What To Do With All Those Perfume Samples

perfume sample sets

As is true for many perfume lovers, I have too many fragrance samples. They line my purse, spill out of bowls on my dresser, and sometimes accidentally end up as cat toys. As I’m looking for paper clips, I find them rolling in my desk drawer at work. Oh, I know it’s a good problem to have, but surely there must be something better to do with the samples I don’t intend to keep for reference.

Over the years, I’ve come up with a few uses for perfume samples. I hope you’ll add your own to the list.

In the dryer: You can make your own dryer sheets by moistening a handkerchief and dumping the contents of a perfume sample on it. Toss it in the dryer with your wet laundry. It really works!

Scenting handwash: I like to add a vial of perfume to the water I use to rinse my lingerie when I’m washing it by hand. First I wash the lingerie in soap and water, and after it has soaked, I rinse it once then return it to the sink with the contents of a sample vial. (This is how I used the rest of my L’Artisan Parfumeur Amour Nocturne — delicious.)

Cat litter freshener: Dump a vial in a clean litterbox of unscented litter and stir it around. (Works best with citrus and clean musk scents. Can be kind of disgusting otherwise.)

Room deodorizer: A reader suggested this tip several years ago. Put a few tablespoons of uncooked rice in a dish and stir a sample vial into it. The fragrance burns off within a few days, but it’s nice while it lasts.

Freshening coats: Lately I’ve kept my coat closet fragrant with a barely opened pouch of pipe tobacco tucked among the hats and scarves, but I used to dab cotton balls with perfume and put them in coat pockets over the summer to counteract that musty smell that comes from wool that's been wet.

In the bath: I keep the glass from a used Cire Trudon candle near the bathtub, and I put samples I liked but didn’t love in it to dump in the tub while the water runs. A sample vial generally does a pretty good job scenting a tub of water without being overwhelming.

Of course, the samples I love I hoard until I’ve extracted every last whiff from them. Then they go on my “to buy” list. The samples I'm not crazy about I generally throw away (although I still haven't been able to get rid of the sample Kevin sent to me with the note "smells like a skunk eating a donut").

What do you do with perfume samples? I know I'm not the only one looking for a few good ideas.

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  1. Sharyl says:

    Samples that I didn’t enjoy myself, I bring to work and leave them in the bathroom for people to take. I enjoy seeing what other people like. If a vial is still there at the end of the day it goes in the trash.

    If I love something I usually end up buying it. If I don’t love it enough to buy a full bottle and/or wear it out of the house it often becomes a bedtime scent. Haven’t tried using them as home or laundry scents.

    • Angela says:

      I love the idea of simply leaving them in the bathroom at work. People must love going in and seeing what’s new there!

  2. scentfromabove says:

    Since I frequent my local Neiman Marcus on a regular basis, the sales associates always load me down with samples when I purchase a fragrance. Also, when NM has there Beauty Event, they always give me extra samples. Well, I’ve never been one to turn down free items (especially perfume). My family and friends call me the “guru” of fragrance, so I try to listen when they talk about fragrances they like. I have found creative ways to give them to family and friends. For birthdays, I include some samples in their bags / gifts as an extra treat. I tie them up with a pretty ribbon for that extra effect. For Valentines Day, instead of giving people candy, I give them a card and some samples. I usually come up with a cute line to put in the card like, Thanks for being such a sweet friend. Hopefully you will find these scents to be half as sweet as you. They make great stocking stuffers and really can be used for any occasions. But, mainly, if someone compliments me on my scent and I have extra samples of it, I always give them a few to see if they like it on themselves.

    But, I am like Sharyl also. I will wear a lot of them around the house and on weekends so I don’t have to waste my bottles.

    • Angela says:

      How nice to give them as gifts–especially if you know the sort of fragrances the recipient likes. There are so many creative ways to package them, too.

      • C.H. says:

        Yeah, having a sense of what people like is my limiting factor. I’ve definitely hit the point where I’m overwhelmed by the sheer quantity, and am trying to pare back just to stuff that’s worth keeping for reference, but I’ve kind of exhausted my best guesses about who would like what, and it seems pointless to give people things that will just clutter up their bathroom instead of mine! Thanks for these great ideas for how to put them to use!

        • Angela says:

          Sometimes people don’t really know what kind of fragrances they like, anyway. I’m sure they really appreciate your gifts.

          • C.H. says:

            Ha, isn’t that the truth about how many people don’t know what they like. I have one friend who declared the one note she definitely didn’t like was rose (so old-fashioned, she said)…and then the next three times I saw her compliment someone’s perfume, it was a rose fragrance :) I gave her a bunch of modern rose samples for her birthday.

          • Angela says:

            I can’t tell you how often I’ve run into the same thing!

          • C.H. says:

            I bet you have! Any good tips on how to handle this diplomatically? In this case, the friend realized herself that she was mistaken, so I didn’t have to tell her, “…I think you don’t like what you think you like.” But in other cases it’s created something of a logjam, because they keep shooting down what they say they like… I’ve sort of taken to not even asking, just quietly collecting clues and taking my best guess, lest I have to contradict someone!

          • Angela says:

            So many people are so SURE they know what they like in perfume–yet they don’t. I don’t have much advice for you, though. I wonder if you could couch it in terms of “mood” rather than notes? Maybe saying something like, “these fragrances are super feminine and warm. I bet you’d like them.” In any case, you’re an angel for sharing the samples.

  3. platinum14 says:

    I bought a Scent bug from B&BW and I use up my sample vials on the little pads instead of fragrant oils. Because it doesn’t create any heat the fragrance is fine. I do change the little pads for each fragrance.

    I also like to buy unglazed bisque porcelain Christmas ornaments. They absorb the fragrance and can hang in a closet the rest of the year.
    You can do the same with ceramic pie weights and then place them in a muslin sachet.

    • platinum14 says:

      I also keep the “good ones” in my travel bag. It saves me from taking a FB along and gives me options. (In a small ziplock to avoid accidents)

      • Angela says:

        Good idea. Samples are great for travel.

    • Angela says:

      Brilliant idea! I think I have some pie weights around somewhere….

    • C.H. says:

      Pie weights!! I’ve actually seen this in a store, in lieu of blotters, to demo the scent, but I couldn’t figure out what those little ceramic circles were. Of course! Awesome. Buying some ASAP.

      • Angela says:

        Hey, and they’re great for pre-baking pie shells, too!

  4. ringthing says:

    I’ve acquired most of my collection through swapping and I have tons of samples! I include lots in swap packages but you know how generous perfumeistas are, I always end up with more. I give them away and have read about the dryer sheet trick before but have forgotten to try it; I like the tip for hand washable, too.

    • Angela says:

      Samples really are great “extras” in swaps!

  5. nozknoz says:

    I mainly organize the vials in cryo boxes for reference. Then if a review or commenter praises a perfume and can try it again, or if someone asks a question about a perfume, I can check my sample.

    Nice exploration sets with larger samples (such as By Kilian) are useful for introducing friends or colleagues to perfume. They look nice, allow for generous testing, and often present a range of categories. If a friend particularly likes one, I can let them keep it. After all, I usually have a reference sample vial, too. ;-).

    • Angela says:

      I save many of my samples and loosely organize them alphabetically by perfume house, but often I decide it’s not worth the trouble (and of course often I’m sorry!).

  6. Merlin says:

    I probably have hoarding tendencies as I hate throwing things away. The only perfume samples i have ever chucked are those from which I cannot squeeze another drop. I keep samples for a)reference b)like, but not enough for a bottle c)love, but too $$$ for a bottle.

    Samples I don’t like, or for which I already have a whole bottle usually get passed on. Many non-perfumista people love a little free perfume and couldn’t care less if its mainstream or not. And many perfumistas do not have easy access to department stores and are happy to receive department store offerings, if only to try them. As for niche samples, I would far rather spend a little on postage and give someone a novel experience than simply turf it.

    • Merlin says:

      I should probably add that less people have access to luxuries in the country I live in than in the states. I’m sure if I came from elsewhere I would think of things differently. I should also add that my difficulty with disposing things makes me highly disorganized, lol!

      • Angela says:

        Don’t even tell me about being disorganized! I have plastic shoeboxes full of samples that are loosely alphabetized, but it’s such a mess that it almost always seems like more trouble to find the sample than to go without it.

        • Merlin says:

          I get really envious of those people who are natural organizers: those who find it relaxing to file, compile excel documents, manage intricate systems, etc…

          They seem to labour under the illusion that this is ‘uncool’. No, what is uncool is never being able to find ones keys and phone and often, after much frustration, finding them in ones own hands, lol!

          • Angela says:

            I’m with you–I really admire the people who keep excel spreadsheets with sampling notes, etc. I love the idea, but not enough to actually follow through and do it.

          • Marjorie Rose says:

            Oh, I’m pretty sure my spreadsheets make me a bit uncool. . . ;)

          • Merlin says:

            Ha ha!

            I refuse to concede even that much;)

    • GateGirl says:

      Yeah, I’m with you, Merlin; I just hate throwing things away, perfume or otherwise (I should be on that Hoarders show on TLC). I try to stay organized with my samples, keeping them in a handy-dandy xtra-large shoebox (the box itself actually smells pretty good by now!) complete with list of what I’ve acquired. Between trips to the mall and the good kind folks on NST, I have a pretty good variety going on.

      • Angela says:

        Only one shoebox? You’re not even close to Hoarders level yet!

        • GateGirl says:

          Heehee, it’s more like a BOOTbox! The boots that it used to house will just have to find another home for the warmer weather because it’s the only one I have that will fit all of my samps.

          • Angela says:

            That’s hilarious! I know the feeling all too well.

      • Merlin says:

        Lol! I consider myself a border-line hoarder:) I have this plastic box thing that contains four ‘drawers’. The scheme was samples I most like in the top drawer to ones I least like in the bottom, but the system fell apart many many months ago! Also I have a multitude of pouches with different samples in them: usually stuff I like enough to have taken with on one trip or another… Then there are teeny tiny boxes with other assortments lying around. And did I mention the random samples at the bottom of the handbag?

        • Angela says:

          Boy, does this sound familiar!

    • Angela says:

      It really is nice to be able to give someone a sample they’d have a hard time getting otherwise! Good perfume karma.

  7. cologneluvr says:

    Embarrassingly, I hoard ALL of them, but in my defense, I DO use them up; the ones I DO NOT like or not crazy about, I will give away to friends or acquaintances. Shyly, I like samples as much as a full bottle of something…I think they are fun to go to for reference or just to open and enjoy!

    • Angela says:

      It’s so true–there’s something enjoyably low pressure about a sample.

      • cologneluvr says:

        samples are fun and portable…also, if you are blue one day, just open up a fave, and, BOOM!, you’re in a better mood…way better than antidepressants!…lol.

        Little luxuries! ;-)

  8. mals86 says:

    I hate to throw them away, too… I keep most of mine, especially classics and reference vials, in those plastic divided craft boxes, separated by perfume house. If I’ve used up the vial of course I’ll toss it. But if I absolutely hate something, I have been known to throw it away. That’s pretty rare – I can even tell you which ones I have tossed over the past three years or so: Hors le Monde Lady Shiloh, an age-spoiled sample of Cuir de Russie (which I don’t like even when it’s good), and Insolence EdP. I could not SLEEP until that thing left the house.

    I sent a baggie full of some mainstream samples to my daughter inside the box of spring clothes I just mailed to her at college, and told her to put them in her floor’s bathroom in a basket with a note saying “please enjoy,” and anything that didn’t get used, to please throw away.

    I have put them in the bath, but we are now out of bath season (c’mon. it’s spring, I will probably not take another bath until October, unless I get sick or achy), so I think I’ll try the laundry tricks.

    • Angela says:

      Bath season is eternal! My nightly bath is non-negotiable.

      Does your daughter like perfume the way you do? It would be fabulous to receive a bundle of surprise samples. Or maybe she’ll end up converting some dorm mates.

      • mals86 says:

        She only wears perfume occasionally, and I made sure she went off with at least decants of her favorite scents.

        • Angela says:

          You’re a good mom.

  9. juicejones says:

    Drop them off at a group home or assisted living facility in your area. The little ladies love some smell good and their young caregivers could put them to good use. They are us in 20, 30, 40 years. Wouldn’t we love them?

    • Angela says:

      Excellent idea! Pay it forward, as they say.

    • scentfromabove says:

      Juice Jones, what an excellent idea. I am a school counselor and run our Student Council organization. Twice a year, our Student Council goes over to an Alzheimer’s center where our kids work with the elderly. We go during Christmas and sing songs. Wouldn’t it be sweet to give them a few samples as well? Some of the ladies believe they are royalty anyway ( they wear tiara’s and all ) lol! I love this idea and would like to use it, if you don’t mind…..

      • Angela says:

        I think she’s encouraging you to use it! (And what a great idea.)

      • juicejones says:

        Absolutely! My mom had Alz for 12 years. She always had great taste and dressed impeccably when she was younger and healthy. At her group home, her caregivers always had her rocking the purple glitter eye shadow and nails. She loved the attention and compliments. Who wouldn’t? A younger Mary would have been mortified, but as you know from being around Alz patients, you meet them where they are. All the ladies loved the girly stuff and the “hands on” care.
        If you do it, please report back! Thanks.

        • Angela says:

          I love that story (and the loving attitude behind it)!

  10. Marjorie Rose says:

    Not sure how my kitties would respond to scented litter. However, I seem to recall someone suggesting scenting their cat so that they act as a room freshener as they ramble through the house. . . haven’t tried it, yet, but seems like a good notion! :D

    Samples go into one of two piles for me–like it enough to try again later and/or keep for reference or 2) give it away and hope someone else likes it better than I do. I keep a box for swaps, gifts and freebies and dig into it whenever I send out decants or what-have-you.

    • Lani says:

      I never tried scenting my dog with perfume, but we have a ton of mint in the backyard and when she’d walk through it and come back in the house it was actually very nice! Mint-chocolate Labrador. ;)

      • Merlin says:


      • zara says:

        like a doggie After Eight mint ;)

      • Angela says:

        Now that’s a fragrance I’d love to smell!

      • scentfromabove says:

        Lani, make sure that its a scent that you can stand. My ex-husband used to put CK-One on our Rottweiler after he gave him a bath. I was not a fan of this particular fragrance and it seemed that it lasted FOREVER! So, just a warning, make sure it is a scent that you can stand for a few days.

        • Angela says:

          Imagine a Rottweiler scented with another Calvin Klein, Obsession. Awful. Poor pooch.

    • Merlin says:

      My dog goes into a violent series of sneezes if I apply perfume while he is in the room!

      • Angela says:

        Poor little guy!

        • Merlin says:

          What makes it funny is that he is a quite broad pit-bull mastiff-boer-bull type mongrel:)

          So its not like a poodle sneeze! I try not to spray with him too close, but even putting ointment near his nose (I’m trying to get rid of a hot-spot there) makes him sneeze!

          • Angela says:

            My dog (RIP) had hotspots, too. They really got better when I put him on a grain-free, chicken-free food. I hope your guy gets past them!

          • hajusuuri says:

            My brother used to have a mastiff and boy oh boy you wouldn’t want to be near her when she sneezed – sticky saliva flying everywhere! I also did not believe my nephew when he said she “accidentally” got into the house when she is bigger than most people and could barely fit through a regular-sized door.

          • Angela says:

            Dogs get blamed for everything, it seems. Eating homework, breaking wind, you name it.

    • CM says:

      Cats and Dogs have very sensitive noses. I would think deliberately spritzing the dog (or cat) would not make them very happy. Plus, cats groom themselves and that perfume on their fur must taste awful.

      Interesting note about litterboxes, though. Wasn;t there a perfume that you were supposed to mix in a bit of your own urine? Sounds perfect for a catbox… If the kitties would even use a scented box!

      • Angela says:

        That’s hilarious! I’d completely forgotten about that fragrance, but you’re right, it’d be perfect.

    • Angela says:

      My cats seem to pick up a bit of my perfume simply from being petted. It’s really subtle, though, and–thankfully–doesn’t mask their delicious kitty fur smell.

  11. sweetgrass says:

    My samples aren’t organized at all, but I keep them in this plastic modular drawer thing so I can have it on the shelf in my closet and just pull out the drawer to get to my samples. I give away samples pretty frequently, so the numbers never get too out of control. I never considered the cat litter thing, but the litter I use is already scented a bit, so it might not work so well. I have scented my laundry with a sample here and there, but that’s usually from leaving a vial in a pants pocket by accident.

    • Angela says:

      Oh yes, the accidental laundry scenting…

  12. tippie says:

    When I sell something on ebay (not done that for a while, but it happens regularly) I dump a few of unwanted or duplicated samples into the pack with whatever I’m selling. It doesn’t add anything to the weight, and I like to think someone somewhere will discover a new perfume. And if they throw them away – well, at least it wasn’t I who did it.

    • Angela says:

      What a nice surprise for the recipient!

  13. AnnS says:

    It is so interesting reading everyone’s different uses for their samples. I have whittled my samples down to two 8″ boxes of ones that are special to me and that eventually I want to use. But it’s so hard using up samples when I have so many bottles and decants as it is. I used to keep them in order by house in ziplocks and baggies, but now I just put them all together. I’m going to try the rice in the bowl trick to freshen some rooms in my house, and perhaps even make some fresheners for the cars….

    I do have 2 quart sized ziplocks full of good and rather fine samples of fragrances I just don’t care for – chock full of department store to niche/indie and vintage/discontinued. I’m always trying to think of a good way to get rid of them before they go bad.

    Can I put this up on the NST honor system? Are there any bonafide newbies here today? Swear on the future of your good perfume karma, and for the cost of shipping, they are yours. Contact me at anneroosie at hotmail dot com.

    • AnnS says:

      Sorry, I should add only in the continental US.

    • Angela says:

      You are very generous! I’m sure you’ll find a worthy taker.

      • AnnS says:

        I hope so! There are some real goodies in there!

        • Holly says:

          Hi Ann! I’ve been very lucky in obtaining samples for my endeavors, so I hope that you will find a happy home for yours. I’ve refrained from emailing you as it seems likely you’ll find someone who is a newbie and would be thrilled by your generosity. If that doesn’t work out for you, and you need to find a good home for them, I would be happy to pass them on for you. You can see my comment above and if you feel inspired to do so, let me know if any of those options appeal to you and I could arrange it. You may email me at: harukirumi at yahoo dot com

          • Holly says:

            Whoops and sorry, my comment is not above but below.

          • Angela says:

            More generous readers!

  14. Holly says:

    Some great suggestions here! The pet comments are particularly hilarious. I often wonder if the smell of cat saliva is affecting my perfume as one of my two cats is a fan of licking away at any scented product.

    I give away samples to eldercare facilities and hospices, I’ve brought batches to a nearby homeless shelter that helps men and women get back on their feet, and left them in ICU and NICU waiting rooms and nurses’ stations where family members often stay for days. I recently read a post on a nurses’ blog from a nurse stationed in Afghanistan who wrote about what they’re missing there: one of them is scented products so I’m hoping I can do something with that.

    • Angela says:

      That is wonderful of you. Occasionally I end up with bottles that don’t make the cut for the NST giveaways, and I donate them to a free pantry for people living with HIV/AIDS who are homeless or nearly so. I figure, hey, at least they can smell nice.

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