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Alcohol for perfumers

About "Alcohol for Perfumers" - A Complete Guide for Beginners

Not all alcohol is created equal.  If you work with popular solvents like alcohol for making homemade perfume or cologne, read more to learn about different types of alcohol available to perfumers.

What is "perfumers alcohol"?

Perfumers alcohol is defined as any volatile carrying agent used to topically deliver essential oils and aromatic compounds on to the skin.  The most popular volatile carrying agents for perfume include non-denatured (Pure) ethyl alcohol from or denatured alcohol labeled as "SDA 40b".

Why is alcohol important for perfume recipes? 

Alcohols for perfumery perform the dual purpose of diluting the base fragrance while providing a predictable rate of dispersal by way of the alcohol's evaporative properties.  Using a perfumers alcohol in your perfume recipe can maximize the aroma of your final perfume while also controlling the fragrance's rate of exposure to the atmosphere.  Diluting perfume recipes with alcohol can also have measured benefits to extending shelf life when compared to using water or oils.  

Properties to consider when choosing a perfumers alcohol.

With an increased availability in choices, customers looking to buy perfumers alcohol should consider the following properties of their solvent of choice. 

  • Ingredients -  Does your perfumers alcohol contain a single-ingredient or a proprietary blend of alcohol plus additives?  Are the short term and long term effects of all ingredients and additives known and published? Are the ingredients all natural or synthesized in a laboratory?  Can you confidently pronounce all of the ingredient names in your perfumers alcohol?
  • Miscibility - Does your perfumers alcohol mix with the essential oils, absolutes, or other aroma chemicals used for homemade perfume recipes?  Is your mixture clear or foggy? Do the oils separate after a long period of sitting undisturbed?
  • Volatility - What temperature does your perfumers alcohol begin to evaporate when applied to your skin or into the air?  Does your finished blend require special bottles or care to not evaporate away while awaiting use?  Does the alcohol quickly dissipate or linger?
  • Shelf Life - Does your perfumers alcohol base expire? Does the blend of denaturants or other additives separate over time? Does temperature, light, or other factors affect the longevity of the final perfume once blended?

Tips for choosing the right alcohol for perfume or cologne recipes.

When choosing the right perfumers alcohol, first and foremost ensure that the alcohol of choice is known safe for use on human skin and clothing.  When searching for the right perfumers alcohol to buy, consider the 3 following questions about the choice you are making.

  1. Is my alcohol safe for use on me and my family ("safe" means known non-toxic with zero toxic additives)?
  2. What properties do I want my alcohol base to bring to my final perfume's fragrance and feel?
  3. Where should I source the right alcohol base for my perfume recipe?

Beware of toxic additives: How to know if your alcohol is "safe" for making perfume.

Check the label and look for a statement of ingredients.  This statement will typically be followed by a number and "%" indicating the percentage of the total mix that chemical ingredient represents.

Labels of products containing the word "Denatured" should be further evaluated with extreme consideration and deeper understanding before choosing to incorporate them into your homemade perfume recipe.  There are hundreds of approved toxic chemicals that are used as additives to alcohol to make the alcohol "denatured".  Denaturants are literally qualified based on their toxicity, and the reason why denatured alcohols do not have the federal excise tax applied to them.

Many commercial perfumers use a denatured blend labeled SDA 40b for their perfume recipes.  Learn more about denatured alcohol vs pure food grade ethanol here.

Choosing safe alcohol for making perfume.

Look for alcohol labeled as containing only pure "ethyl alcohol" (also goes by "ethanol") and "water".  As much as 5% water is acceptable for perfume recipes.  Ethanol products labeled "food grade" should be sourced for as a base alcohol that's known safe for application on the skin.  Luckily, there are many options of "food grade ethanol", available on the internet.  The options available to professionals and hobbyists alike present a number of choices that can potentially affect the outcome of the final product. Continue reading to learn how to choose the right food grade alcohol for your next perfume recipe.

Labels containing just "Ethanol", "Ethyl Alcohol" at either 100% or 95% are recommended for perfumery recipes.  If your label lists the ethanol at 95%, water should make up the remaining 5%. No other ingredients or additives other than pure ethanol are required for making safe homemade perfumes.

Ideal properties of perfumes alcohol

The base alcohol you choose for your homemade perfume recipe matters.  When considering the right alcohol to buy, there are two primary components to consider: the raw material of the alcohol, and the strength of the alcohol.   

Raw Materials: Corn vs Cane, Grape, & Wheat.

Ethyl alcohol for perfumers is typically available made from a variety of raw materials including corn, sugar cane, grapes, wheat.  The aroma of the pure alcohol reflects the raw ingredient it was derived from, with experienced individuals able to discern the source raw material even at 100% alcohol concentration. The choice of ethyl alcohol for your perfume recipes can significantly impact the final outcome.  Optimal raw material selection enhances fragrance synergy, while an unsuitable choice can disrupt the balance.

Learn more about the characteristics and properties of ethyl alcohol distilled from corn, cane, grape, and wheat here.

Strength: 190 Proof (95%ABV) vs 200 Proof (100% ABV)

Food grade alcohol is traditionally available in two strengths, 190 proof and 200 proof.  Learn more about the difference between the two strengths as applies to perfume and cologne recipes.

190 vs 200 Proof - What's the difference? Simply defined, 200-Proof ethanol translates to 100% “ethyl alcohol by volume” (ABV) while 190-Proof is known for having a 5% water to 95% ethyl alcohol ratio.

190 vs 200 Proof - How are the different? They reason for the two options existing comes down to chemistry, 190 proof ethanol can be made using "traditional" distillation equipment and methods.  However a separate process must be employed to remove the last 5% water, known as dehydration. (Culinary Solvent uses a benzene-free dehydration process called a molecular sieve to remove the last 5% water, read more here).  

190 vs 200 Proof - Why are they different?  Different industries have different uses for pure ethanol, and some industries, like commercial oil extracting, require as little water as possible to enter the recipe.  This includes the 5% water that's inherent to 190 proof ethanol.  Some industries however, like vanilla extract makers, always dilute their pure ethanol down with water to some other concentration before using, and those customers can save cost by sourcing ethanol that has not been dehydrated to 200 proof.

Places to Buy Alcohol for Perfume

Not all alcohols are created equal. You may already know there are many alcohols available for purchase. It's important to remember that "Ethanol is an alcohol, but not all alcohols are ethanol". This is key because only ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is considered "food safe", and that means safe for your body, inside and out. 

Hardware Store Alcohols - While technically labeled as "alcohol", the blue metal can of hardware store alcohol will always denatured and should never be used for perfume recipes.  Other alcohols available at local hardware store including "Naphtha" or "Mineral Spirits" should also be avoided as these alcohol-products are also highly toxic, and not intended for application to the human body. 

Drug Store Alcohols - Also known as "rubbing alcohol", isopropyl alcohol is a popular, low cost, and readily available in the US alcohol in concentrations ranging from 70% to 91%.  Isopropyl alcohol has a distinct, sharp smell, that often evokes visions of a doctor's office setting.  While isopropyl alcohol is considered safe for quick, local application on the skin in a medical context, this alcohol is not recommended for long term and repeated exposure that may occur when applying perfume daily. 

"Moonshine" Alcohol - While notorious for its higher-than-average alcohol content, using moonshine or white whiskey, as a perfume base is not recommended. Moonshine rarely gets above 80% ABV, consistency between batches is practically nonexistent, and the presence of such an unrefined (seriously, I went there) alcohol are immediately recognizable.  Long story short, perfume made with moonshine, will smell of moonshine, and is not recommended.    

Amazon and eBay Alcohol - If you search for it, you will find it.  This is interesting considering alcohol is explicitly listed as a Restricted Item according to Amazon and eBay's own seller terms of service.  Accordingly, the accounts of the sellers of alcohol on these platforms routinely disappear, and then reemerge with a slightly different username handle.  Who are these accounts selling alcohol without regard for the rules and regulations set forth by the states? Would you trust a company like this to provide alcohol that you will put on your body?  Can the supplier (as in the amazon marketplace account holder or drop shipping representative) ever offer any true customer service if the need ever arose?  In Maine we say "Hard telling, not knowing...." and for that reason, alcohol from Amazon or eBay (even worse!) is not recommended for perfumers.

Gigantic Discount Wholesale Broker Warehouses - Simply non-interested, middlemen brokers of many different chemical products, including ethyl alcohol.  Rarely these brokers specialize in anything other than cut-throat discounted prices.  When it comes to putting something on, or into, your body, there is such a thing as "too cheap".  Take great care and consideration before sourcing ethyl alcohol from a big supplier to ensure you are getting the right product.

Direct from the Distillery - When you source your ethyl alcohol direct from the distillery, you can be sure you are getting the best product from the people who can actually discuss the quality and process used to make it.  Culinary Solvent is pure ethyl alcohol designed for perfumers, sold by The Northern Maine Distilling Company and shipped direct from the distillery in Brewer, Maine. 

How to buy Perfumers Alcohol Direct from the Distillery.

Buy pure ethyl alcohol for perfumery, cologne, or other aromatic applications direct from the distillery in Maine from  Use the links below to browse perfumers alcohol products by bottle size.  Bulk drums and larger volumes are also available, contact us for best prices and delivery options.

Buy Perfumers Alcohol Pints
Buy Perfumers Alcohol Quarts
Buy Perfumers Alcohol Gallons
Buy Perfumers Alcohol in Bulk (5 Gallon Jugs)

Where can I buy USDA Certified Organic alcohol for perfume?

You can buy USDA certified organic alcohol distilled from non-GMO organic corn direct from the distillery at  Blend organic botanicals with Culinary Solvent's organic 200 proof ethanol as your perfume base to create a truly organic fragrant experience. Licensed commercial processors may use our certification as chain of custody proof for their own organic certification. 

Buy Organic Perfumers Alcohol Pints
Buy Organic Perfumers Alcohol Quarts
Buy Organic Perfumers Alcohol Gallons
Buy Organic Perfumers Alcohol in Bulk (5 Gallon Jugs)

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