How to Smell a Perfume Properly? [To Test a Fragrance!]

You walk into a perfume store determined to get a scent that turns heads. You find one that smells great! But, when you go home and use the perfume on a regular basis, you realize it doesn’t quite smell the same and perform that well! It begs the question – “How to Smell a Perfume Properly?”.

To smell a perfume properly, first use paper strips to shortlist 3 or 4 perfumes. Then, spray the fragrance on your hand or arm. Ensure that one fragrance doesn’t contaminate the other. Smell at a distance of about 4 inches after 1 or 2 minutes. Use the non-scented skin to clear up your nose.

In this article, you’ll learn how to evaluate a fragrance when you’re in a hurry, when you have the time, and when you’re really serious about a very expensive purchase. Knowing this information will not only make you instantly seem like a perfume aficionado but will also help you buy a perfume that you almost always like!

So, let’s get started!

Fragrance Evaluation Methods 

Just as there are different types of fragrances, there are different methods of evaluating a fragrance. And just like fragrances vary in quality, the methods of sampling them differ. 


Generally, if a perfume evaluation method can infer the different notes alongside the possible longevity of a perfume sample, it is good enough. Below are different ways to evaluate a fragrance.

Method 1: In-Vial Top Note Detection

This is the simplest method of fragrance evaluation and is meant to act as the primary sampling step in the process of perfume selection. The fragrance stays in its vial, and the potential collector simply sniffs the bottle.

There are two variations to this: one involves sniffing the vial with the cap on, the second involves removing the cap to smell the perfume.

As the name suggests, this method allows one to detect the top notes only. Therefore, it is best to see if you like a specific perfume or hate it right away.

Many people use in-vial top note detection as a way to judge the perfume. This is wrong! You should use in-vial detection to see if a perfume is strong. If you can smell it with the lid on, chances are, you have a perfume with a high concentration of perfume oil. 

In case you remove the cap to sample it, then you must remember that you’re judging the notes that will last no more than two hours. Depending on the perfume’s alcohol contents, what you smell will vanish in one to two hours, as the top notes give into the perfume’s heart.

Method 2: Blotter Perfume Evaluation

This is an extension of in-vial perfume sampling as it too is often used to detect top notes. However, the open-air environment within which one sniffs a blotter laced with the subject perfume allows for heart notes to shine through as well. 

In case you are wondering, a blotter is basically a white paper strip that is usually kept next to the fragrance in the store. It is porous in nature and can absorb some of the perfume when sprayed and release it slowly over a period of time replicating the effect of spraying perfume on your skin or clothes!

The effectiveness of this method comes in its portability; you can take the sample on a blotter and keep it with you. This portability has made it a universal preference of perfume salesman. Whether you’ve walked by a hustling perfume store or a mall kiosk, you have probably been offered a perfume sample on a blotter.

Most people sniff and decide whether they want to get the perfume or not. The way you can make the most of a sample on blotter evaluation is to take the sample with you and smell it every two hours. 

The paper doesn’t get as warm as the human skin, so you may never detect the base notes, but you’ll have a good idea of the perfume’s heart and top notes. 

Finally, you have to keep in mind that the perfume’s oils don’t smell on you the way they smell on paper, in a bottle, or anything else. A perfume smells different on your body because it interacts with your body’s natural oils.

Method 3: Perfume on Wrist Test

This is one of the most accurate ways to sample a perfume because it mimics the same conditions under which perfume is supposed to perform. The drawback of this evaluation method is that you can try only one perfume at a time. 

But you cannot sample too many perfumes this way as the initial fragrance you smell alters the wrist such that the next perfume cannot be evaluated under normal working conditions.

In other words, since you’d wear perfume on your skin without putting any other fragrance on before, the subsequent fragrances you test on your wrist won’t smell the same at home since they’ll be tainted by previously applied fragrances. There are two ways to offset this drawback: the three-step evaluation and the rapid practical evaluation.

Method 4: Three-Step Perfume Evaluation (Recommended Method!)

The first is to do the in-vial test and shortlist the fragrances you like. Even though you won’t be able to smell the perfume in its entire note range, you’ll be able to decide which ones you don’t like. After all, no one buys a fragrance they hate the top notes of only because the heart notes are better.

Once you use in-vial sampling as a way to remove most fragrances you dislike, the remainder can be tested on a blotter. The wrist application drawback applies to sniffing multiple blotters too. 

How? Well, when you sniff a fragrance, it alters your sense of smell such that the next fragrance’s notes might blend in and give you the wrong read. You can smell coffee grounds to completely wash out the previous scent from your senses, then sample the next blotter.

If you are not carrying any coffee seeds, you can also sniff any unscented part of your skin to clear up your nose.

This method allows you to the top alongside the heart of the perfumes you have shortlisted.

By this point, you should have one or two fragrances in mind. And the way to test the one you’ll like in daily use is to apply one on your wrist and smell it. Then, you wait some time and smell it again. 

With this method, you smell the perfume every two hours and write down your thoughts every two hours. It might take you one day per perfume you’ve shortlisted past the last round. 

As you can see, this method is extensive and is best suited if you really want to get the most out of one or two fragrances. Plus, if you are buying an expensive perfume, I would recommend using this method as it can be really effective! After all, you don’t want to end up with an expensive perfume you don’t like!

Method 5: Practical Rapid Evaluation

The practical evaluation method is ideal for fragrances that cost more than $150 and less than $300. My rationale for recommending this test for this price range is that the time it takes to test perfumes this way.

If you find the time you spend to be worth more than the bottle’s price, simply do the blotter test and take a leap of faith. To be sure of your purchase, do the following.

  • Apply perfume to the back of your hand and smell it.
  • Wear a mitten like Tough Outdoors Winter Mitten (on Amazon) and let your hand warm-up for 15 minutes, then smell the perfume again.
  • Put your hand, alongside the mitten, in a thick scarf like SOJOS  Shawl (on Amazon) and let it warm further for 15 minutes. Smell the perfume again.
  • Apply any odorless sanitizer that you may have at home or buy one like the Hygenoma Hand Sanitizer (on Amazon). Smell coffee grounds, then try the next perfume.

What to Look for When Testing a Perfume?

Knowing the process of how to smell perfume is going to be of very little help if you don’t know what you should be looking for when testing a fragrance!

There are few things that you should be looking for when testing a perfume –

  1. Top Notes – the top notes of a perfume are basically the first scent that you can smell in a perfume. Check to see whether you like this first interaction with a perfume. As described above, use the in-vial top note detection method to see if you like the fragrance initally. Only if you like the initial interaction should you go with the next steps of evaluation.
  2. Perfume Strength – the perfume strength can be determined by how close or far can you smell the fragrance from the surface. Some perfumes require you to smell very close to the surface. Whereas, you can easily smell the scent of stronger perfume even 4 to 6 inches away from the surface!

    Do keep in mind though, having a perfume that is too strong is not necessarily a good thing as it can affect people around you. In some cases, it can even cause headaches amongst people with sensitivities!
  3. Pleasant Middle and Base Notes – most people tend to simply test the top notes of a perfume and make a purchasing decision. However, it is important to also test the middle and the base notes. The top notes usually only lasts about 30 to 60 minutes. Therefore, your perfume will mostly smell of the middle and base notes as they tend to carry the scent of a perfume!

    Thus, it is important to know not just the top notes, but also whether you like the middle and base notes of a perfume.
  4. Longevity – one other thing that you should look for is longevity of a perfume. How long does the perfume last? Depending on the type of perfume, it can lasts from 2 hours to 24 hours or even more!

    Generally speaking, you should look for a perfume that lasts longer. The longer it lasts, the better return on investment you will get from a perfume!

Another factor that you may want to consider when buying a perfume is the cost of the perfume. However, this doesn’t really affect the testing process of the fragrance. Nevertheless, do keep this in mind as well.

Tips to Test a Fragrance Correctly

Here are some of the tips that you should keep in mind when testing out perfumes –

  1. Test for a limited selection at a time – try to restrict the number of perfumes that you test at a time. You should be able to easily check about 10 to 15 perfumes using the in-vial top note detection. After that, it is time to shortlist a perfume you like rather than checking out more perfumes.

    Moreover, once you’ve tested the perfume using the blotter, finalize no more than 4 perfumes to test on your skin.
  2. Clear Up Your Nose – it is important to clear up your nose by smelling something different like coffee beans. If you dont’ have coffee beans on you, simply smell the non-scented part of your skin. Take time and make sure you are able to smell your body scent as this will help you break the sequence and clear your nose of any perfume scent.
  3. Don’t spray directly on the skin – make sure you don’t spray the perfume directly on your hand or wrist or any other part of your skin as you can only spray 3 or 4 perfumes on your skin before the scent gets mixed with each other.

    Go with the recommended method above (method 4). Test for the top notes first. Then, test the perfume on a blotter. Finally, spray only those perfume on your skin that you really like and shortlist even after testing it on a blotter.
  4. Prevent perfume contamination when spraying – try to prevent a perfume contaminating the other when spraying. Take special care especially when spraying on your skin.

    You can cover the part of the skin that already has perfume sprayed on with either a sheet of paper or your other hand (or any other method that seems convenient).
  5. Test for all the notes – as mentioned in the article, make sure you test not just the top notes, but also other notes that constitute the perfume. Invest the time to test perfume especially when purchasing an expensive fragrance!
  6. Smell from a distance – although this is a personal choice, however, when smelling a perfume, make sure that you don’t smell it up close to the surface. A perfume that you have to smell from near the surface will only serve as an intimate one. It will have little to no impact on the olfactory senses of other around you.

    Try to first smell it at a distance of about 3 to 4 inches from the surface. If you still can’t smell the scent, then come closer to the surface. This will indicate the strength of the perfume.
  7. Test for perfume in an open environment – it is best to try and replicate the environment in which you are most likely to wear a perfume that you intend to purchase. Most people tend to use a perfume outside their house. Therefore, testing a perfume in an open enviroment gives a more realistic effect.

    Moreover, testing a perfume out of the shop also allows you to free up your olfactory senses from other unintended fragrances present inside a shop from other products!

Can You Smell Perfume in Shops?

You can smell perfume in a shop. You can check the top notes of a perfume and carry out a blotter test for a perfume inside the shop. However, to test the perfume on your wrist or skin, it is advisable to check it outside the shop preferably in an open environment.

In order to avoid contamination of your olfactory sense from fragrances of other products in the shop, it is best to smell the perfume outside the shop. Try to neutralize the effect of the previous scents by smelling the unscented part of your skin.

How to Test Perfume When Buying Online? 

To test a perfume when buying it online, check for the top, middle and base notes of perfume. See if there are any commonalities between the notes of a perfume that you already like and the one you intend to purchase. Perhaps, check if any of your friends already use the perfume and test it out.

It is difficult to test perfume when you are buying it online. You have to trust the recommendation of others to buy perfumes online. Make sure that you also read up on the reviews for a perfume’s longevity, performance, and sillage.

This is usually tougher for novices, but trusting the recommendations of online perfume experts can lead you to pleasant surprises!

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