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Making Your Own Perfume
For Pleasure or for Profit

Part I of a Multi-Part Series
Like many perfume professionals, you can start with materials found close to your own house — then work your way up to new materials and more sophisticated techniques!

The history of perfume goes back thousands of years. It is generally stated that, up until the second half of the 19th century, perfume and perfumed products were so expensive that they were reserved for royalty and the rich alone.

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Your own garden can provide wonderful floral material for your perfume.

But the truth is more complex. While manufactured perfumes may have been so costly that only the rich could afford them, ordinary people — if they happened to live in tropical or temperate zone regions — could enjoy the fragrance of flower gardens and often flowers would be planted alongside a door or under a window so that a light breeze could fill the house with their fragrance.

Today very high quality perfume can be purchased at a very affordable price. But you can also make your own perfume using fragrant materials that are widely available, just as people have done in the past.

Making Your Own Perfume
At Different Skill Levels

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Your own garden can provide wonderful floral material for your perfume.

Making your own perfume can involve many levels of skill, technical knowledge, and creative commitment. You can be a hobbiest-perfumer; you can become a "perfumer-for-money" Or, if you find that you really have a strong love of fragrance and creative ability, you can train yourself to become a true "perfumer-creator," creating your own beautiful, original fragrances from professional grade materials.

Sources of Perfume Materials

The most basic source of materials to create a perfume is your own garden. Flowers, of course, will provide material for your perfume. But don't overlook other, not so obvious, fragrant materials. Use your nose! Pine needles and pine cones have a distinctive fragrance. The leaves and bark of trees have an aroma. The oil from the peels of citrus fruits have aromas. Sap from a wounded tree has an aroma. Seeds and nuts have an aroma. All of these materials are used by professional perfumers!

Right now, however, you won't be able to use many of these materials for your perfume because you will have no way of extracting the fragrant oils from the materials themselves. This required a bit of technology. But, for the moment, you can work with fragrant flowers and some of the materials mentioned above.

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Pack your floral materials (and any other fragrant materials you are using) inside your glass jar on to of the cheesecloth.

Making A Simple Perfume From
Materials You've Gathered Yourself

If you do an internet search (Google, Yahoo, etc.) under the phrase "making your own perfume from garden flowers," you'll find a number of websites with formulas for turning your garden flowers into perfumed water.

The basics go like this:

  1. Collect your floral material — flower petals for the simplest perfumes; flower petals, leaves and other materials (you can experiment!) for a more complex aroma.
    Clean out a screw-top jar like the one shown in the pictures. Salsa jars seem to be a good choice as they have particularly wide necks. After washing the bottle and top thoroughly, place them in a large pot, fill it with water, place your jar and cap in the water so they are covered, put the pot on a stove, bring the water to a boil and let it boil for at least five minutes. Your goal is to remove any contaminating odor from the bottle. If you don't do this, your perfume will take on the aroma of whatever was in the jar (such as salsa!) before it was emptied! (After washing and boiling, if you want to be super-sure of removing all residual odor from your jar, wash it with isopropyl alcohol which can be purchased at most supermarkets and pharmacies. This will neutralize any remaining odor and evaporate away quickly, leaving very little odor of its own.)
  3. After the jar and cap have been sterilized by the boiling water, dry them and line the jar with cheesecloth. Place your fragrance materials in the jar over the cheesecloth and fill the jar with enough water to cover your fragrant materials.
  4. Screw the top on the jar and let it sit for a few days.
    You may also add alcohol to the water IF you have access to "perfumers alcohol" or 100 proof unscented vodka. Essential oils that will not mix with water will, normally, mix with alcohol, so by adding about 10 percent alcohol to the jar (replacing a similar amount of water), more fragrance will be drawn out of the original materials and into your solution.
  6. After your jar has sat for a few days, remove your fragrance materials by extracting the cheesecloth — slowly — so as much liquid as possible remains in the jar. To get even more fragrance into the water (or the water-alcohol mixture), wring the wet cheesecloth (with the wet fragrance materials still in it) into the jar.
  7. Put the top back on your jar and let the contents settle for another 24 hours.
  8. Now, using a piece of coffee filter paper, filter the contents of your full jar into an empty jar that you've also prepared by washing, boiling, and drying. You now have your first perfume!
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Fill your jar with enough water to cover your fragrant materials. Cover the jar and allow it to sit for several days.

If you are pleased by the results you have achieved, repeat the procedure with different floral and other fragrant materials!

Lessons Learned

The first and most important lesson learned is that perfume — in liquid form — is made from fragrant materials mixed, in this case, with water, or water and alcohol. Professionally made perfumes and colognes make similar use of alcohol and water, the difference being that a larger amount of alcohol is used with a smaller amount of water.

A second lesson learned is that perfumes are made with oils that have been extracted from fragrant materials — in this case, flowers. And we have learned that flowers do not give up their fragrance so easily. A single living flower from which your perfume was derived probably produced more fragrance than your perfume. This suggests the technical challenges which lie ahead for you.

Problems Discovered

If the perfume you just made has stimulated your interest in perfumery and you want to go deeper into the subject, first take a look at some of the "problems" you have, by now, discovered.

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Your result: your first perfume! The fragrance may be weaker than what you hoped for ... but this is a first step!

First, your perfume not long lasting. Even a very inexpensive commercial fragrance will last longer. There is a reason for this which, at this stage, you will not be able to overcome.

Second, your perfume is not very strong. You may be perfectly satisfied by its weak odor strength, but wouldn't you like to be in control of its strength? At this point you will find this difficult.

Third, because your collection of fragrant materials is helter-skelter (even if you count out rose petals, for example, they will differ in size and the amount of oil each will give up!) you cannot develop a formula that will give consistent results when repeated. (You may not consider this a problem!)

Fourth, unless you have a large greenhouse, the amount of floral materials at your disposal is likely to be quite limited by the climate in your region. In time you are likely to find yourself getting bored working with only a dozen or so fragrant materials and want to find a way to be able to work with more.

If these "problems" are beginning to concern you, you are ready to step up to the next level of perfume creation: creating perfumes by mixing essential oils. But first take this Voyage of Discovery.

Part II: Voyage of Discovery

Part III: Extracting Essential Oils Through Distillation

Part IV: Making Indian Attars

Part V: Producing Agarwood Oil In Thailand

Part VI: Turning homemade perfume into a commercial product

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Philip Goutell
Lightyears, Inc.