The DIY Perfume Lab

99 Bottles of Tonic on the Wall ...

Niagara Apothecary in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Designing Your Workspace

When designing your workspace, one of the first things to consider is air quality. Essential oils and aroma chemicals are, of course, smelly! Good ventilation and odor containment are important considerations when setting up your lab. For your own health, and also for your ability to detect differences between scents, you need to keep the fragrant “noise” to a minimum. Some options to consider:

  • Install an exhaust fan (like the kind you find in bathroom ventilation).
  • Manage the trash. Use a can with a lid that seals.
  • Store raw materials in cabinets with doors that shut (glass or plastic doors allow view of bottles).
  • When testing perfumes on scent strips, consider using a bell jar, or a homemade one out of plastic bottle.
  • Wear disposable latex gloves to avoid contaminating your fingers.

Your “bench” or worktable may be subject to aroma chemical spills from time to time, so choose a non-reactive, non-absorbent surface that’s easy to clean. Some options:

  • Stainless Steel – food prep tables from restaurant supply companies work well, for example.
  • Formica
  • Glass top – tempered is best.

Refrigeration. Some aroma chemicals, like the citruses, will have a longer shelf life when refrigerated. Consider getting a mini fridge or a wine fridge.


Lab Equipment List

Lab Notebook – Always take notes. Take notes when smelling and familiarizing yourself with a new chemical. Take notes as you formulate a new blend. Note what works, note what doesn’t. Note everything.

Digital Scale accurate to 0.01g – Perfume industry professionals measure raw materials by weight. Ohaus makes a pricy but nice scale. And there are less expensive options, too. Several good people on Basenotes recommend this one from Old Will Knot that seems to have all the right features at a good price.

Tiny Glass Beakers – If you are working by volume (many recipes are in drops/ml), you’ll want to be able to measure accurately in ml. Look for beakers with small graduations (10, 15, 30 ml). You can find these at lab supply companies or nifty vintage beakers on eBay. These 25 ml graduated beakers at Aqua Oleum in the UK are some of the most ideal beakers I’ve seen, and very reasonably priced.

Pipettes or droppers

Stirring rods

Tiny funnels. You can also get them in glass.

Fragrance Tester Strips

And maybe something like this to hold all those test strips, or like this. Or possibly this. I’ve also heard you can use chopstick rests.

Casseroles – for melting small quantities of beeswax if you are making solid perfumes.

Curettes for scooping out viscous and resinous absolutes like vanilla, benzoin, and fir. You can find them in bamboo or stainless steel.

Hot Plate
If making solid perfumes, you will need a heat source. You can work over your kitchen stove with a double-boiler – or if you’d prefer not to work in your kitchen, you can get a hot plate as an alternative heat source. There are a range of options.

Education for the Aspiring Perfumer

Classes and Schools
Laurie Erikson of Sonoma Scent Studio has an excellent list of Perfumery Classes and Schools around the world. Pia Long, a Finnish perfumer in England, followed a non-traditional route and writes a lovely account of how to become a perfumer and her own personal journey.

Online Forums

Blogs / Web sites

Books

  • An Introduction to Perfumery by Curtis and Williams
  • Perfumery: Practice and Principles by Robert R. Calkin and J. Stephan Jellinek
  • Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent by Jean-Claude Ellena
  • The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur by Jean-Claude Ellena
  • What the Nose Knows by Avery Gilbert
  • Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez
  • Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume by Mandy Aftel
  • Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel

Perfume Samples

Recipes, Formulas, and How-To’s

Supplies for Creating Perfume

Perfume Organ

Perfume Organ, Fragonard Perfume Museum, Paris by Nico Paix

Beginner’s Kits

Raw Materials – Naturals

  • Aftelier* – Quirky selection of unusual perfumers botanicals. Fast shipping. No minimum.
  • Aqua Oleum – Excellent UK source for essential oils from Julia Lawless.
  • Aromatics International – Expensive oils connected with the Aromahead Institute. Site has excellent information.
  • Eden Botanicals* – EOs, CO2s, Absolutes. Excellent quality, wide selection, no minimum purchase.
  • Enfleurage – Aromatics from the natural world. Specialize in Frankincense. Also offer hydrosols and more.
  • Liberty Natural Products* – Amazing selection. Includes isolates and more. $50 minimum.
  • Mountain Rose Herbs – Wide selection. Somewhat expensive shipping. (Mentioned more often by home aromatherapists than perfumers. Never tried.)
  • Nature’s Gift – Just tried them for the first time for more aromatherapy-type oils. Also have wide selection of hydrosols, carrier oils, waxes and butters. Well researched and reasonable prices.
  • White Lotus Aromatics* – Gorgeous, superior quality naturals personally sourced from around the world. $100 minimum.

*Companies with an astrix * are the ones I order from most frequently. Eden Botanicals is my “go to” supplier.
Also helpful: Providence Perfume offers a useful review of some of the best/worst essential oils she’s ever purchased.

Raw Materials – Synthetics

Beeswax

Carrier Oils
Carrier oils are for making oil-based perfumes, solid perfumes, or other body products. Do not add them to alcohol-based perfumes (they will separate and make a mess). Some carrier oils will go rancid fairly quickly. Fractionated coconut oil and Jojoba oil are two of the longest-lasting.

Alcohol
For alcohol-based perfume, use perfumer’s alcohol a.k.a specially denatured (SD) alcohol, which is 95% ethanol that has been denatured with an additive. The denaturing is done for regulatory reasons to prevent consumption. When purchasing perfumer’s alcohol in the United States, use 40b, which is denatured with t-butyl alcohol & Bitrex. Do not use 39c, because it contains diethyl phthalate (DEP), a.k.a. phthalates for which there are serious health concerns. For natural perfumers, there are also organic alcohols that have been denatured with natural materials. If you are not planning to sell your perfume, you can also use Everclear / Pure Grain Alcohol instead of Perfumer’s Alcohol. It should be 190 proof (95% alcohol) ethanol. In the USA, PGA is available for purchase in some states but not all. Some natural perfumers will also use Vodka for perfume, but it’s not as desirable as Everclear/PGA due to the lower alcohol content. For cleaning, you can use Isopropyl alcohol, Vodka, or PGA.

Dipropylene Glycol (DPG)
DPG is an odorless, colorless synthetic carrier oil that is perfect for diluting fragrances to 10% or 1% to be used for sniff tests / educating your nose. It is oil-based, but water and alcohol soluble.

Bottles and Packaging