If you wear fragrances then you've probably noticed the words 'Eau de Toilette' on your bottle. But what does it mean?

The term Eau de Toilette is French and literally means 'Toliet Water' - in fact some older perfumes in English speaking countries would use the term 'toilet water' as a description instead of eau de toilette, though after a while it's likely that marketing got involved and decided the french terminology sounded more classy!

But why toilet? Surely something as lovely smelling as perfume shouldn't be associated with, well, where you do your number two's...

The Toilet​

In French, the word toile means linen cloth. The suffix -ette - is used to denote the diminutive form of something (see also cigar-ette, par example), so a toilette was essentially a small piece of linen cloth. According to Merriam Webster, the word toilette "was originally used for a wrapper or covering for clothes and later for a cloth put over the shoulders while dressing the hair or shaving"

Eventually the word toilette began to be used to describe the whole washing, shaving, grooming and dressing part of the day - particularly when done in the the morning. So in that sense, Eau de Toilette, being used as a term to describe the nice smell you're putting on when you're getting ready for the day, makes a whole lot more sense! – it's also this meaning of the word that we get toiletries from.

(How it also came used to describe what we know now as the toilet is probably out of scope of a fragrance website)

What does Eau de Toilette mean in perfumery?​

We've covered why it's called what it is, but what actually is it?

Pretty much all Western fragrances are made up of three key parts. If you look at the ingredients list - it normally will say something like: Alcohol Denat, Parfum, Aqua.

Aqua (Water) and Alcohol are the solvents that the Parfum (the actual bit with the smells) is diluted with. As you can imagine, a greater quantity of the Parfum will lead to greater longevity and intensity.

Eau de Toilette refers to a certain dilution of Parfum vs Alcohol and Water. It can range from 5% - 15% of the total formula depending on the fragrance. A higher strength fragrance would be an Eau de Parfum, which typically 10% - 20%.

You're probably thinking that the Venn Diagram that shows what is an Eau de Toilette is and what is an Eau de Parfum is has a fair bit of an overlap. And you're right. There's no official or legal definition of how much parfum is used, so it's a bit of a guessing game. However, if a fragrance line has an Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum then you know that the Eau de Toilette is going to have less parfum than the Eau de Parfum.

Eau de Toilette facts​

  • Eau de Toilette is often shortened to EDT
  • Men's Fragrances used to almost always be in Eau de Toilette format, but there has been a rise in Men's Eau de Parfums in recent years.
  • One of the earliest uses we can find of the term is in 1784. In the book, Toilette et laboratoire de Flore by Pierre Joseph Buchoz, there is instructions to make an Eau de Bouquet, ou Eau de Toilette, where it states clearly at the end that "it serves only for washing, and is of no use in medicine."

Further reading on Eau de Toilette from the forums​