About Perfumers Alcohol - A Complete Guide to Ethyl Alcohol for Perfumery
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 Perfumer Alcohol?
Perfumers alcohol is defined as a volatile carrying agent used to topically deliver essential oils and aromatic compounds on to the skin.
What properties are ideal for Perfumers Alcohol?
Many different alcohol types and blends are currently used everyday to create perfumes on large and small scales. With an increased availability in choices, customer looking to buy perfumers alcohol should consider the following properties of their solvent of choice.
- Safety - Does your perfumers alcohol contain single-ingredient or a proprietary blend of additives? Are the effects of all ingredients known safe (long term and short term)
- Miscibility - Does your perfumers alcohol mix with the essential oils, absolutes, or other aroma chemicals used for homemade perfume recipes?
- Volatility - What temperature does your perfumers alcohol begin to evaporate off of your skin and into the air?
- Shelf Life - Does your perfumers alcohol 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?
How to choose the right Perfumers Alcohol?
When choosing the right perfumers alcohol, first and foremost ensure that the alcohol in hand is 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.
- Is my alcohol safe for use on me and my family ("safe" means known non-toxic with zero toxic additives)?
- What properties do I want my alcohol base to bring to my final perfume's fragrance and feel?
- Where should I source the right alcohol base for my perfume recipe?
Is my alcohol safe for use as a perfumers alcohol?
The art and science of DIY perfumery dates back centuries across multiple cultures and time periods. Once dependent on waxes and fats to deliver the aromatic compounds into the vicinity of the wearer, refinement techniques coupled with modern day science now present the homemade perfume seeker an abundance of choices in ingredients. This opportunity to source real, pure ingredients for both the foundation of the perfume, as well as for the fragrance is met with the challenge of the customer ensuring they are sourcing the very best, and safest, option available.
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. Denatured alcohol purchases alcohol still require a permit after a certain volume as well. Read more about denatured alcohol vs pure food grade ethanol here.
If your alcohol is "denatured", a list of the denaturing agents will be included on the label. 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.
What is SDA 40b Alcohol for Perfumers?
The letters SDA are an acronym that stands for Special Denatured Alcohol, and the characters "40b" denote the recipe of denaturants added to the alcohol in it's production. Alcohol labeled SDA 40b contains up to 0.12 percent of a toxic chemical t-butyl alcohol. According to PubChem.com, Tert-Butanol or tert-butyl alcohol, is a tertiary alcohol that has a hydroxy group at position 2 making it isobutane substitute. The website continues to describe Tert-butyl alcohol as having a colorless oily liquid that "produces an irritating vapor".
Does SDA 40b Alcohol Have an Odor?
According to the EPA's database on toxic substances, Tert-butyl alcohol, the common additive in SDA 40b denatured alcohol recipes, has a "camphor-like odor". This inherent base note brought by the denaturing agent is present in the starting alcohol will further compound with fragrances brought by the ethanol itself, as described by raw material choices below.
Is the additive tert-Butyl (SDA 40b) safe for perfumers alcohol?
Tert-Butyl alcohol, the toxic additive denaturant found in SDA 40b alcohol, is listed in Wikipedia as irritating to the skin or eyes. Considering that tert-butyl is "poorly absorbed through the skin but rapidly absorbed if inhaled or ingested" its recommended to avoid alcohols for perfumery that are denatured with tert-butyl.
How to choose 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. 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 learn about how to choose the right food grade ethanol for your next perfume recipe.
What properties do I want in my alcohol base?
The base alcohol you choose for your homemade perfume recipe matters, and choosing one over the other may lead to different final fragrant results, even when infusing the same oils and botanicals. When choosing the right perfumers alcohol to buy, there are two primary components to consider: the raw material and the proof.
Originating Ingredients Matter: What the starting material of your ethanol says about how it smells.
Pure ethanol is a reflection of the raw ingredients used to make it. Even at 100% alcohol, experienced noses can quickly determine the originating food stock used to create their non-denatured ethyl alcohol. Different raw materials create vastly different noses inherent to the base alcohol used in your perfume recipe. Choosing the right raw material can result in a complimentary fragrance experience, while the wrong choice can set the whole thing askew.
Through our experience over the last 10 years working with pure food grade ethanol, we have come to recognize the following ethanols by their aroma profiles:
Alcohol from Cane - As in sugarcane, the ethanol produced possesses a strong, close to burnt/very toasted notes of molasses, brown sugar, hard caramel. Blends well with vanillas or spicy herbs, present when looked for. Most popular form of "value-priced" organic spirits.
Alcohol from Grape - Easy to recognize. Abundant fragrant flora aromas obtained after juicing for wine from the rich grape skins & pulp, earthy not sweet. Prominent odor, even with layers applied. Available in organic.
Wheat - Crisp, spicy, reliably consistent aroma profile when sourced from different reputable distillers. Wheat alcohol's use in the beverage industry, coupled with handling requirements that differ from corn and other grain, typically price wheat alcohol higher than other raw materials.
Corn - Naturally the most neutral aroma, taste, and character profile of all the alcohol options available for perfumers. Corn ethanol is renowned for its ability to create a supremely pure base ethanol with very little odor naturally. Low natural odor means corn ethanol is the best for hiding behind the delicate botanicals or fragrance oils you choose to incorporate into your perfume. Corn ethanol is naturally gluten free, and even available made with 100% Certified Organic Non-GMO Corn.
What proof (strength) alcohol is recommended for Perfumers Alcohol?
Different recipes call for different strengths of alcohol to start or blend with. Starting with 100% ethanol makes the dilution math from 190 proof to 200 proof simple as making fractions. If you are an experienced perfumer, you likely have the tools and knowledge at hand to easily dilute small batches of 200 proof ethanol into small bachas of 95% ethanol (add 50ml of water per 1000mls of starting ethanol). Or view our handy blog post with more detailed instructions to make your quart of 200 proof down to 190 proof here.
190 Proof vs 200 Proof Alcohol for Perfumers
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 2 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.
Where do I buy the right (safe) alcohol for homemade perfume recipes?
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 food safe and that means wholly safe for consumption or absorption into the skin.
Hardware Store Alcohols - While technically labeled alcohol, the blue can of hardware store alcohol should never be used for perfume recipes. As stated above, the importance of avoiding "Denatured Alcohol" cannot be overstated, as these products contain toxic additives that can harm our bodies in all sorts of ways. Alcohols available at local hardware stores not labeled as denatured like "Naphtha" or "Mineral Spirits" should also be avoided as these alcohol-products are also highly toxic, and not designed for application to the human body.
Drug Store Alcohols - Also known as "rubbing alcohol", isopropyl alcohol is a popular low cost and readily available alcohol in concentrations ranging from 70% to 91% on most store shelves in all states across the US. Sometimes methanol or another additive in included to add effects to the application site that are not perfume related. While safe for quick local application on the skin, isopropyl alcohol is not recommended for long term and repeated exposure like may occur when applying perfume daily.
Laboratory-Grade Alcohols - Seems straight forward right? Source alcohol for your perfume from an online laboratory supply house because laboratories have access to the purest of pure ingredients, right? Well, true, they do, and for that reason, laboratory supply websites like SigmaAldrich.com or Fishersci.com offer the customer an abundant variety of choices across all chemicals and alcohol types, concentrations, and packing options. Couple the exponential increase in choices with industry-specific nomenclature (is reagent grade alcohol good or bad for perfumers?) and you may agree, the opportunities to order the incorrect alcohol for your next perfume recipe are increased substantially. Choosing the wrong alcohol can mean toxic additives in your perfume, adverse reactions to your skin or clothes upon application, or foul pungent base notes that aren't masked by your choice fragrance blend.
"Moonshine" alcohol - While notorious for it's high alcohol content, moonshine as a perfume base is not recommended for a number of reasons including the high percentage of aromatic fusel oils still present in the distillate (it will smell), and the inability to obtain consistently strong ABV due to the typical recipe employed by people who call their final product "moonshine".
Amazon 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's own seller terms of service. Accordingly, the accounts of the sellers of alcohol on Amazon routinely disappear and then reemerge with a slightly different username handle. Questions: Are you comfortable fully trusting a product to your body or skin that is sold under these circumstances? Can the supplier (account holder and likely drop shipper representative) ever offer any customer service if the need ever arose? In Maine we say "Hard telling, not knowing...."
Gigantic Discount Wholesale Broker Warehouses - Looking for a discount? Find a middle man who buys ethanol in bulk from big industrial suppliers and passes it along to you as the best/cheapest/come-on-it's-all-the-same-alcohol.... We beg to differ. If you source from a discount supplier, and you ever have a problem with your order, who do you call? And what can they really offer you?
Take away: Ethanol is the best, safest, alcohol to use for perfumers who intend to apply their perfume to their body.
Is Culinary Solvent recommended for use as Perfumers alcohol?
Yes, because Culinary Solvent contains only pure ethyl alcohol with no toxic additives, is available at 100% ABV, and is distilled from 100% corn making it the ideal safe neutral alcohol base for perfumers seeking to make their own natural perfumes or colognes.
Where can I buy pure Perfumers Alcohol from Culinary Solvent?
Buy pure ethyl alcohol for perfumery, cologne, or other aromatic applications direct from CulinarySolvent.com. All orders ship direct from the distillery in Maine. Use the links below to browse our selection by bottle size.
Where can I buy organic perfumers alcohol?
Yes. Browse our selection organic 190 proof or 200 proof ethanol for sale. Organic Culinary Solvent is certified organic from 100% organic corn. Use 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. Contact us for a copy of our current certificate for your organic process.