Decanting 101 Repeat and update (Patty)

It’s been a while since this was posted, and I figured a new year and big mondo bottles of Diors that may need to be split,plus lots of new readers in the last year or two, it might come in handy.

Those of you that already decant wildly for your friends or do bottle splits, etc., you get the day off today, or you can just add your own favorite suppliers and tips in the comments.  Robin alredy has a great How to Decant article, and I’ll wind up repeating some of it, but I hope some of it is new and useful.

What you need in general

  1. Containers – at least 1 ml size vials and 5 ml size bottles. You can do different sizes, but these are the ones most common for swapping.  If you are doing bottle splits, most splits have at least 10-15 ml minimums, so you would need those size bottles to do splits.
  2. If you are a klutz or nervous or both, you’ll want funnels and bulb syringes and a Xanax, though the bulb syringes are of minimal use for most perfumes because they are sprays where you cannot remove the sprayer. Xanax is helpful all the time for most stress life hands you.
  3. Electrical tape.
  4. Labeler and labels.

The biggest single problem in decanting supplies is that you need to order a good number of bottles/vials at one time or suppliers will kill you on shipping and/or price. So if you’re ordering just a few, be prepared to pay for it. But if you only need a few, paying for a quantity that you can’t use or don’t need is ridiculous.  It’s far cheaper to buy a few if you know you won’t use up a lot of them than to buy cases that you will never use.

Favorite suppliers

  • for sample vials .  Not recommeding Madina right now for 1 ml sample vials or 5 ml roll-ons. I’ve had a ton of leaky products.  Exotic fragrances has about the best, tightest 1 ml vials I’ve found (1 mls are the “short” vials and 1.5 mls are the “long” vials.    Best Bottles has great 5 ml roll-on bottles at a good price, and it looks like they’ve now got some 10 ml spray atomizers too.  I’m not crazy fond of those plastic atomizers either, but they can work well enough, just be careful of cloggage and spray some hot water through them if that happens.
  • Plastic atomizers, I won’t use them for long-term storage and since I never know what will be long-term, I just don’t use them. If you think you want to keep that scent around for a while, transfer it to glass. If it’s a short little trial thing, plastic is fine.  Accessories for Fragrances has great plastic atomizers, funnels and amazing customer service.  They also have glass atomizers now in the smaller sizes.
  • Larger spray bottles, 15 ml and 30 ml, you can’t beat Scentworks.
  • Funnels and syringes, again, go back to Accessories for Fragrance, who has all of that sort of thing and has little decant kits, which is a great place to start for supplies for your first decanting experience.

As you start pricing things, you’ll get some idea of how expensive this decanting thing is. Anyone who does/has done a lot of decanting or bottle splits will tell you how labor intensive it is and how much supplies will wind up running you, not to mention overspray loss from a bottle.  So if you are thinking of doing bottle splits, factor in about 5-10 ml or more (some bottle sprayers are horrible for overspray and will have higher loss) per bottle loss of juice. There is nothing worse than doing a bottle split, and you get down to what’s left for you, and you don’t have enough juice to fill your own part of the split.  Factor in potential spillage, all the decanting supplies, shipping, etc.  As Robin said in her post, make sure you know what size the bottle is for sure.  I keep using the same ones over and over because once I’ve measured them, I don’t want to do it again.  For just swapping, this isn’t a big deal, but for bottle splits, it can become a big deal fast.

How to decant

  • Labeling. You want to get a label on the bottle/vial that won’t smudge, should stay on pretty well, and will stand the test of time.  Skimp somewhere else, but if you plan on doing any perfume sharing with friends, love them enough to provide them with a good label. This is Patty Pet Peeve territory, so just ignore the amount of peevish that permeates the post. A lot of people have samples/decants around for years, and there is nothing more frustrating than having a label you can’t read on a sample that you fall in love with. Anything missing a label or that is smudged, I throw away immediately. Who needs that heartbreak?  You can pick up a manual Brother labeler here for less than $30. It may be manual and take some time to make each label, but it is well worth it.  If you plan to be doing a lot of swapping and sharing, invest in one that connects to your computer so you can store labels, one of the desktop models.  You can get the label tape there as well, which runs about $10-15 per cartridge, which is far less than the $25 that OfficeMax charges.  The bonus, you’ll be thrilled having a little labeler around to label everything else with. Trust me, your labeler will wind up being one of your favorite ancillary tools that you never knew you needed.  So make the label and put it on the size container you are decanting.
  • Filling the bottle.  This is where the nervous get more nervous. I recommend using some other spray bottle of something else you don’t care about to practice here, like water.  Not so many perfume bottles are splash. For those that are, then decanting is easy. Just get your little funnel, if you need it (not me, I go commando), put it on the bottle, hold carefully so it doesn’t tip over, dump in the perfume carefully, put the lid on the bottle/vial, and it’s ready to go. For sprayers, most of them won’t come off, so you have to spray from the perfume bottle into the vial or decant bottle.  For vials, you’ll have more problems with overspray than anything else, and I don’t recommend a funnel here, it will just make a mess.  Feel around on the vial for the open end, line it up with the the hole on the sprayer for the perfume bottle, and gently squeeze in enough perfume to fill it without overfilling, and then snap the cap on it.  As easy as that sounds, snapping that cap in firmly the first few times will give you a heart attack as you’re sure you will crush/snap the vial in two.  Just push, you have to, or it won’t go in.  I’ve snapped on hundreds of thousands of these, and I’ve had maybe five break over the last three years from just putting in the cap. For filling the bottle, this is the point where a funnel can be of some help to catch the overspray. If you don’t buy one, you can use some aluminum foil shaped as a funnel.  Just fill the bottle, then put on the lid/roll-on cap.
  • Securing the bottle.  If you are sending several vials at a time, and if one of them happens to be something particularly raunchy, think about putting it in its own teeny zip-lock bag (available at  For decant bottles, make sure to take a bit of electrical tape and wrap it where the bottle cap meets the bottle. This will keep the cap on and prevent almost all of the jiggling that sometimes occurs in transit that can cause bottles to leak.
  • Mailing. I use a padded envelope, which works well for sample vials and a few smaller decants, and wrap it in a little bit of bubble wrap. I’ve been using them for years to ship, and have had almost no breakage, except when the post office keeps trying to feed them into the machine sorter.

Hope this helps you all, and feel free to chime in with your own tips/tricks/suppliers/horror stories. If after this you are thinking, I don’t want to make perfume decants! you can just go to Surrender to Chance and buy them pre-made.  Disclaimer, I am half owner of STC.

  • Linda Ratcliffe says:

    Great article on decanting–so where oh where can one go to actually buy the decanted perfumes? I buy lots of samples from TPC but still cry over the glorious, long-lost days of shopping for decants on eBay. Are there any other resources for those of us desperate to find small sizes of scents?


    • Musette says:

      Linda –

      There are lots of swap groups on the boards, for decants and FB swaps. MUA has one, as well as Basenotes, I think. You can also try Facebook. Some are private, some are public but do some research on the boards and see what’s out there that works for you!

      xo >-)

  • Musette says:

    Btw –

    Patty, you are SO right about the Xanax. I miss that stuff.

    xo >-)

  • odonata9 says:

    Enjoyed reading all the tips from Patty and other commenters! I did my first splits last year and afraid I am guilty of using a file folder label/ballpoint pen. Guess I will look into getting a labeler before doing my next split!
    Accessories for Fragrance are great for 5 ml plastic sprayers. I wish their glass were cheaper, but if you only need a few, their shipping prices aren’t that bad.
    I used exoticfragrances for 10 and 15 ml sprayers, and found those to be very high quality and reasonably priced.
    For vials and ziploc baggies, I just go on ebay and see who has the cheapest ones for the amount I need.

  • Aparatchick says:

    A big second on the labeling. I’m sitting here right now looking at 5 ml of ……. something. Who knows what? There was something written on the label at one point, but the ink has dissolved and there’s no way of telling. Thank God I don’t love it, have to have a FB of it or this would be truly sad.

  • Rappleyea says:

    The best decanting advice I’ve received was from dear Daisy, when I was shaking in my boots about spraying some expensive juice into a sample vial. She said to depress the sprayer slowly, thus releasing a stream of juice rather than a mist. It’s harder and takes longer, but works well.

  • Anya says:

    There is a company that I’ve recommended for year as one of the best, cheapest source for vials and bottles: Their 1/4 dram (1ml) shortie bottles are great for decants. Don’t get them with the polywhatever cone lid – those leak. Just get the regular plain lids. I’ve never seen anywhere else that beats their prices. They also have the trad. skinny perfume sample vials, but I love the shorties. I use them for creating my perfume mods, too. They typically find the cheapest way to ship, and can cram a LOT into priority flat rate boxes. If I have a question, I call the 800 number and ask to speak with Mr. Islam, the owner. Eric is nice, but he’s not as up on all the products as Mr. Islam.

    Right now I’m trying to find a good source for the sample vials for a perfumer in Australia. They only have two suppliers there that she knows of, and they’re overpriced and have discontinued a lot of vials.

    BTW, I placed my order with y’all and can’t wait to sniff the vintages ;-)

    • Musette says:

      You might do what I do – have her buy them, ship them to you, then you just mail them to her. I do that a lot for folks who are ‘away’. I send my pal his shampoo that way – a whole lot less expensive – also heavier items (the kind of stuff UPS just eats your lunch on, if you are sending overseas).

      Just a thought…

      xo >-)

  • bry says:

    I picked up a few glass vials with a good membrane in the cap at a local science store. They were really inexpensive and unlike buying from the same shop online, I didn’t have to buy large quantities. They also had pipettes and funnels. This goes to show why high school chemistry is important!

  • Musette says:

    One other thing to add here: I hate shipping/handling costs like a mongoose hates a snake – yeah, I s/h in my biz all the time so I respect the labor/expense….but that don’t mean I gotta like it – anyway, if you are pals with other ‘mistas in your neck of the woods, collaborate! I often check with friends (sometimes not even local) to see what they need in terms of vials, etc – you can buy 100+ vials, etc, get out from under the onerous shipping and pay $1.28 to send them to your pal. Srsly. I do it all the time. And don’t think you won’t use 100 vials. Looks like a lot….until it’s all gone. They’re also great for carrying around, to make your own samples. Most SAs couldn’t care less, as long as they don’t have to do it and you don’t make a mess and are somewhat discreet.

    xoxo >-)

  • Musette says:

    P –

    What do you need? Holla at me. A friend is in Japan right this minute (not sure for how much longer, though).


  • Olfacta says:

    Great post! I need some glass atomizers…and a labeler….there is one thing I discovered while reading “Essence and Alchemy” (Mandy Aftel’s book). I now keep a good sized jar of alcohol, with a tight lid, over on the side of my work table. After using test tubes or eyedroppers you can rinse them by pumping the alcohol in and out a few times and setting them upright in another jar — funnels and used vials can be soaked in it for a few moments. This removes lingering perfume smell, sterilizes them, and then they can be used again without mixing scents.

  • maggiecat says:

    Thanks for the advice Patty! I second Jennifer on ammo trays – they’re great for storing and holding small decants and samples. I don’t do all that much splitting or sharing, but find that decants are great for making travel sizes, which is use for purse or office. I also like to make a small decant of any scent I give as a gift so that the recipient can sample the scent before opening the bottle. If they love it, then they have a travel size spray to go along with it. And if they don’t unopened bottles are much easier to return! Decant supplies keep, so I don’t mind ordering more than I “need” at any given time.

  • Shelley says:

    You know, I’m thinking the Xanax would be a lot less effort than the meditation I go through before settling in. ;) Seriously, though, when I’m in the right mood, decanting IS a kind of meditation; just the right amount of needing to pay attention and keep track without monkey mind.

    For Elizabeth right above me, I’d toss in that simply putting some scotch/transparent tape over the label will keep it from smudging or completely running. Some people might not be quite ready to invest in both decantery and label making in one fell swoop; no problem. Though a fine line Sharpie can be your friend, as well as a bit of a pause between writing it out and trying to apply the label. (See again, meditative.)

    I’ve had good luck with Pilot Vials, too. I’ve learned that personally, the stoppered 1ml are not my fave unless it is a high concentration (parfum or oil) going in there. I prefer atomizers for edt and edp. And speaking of stoppered vials…THANK YOU for bringing up checking to be sure you have the right end. There was a comi-tragedy in my house one day, with me trying to figure out what the $#@! was wrong with my sprayer, because it was spraying everywhere but into the vial!!! Butt-end, that was the problem.

    Again, meditation. ;)

    Also, I put a placemat or towel down, in case there is a drip. For sorting, you can use little muffin tins, too. Like Carolyn, I’ve taken to keeping a pipette dedicated per bottle…though folks just starting off or wanting to do a test run should know that a (clean) cocktail straw will transfer liquid quite nicely. (Remember? You practiced so many times as a kid when you got taken out to a restaurant… ;) )

    Those cocktail straws come in handy for other applications (ha! “applications…”) when those who meditated and opted out of Xanax are all done. You can even select a beverage to compliment the aromas of the day… :)

    • Musette says:

      Remember that bemused, horrified look P gave us with the cocktail straw thing? =))

      xo >-)

      • Shelley says:

        Ahahaha!!! Special Ops decantery: A public place. A table. A server. A perfume someone wishes to share. Of course, an empty vial or two rumbles in one of the operative’s bags. A request for a handful of cocktail straws. Voila! Substance transferred, no mess, no fireworks, no big smell for nearby diners.

        Success = happy. Look on face = priceless.

        • Ann says:

          You guys are cracking me up with all the “cloak and dagger” decanting stuff. But I’ve been known to stuff a glass vial or two in my purse (and maybe even a funnel), you know — just in case! Luckily, over the years I’ve only run into one SA who told me I couldn’t make my own sample.

          • Shelley says:

            The worst I’ve gotten is an incredulous look. Musette taught me to be bold. I’ve got a few ways to stash, but my proudest is an eyeglass case…for some reason, I feel rather Mrs. Peel when I pull that out and it turns out to have vials, labels, a permanent ink pen. Easier to pack than Steed’s umbrella, too.

          • Ann says:

            Oooh, clever, clever girl, Emma (er, Shelley)! What a great idea for carrying your perfumista/secret-agent stash. You wouldn’t mind too much if I “stole” your idea and used it myself, would you? :)

          • Shelley says:

            But of course not! Get the clamshell type…not only do they protect the glass well enough, they make a most satisfying “snap!” when the mission is over. ;)

    • Patty says:

      The tape can help, and it’s better than nothing, but it has to be over the whole label, and if the thing leaks at all, it will get under the tape and turn it into a gummy mess that you still can’t read. From one who has gotten that sort of thing. :)

      straw. I’m still awoggle about that, but I’m always tempted to try it.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Great post, Patty. Some of these points I have already discovered for myself. The labeling! Please, people, get with it and do NOT use ballpoint pen to write on a file folder label, thinking that’s going to last more than the time it takes to get through the mail to your swap-mate who is eagerly awaiting the fragrant delicacy you have sent. Label makers are cheap and easy to use. Thanks for the links, minx.

  • Carolyn says:

    I’m a bit of a klutz and have lost too much perfume to overspray when trying to spray directly into vial or decant bottle so now I spray into a clean wide mouthed measured medicine cup and move the juice from there to vial/bottle with a clean pipette. The measuring in a medicine cup comes in handy because amount a decant bottle can hold can vary widely even when purchased from the same vendor. Because I hate throwing more plastic into the trash than is absolutely necessary, I tend to tape the pipette to the bottle of fume I used it with for next decanting and put the medicine cup into recycling trash, using a fresh one of those each time. Experienced very little loss that way.

  • karin says:

    Hi Patty! Thanks for reposting this. I recently hosted a few splits, and have created bunches of samples from my bottles. My first split attempt some months ago (31 Rue Cambon) was a disaster. I’ve since perfected the technique, and am no longer skeered of doing it.

    I ordered all of my supplies from Best Bottles, and am very happy with them. The vial caps attach tightly, and the larger bottles are well made – they don’t feel or look cheap.

    My split days may be over…I sent out probably 40 or so packages at the end of the year between splits and swaps…I’m sorta swapped/splitted out! But if I were to continue, I’d definitely want a labeler. I’ve been printing on regular paper, cutting out the names, and taping them on the vials/bottles. Not the best method. I’ve received some bottles with some really lame labels. I don’t mind the small vials so much, but when it’s a larger bottle, a nice label makes a big difference.

    • Tommasina says:

      I was more than happy with the gorgeous fume you sent, label or no!;)

      • karin says:

        Oooh! Who are you, Tommasina? Not sure I recognize your moniker. Yeah, for some of the larger bottles, I figure the recipient may want to label them themselves rather than have to deal with peeling off an ugly taped on label. Perhaps I should ask first. But when you’re buying a really nice scent, it’s so much nicer to have a beautiful bottle without an ugly label on it! Thus my interest in the labeler…though, not sure I want to make the investment unless I’m going to end up in the split business. Ha!

  • Ann C says:

    I am interested in getting a labeler, but the link to the Brother machine didn’t work for me. Anyone have a tried and true (but simple) labeler that they can recommend?

  • Carla says:

    Thank you for this! (Just received Lutens and MDCI decants from TPC and am awaiting a few more…)

  • jennifer says:

    If you can get your hands on the little trays ammunition comes in they work great for holding/sorting/storeing upright little sample vials.My dad likes to target shoot at a range and gave me a couple of the trays.
    Thanks for the DSH samples/solid perfume. I’m waiting for my headcold to pass before exploring them.

  • nozknoz says:

    Thanks for this informative post, Patty! The only other thing I would suggest is to have something to hold the little bottle in between steps – the equivalent of a test tube rack, basically, so that you can set the darned thing down securely while you pop another Xanax, sneeze, whatever ;-)