually told me it was forbidden!!! Do any of you have any opinions either way…or any good recipes??

    • Robin says:

      LOL…you paid for the stuff, so the JM saleswoman can hardly tell you what is forbidden & what isn’t. But have to admit I never mix juices in a bottle, only on skin, so I’ll be no help.

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