Perfume is a wonderful gift, but it’s even better if you make it yourself and customize it for the wearer. You can make perfume free of synthetic chemicals, too. Here’s how to make perfume from essential oils, spices, herbs, and flowers.
Examples of Scent Combinations
Of course, you can mix any scents you like! But, here are a few mixtures to get you started:
- Earthy: patchouli, vetiver
- Floral: geranium, jasmine, neroli, rose, violet, ylang-ylang
- Fruity: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lemongrass, lime, mandarin, orange
- Herbal: angelica, basil, chamomile, clary sage, lavender, peppermint, rosemary
- Ocean: sea salt
- Spicy: black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, coriander, ginger, juniper, nutmeg
- Woodsy: cassia, cedar, cypress, pine, sandalwood
Simple Homemade Perfume Recipe
The simplest way to make perfume is to mix a few drops of pleasing essential oils and dilute the mixture with perfumer’s alcohol in a dark-colored spray bottle. The reason for the dark bottle is because light degrades scents. Make sure the bottle has a good seal because exposure to air also affects scents, plus it evaporates your perfume! Your perfume might be as simple as a single essential oil, diluted with alcohol, or it might contain many different scents.
Choosing Alcohol for Perfume
Perfumer’s alcohol is available online, but you can use denatured alcohol, vodka, or Everclear. The advantage of vodka or Everclear is that it’s food-grade. It’s least likely to cause a reaction on skin or detract from the perfume’s scent. Perfumer’s alcohol and denatured alcohol contain a denaturing agent that is meant to make the alcohol undrinkable. Many people use these alcohols with no issues, but it’s worth noting that not all denaturants are great for use on skin. It’s important to use ethanol or ethyl alcohol. Ethanol smells less medicinal than isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Never use methanol or methyl alcohol because it’s highly toxic and absorbed through skin!
How to Make Perfume That Lasts
This perfume recipe consists of essential oils in a base oil. Then, it’s diluted with alcohol and water. The base oil helps the scent last. Not just any oil will do, since you want a skin-friendly oil that smells nice and won’t go rancid. Alcohol mixes with both oil and water. It’s included as a natural disinfectant and so water can be used. This makes the perfume less “alcohol-smelling” when it’s first applied.
- 1/2 ounce jojoba oil or sweet almond oil
- 2-1/2 ounces ethanol (e.g., vodka)
- 2 tablespoons distilled water (not tap water)
- Dark-colored bottle
- ~20 drops essential oils (30% top, 50% middle, 20% base)
- 4 drops base note essential oils
- 10 drops middle note essential oils
- 6 drops top note essential oils
- A couple of drops of bridge notes (optional)
- Add the jojoba oil or sweet almond oil to your bottle.
- Add the essential oils in the following order: the base notes, followed by the middle notes, and then the top notes. Add a couple of drops of bridge notes, if desired.
- Add the alcohol.
- Shake the bottle and then let it rest for two days to six weeks to allow the scent to develop.
- When the scent is where you want it to be, add 2 tablespoons of water to the perfume. Shake the bottle to mix the perfume.
- Store perfume in a sealed bottle, away from heat and light. Ideally, you should use a dark bottle with minimal airspace, since light and exposure to air degrade many essential oils.
Part of the reason perfume is so expensive is because a professional formulated its scents. You’ll need to do some experimenting to find a pleasing scent combination, but you’ll be off to a good start if you understand the notes of perfumes. Notes of a perfume are akin to notes of a song. The right combination is complex and wonderful, but if you omit notes, the combination might not work. Perfumes contain top, middle, base, and sometimes bridge notes.
- Top notes: Top notes are the most volatile scents in a perfume, so they evaporate the quickest. This makes them the first scent you smell in a perfume, but also the first to fade. Many floral and fruity scents are top notes. Examples of top notes include jasmine, rose, lavender, orchid, bergamot, basil, mint, sweet orange, lime, neroli, grapefruit, and lemon.
- Middle notes: Middle notes add complexity to a perfume. They linger after the top notes begin to fade. Examples of middle notes include geranium, clove, nutmeg, ylang-ylang, cardamom, bay, fennel, yarrow, and lemongrass.
- Base notes: Base notes set the tone of a perfume and last the longest on skin. Base notes include patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla, cinnamon, pine, cedar, fern, lichen, cypress, ginger, and moss.
- Bridge notes: Bridge notes evaporate at an intermediate rate and tie other fragrance notes together.
Other ingredients you can add include seas salt (ocean scent), black pepper (spicy scent), camphor, or vetiver.
Because notes evaporate at different rates, a perfume changes its scent over time. Also, notes may interact with one another, so the order in which they are added during the composition of a perfume sometimes matters.
Essential Oils Versus Fragrance Oils
Essential oils (EO’s) are steam-distilled extracts. They consist mostly of volatile organic compounds and may not be oily at all. Fragrance oils (FO’s) are synthetic chemical scents. There is a place for both in perfume-making. Many floral scents, especially those of toxic flowers, are more readily available and safer as fragrance oils. People can be sensitive to both essential oils and fragrance oils, but fragrance oils are more likely to cause a problem and may be quite toxic. Whether you use essential oils, fragrance oils, or both, it’s important to dilute them for use in perfume. Some essential oils may be used undiluted (e.g., lavender, chamomile, rose, sandalwood), but you should never apply fragrance oil directly to skin.
How to Make Perfume From Flowers
You can make your own perfume from fresh flowers. Ideally, you’d use distillation to make your own essential oils, but there is a simple method to release a flower’s scent into liquid. Note that the fragrance captured from a flower is never exactly the same as that of a fresh flower, but it can be pleasing just the same.
- 1 cup fresh flowers
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 2 cups distilled water
- Glass jar
- Crush the flowers to break open the cells in the petals and soak them in vodka for 24 hours. An easy option is to mix the flowers with the vodka in a blender, but you can mash the flowers with a spoon.
- Add the distilled water. Seal the jar and let it rest for another 7 days.
- Strain the mixture or use a coffee filter to separate the solids from the liquid.
- Store the liquid in a refrigerator when not using it.
- Shake the mixture before use.
It’s important to use both alcohol and water to extract the scent because not all fragrance molecules are water-soluble. Some people use glycerin with alcohol in the first step to make sure oil-based components go into the liquid. If your fragrance isn’t as strong as you’d like, you can always add a bit of essential oil to the final product to enhance it.