Smelling Techniques: Guide & Summary

LGV

New member
Jul 1, 2006
Basic smelling techniques are essential, and several viewpoints are culled here from the writings of industry pioneers Paul Jelinek, Edmond Roudnitska, and Stephen V. Dowthwaite. This summary provides fast practical advice. Enjoy! -LGV

1) The Environment
The act of smelling first starts in an appropriate environment, one that is as free as possible from abnormal ambient influences.
Optimum Environment for Smelling:
A Separate Room (with the following characteristics):
  • Well ventilated.
  • Strictly void of strong smelling samples and lab projects.
  • Normal room temperature.
  • Normal humidity.
  • Quiet /peaceful environment.
Undesirable Environments and Environmental Factors:
  • Smelly laboratory.
  • Production area.
  • Kitchen.
  • Rest room/bathroom.
  • High ambient temperatures.
  • High humidity.
  • High air pollution (or background odor).
  • Distracting (noisy, high-traffic, visually displeasing, etc.).
You are part of the Smelling Environment too!
  • Do not wear strong fragrances
  • Avoid a smelling session right after eating strong aromatic foods (onions, garlic, coffee, curry, etc.)
  • Avoid contaminating your hands, clothes and hair with samples. Tie your hair back if it is long.
  • Careful not to contaminate your nose by touching it with the smelling strip!
2) Material Samples
  • Use dilute solutions (to prevent odor overload and fatigue).
  • When you need to smell materials in undiluted form (neat) and to prevent olfactory overload and fatigue:
  • Minimize sample size; Dip the blotters in shallow (not deep) increments.
  • Minimize exposure; Limit to several brief inhalations.
  • Use appropriate solvents, i.e. - Alcohol for perfumery.
  • Use the final diluents “mixture” in your smelling sample, as each diluent will affect the odor performance of a perfume material.
  • Do not smell undissolved crystalline materials (the smell will be imprecise because of trace surface impurities. You might inhale actual crystals and deaden your sense of smell for a very, very long time).
  • Do not sniff at an open bottle directly (it will deaden the sense of smell for a prolonged time).
3) Smelling Strip & Blotter Recommendations
Common blotter recommendations:
  • Standardize using the same brand and stock of blotters (to avoid changes in smell from manufacturing differences and trace elements)
  • 13cm to 15cm.
  • 0.5cm to 1cm width.
  • Unsized (not treated or bleached).
  • Roudnitska:
    • 18cm length.
    • 1cm wide.
    • Folded with a groove (to prevent bending).
    • Tapered (to fit small bottles, and reduces material consumption).
    • Paper grade 180gm/sq cm.
  • Jelinek:
    • Minimum 10cm.
    • Thin blotters (allows different smelling phases to be recognized due to less tenacious holding of volatile materials).
    • Thick blotters (for presentation, as it holds the composition better than a thin blotter)
  • Dowthwaite:
    • Chromatography Paper (its thinner and has special characteristics).
    • Tapered.
    • Bend the smelling tip 3cm from the end (so you can easier coordinate your hands, and to help prevent the smell of your hand from contaminating the sample).

4) The Act of Smelling
The nose quickly adapts to unchanging smells, so time is short to fix an impression!
  • Smell some known samples from your lab in the same category you wish to identify to help refresh and reacquaint your memory.
  • Concentrate, your mind is really doing the smelling!
  • Be relaxed and comfortable.
  • Arrange samples from weak to strong (to offset olfactory fatigue).
  • Dip strips to a depth of 0.5cm.
  • Keep the strip 1cm-2cm perpendicular to the nostrils.
  • Close eyes to prevent visual distractions.
  • Use short shallow inhalations. Sniff-Evaluate—Sniff-Evaluate. Use short brief inhalations to experience the smell, move it away from the nose, then use your memory to hold the odor and evaluate. The first sniff will give the clearest impression, subsequent sniffs will blur.
  • Inhale through the mouth by holding it 1cm away from the lips to experience the odor differently by introducing taste sensations. Exhale back up past the throat and through the nose.
  • With a weak smelling sample, warm the sample by breathing gently out your nose onto the strip. The warm breath will warm the sample and increase its evaporation and activity.
  • Pose a series of “yes” or “no” questions to cycle through until an identification is made. (i.e. - Is it aliphatic? No, then is it citrus? No, then is it…).
  • Keep a database and write prolific notes of your immediate odor impressions. You are forced to think and smell with awareness when you do this, and it will help to recall the smell in the future. You will also be able to search and find the characteristics later.
    • Write with lucidity in your expression of the odor
  • Have rest intervals (for your nose to recover)
    • Go outside for fresh air between series of smelling sessions.
    • Stimulating deep breathing and circulation helps clear the nose. It has been suggested to run up and down a flight of steps!
References:
Perfumery Practice and Principals, Calkin and Jellinek
How do you smell?, Stephen V. Dowthwaite
 

Rockford

Basenotes Dependent
Jan 27, 2005
Welcome to Basenotes, LGV! I noticed that this is your first post, and what a great post it is! Thank you for this very informative guide.
 

Marcello

Basenotes Junkie
Oct 30, 2003
Excellent post, LGV! Thanks for your great contribution, and welcome to Basenotes.

Marcello
 

Sarel

New member
Feb 11, 2007
Fantastic tips! Thanks :)

Quick question, if I'm smelling EOs in a store, I can't exactly break out my coffee filters lol Am I depriving myself of the scent if I hold the bottle away from me & waft it towards my nose? If so, what else can I do to get a true sense of the scent while in a store setting?
 
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LGV

New member
Jul 1, 2006
You take a notebook with you (perhaps a small thick paged sketchbook from an art store) and spray a page with it. That way you can have a collection inside your notebook and write notes and comments on the page as well. That was a trick taught in a perfumers class lesson...
 

Eau_Boy

Super Member
May 14, 2006
Presumably you leave plenty of pages between samples so they don't blend with one another. I might do this in addition to gathering samples in drams. Having it saved in a notebook is a good idea, but I wouldn't stop there.
 
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4bassdude

New member
May 2, 2007
If gathering samples doesn't work, my solution is to find the nearest person and spray it on their back. LOL. Very helpful. Thank you.
 

narcus

Basenotes Dependent
Mar 9, 2005
I really learned something here, particularly from section 4. Thank you LGV ! And thanks for making this sticky, Grant. I might not have stumbled upon this otherwise.
 

castorpollux

Basenotes Dependent
Dec 9, 2005
Thank you so much!
Great job.

Ayala had a very nice guide on her blog as well, i have often gone over there and taken a few of her pointers...
 

Belladona

New member
Dec 21, 2007
Just a quickie! Refresh your precious nose with ground coffee, sniffed inbetween samples.
Works for me. ( unflavored variety )
 

PerfumeGoddess

Super Member
Nov 30, 2009
Basic smelling techniques are essential, and several viewpoints are culled here from the writings of industry pioneers Paul Jelinek, Edmond Roudnitska, and Stephen V. Dowthwaite. This summary provides fast practical advice. Enjoy! -LGV

1) The Environment
The act of smelling first starts in an appropriate environment, one that is as free as possible from abnormal ambient influences.
Optimum Environment for Smelling:
A Separate Room (with the following characteristics):
  • Well ventilated.
  • Strictly void of strong smelling samples and lab projects.
  • Normal room temperature.
  • Normal humidity.
  • Quiet /peaceful environment.
Undesirable Environments and Environmental Factors:
  • Smelly laboratory.
  • Production area.
  • Kitchen.
  • Rest room/bathroom.
  • High ambient temperatures.
  • High humidity.
  • High air pollution (or background odor).
  • Distracting (noisy, high-traffic, visually displeasing, etc.).
You are part of the Smelling Environment too!
  • Do not wear strong fragrances
  • Avoid a smelling session right after eating strong aromatic foods (onions, garlic, coffee, curry, etc.)
  • Avoid contaminating your hands, clothes and hair with samples. Tie your hair back if it is long.
  • Careful not to contaminate your nose by touching it with the smelling strip!
2) Material Samples
  • Use dilute solutions (to prevent odor overload and fatigue).
  • When you need to smell materials in undiluted form (neat) and to prevent olfactory overload and fatigue:
  • Minimize sample size; Dip the blotters in shallow (not deep) increments.
  • Minimize exposure; Limit to several brief inhalations.
  • Use appropriate solvents, i.e. - Alcohol for perfumery.
  • Use the final diluents “mixture” in your smelling sample, as each diluent will affect the odor performance of a perfume material.
  • Do not smell undissolved crystalline materials (the smell will be imprecise because of trace surface impurities. You might inhale actual crystals and deaden your sense of smell for a very, very long time).
  • Do not sniff at an open bottle directly (it will deaden the sense of smell for a prolonged time).
3) Smelling Strip & Blotter Recommendations
Common blotter recommendations:
  • Standardize using the same brand and stock of blotters (to avoid changes in smell from manufacturing differences and trace elements)
  • 13cm to 15cm.
  • 0.5cm to 1cm width.
  • Unsized (not treated or bleached).
  • Roudnitska:
    • 18cm length.
    • 1cm wide.
    • Folded with a groove (to prevent bending).
    • Tapered (to fit small bottles, and reduces material consumption).
    • Paper grade 180gm/sq cm.
  • Jelinek:
    • Minimum 10cm.
    • Thin blotters (allows different smelling phases to be recognized due to less tenacious holding of volatile materials).
    • Thick blotters (for presentation, as it holds the composition better than a thin blotter)
  • Dowthwaite:
    • Chromatography Paper (its thinner and has special characteristics).
    • Tapered.
    • Bend the smelling tip 3cm from the end (so you can easier coordinate your hands, and to help prevent the smell of your hand from contaminating the sample).

4) The Act of Smelling
The nose quickly adapts to unchanging smells, so time is short to fix an impression!
  • Smell some known samples from your lab in the same category you wish to identify to help refresh and reacquaint your memory.
  • Concentrate, your mind is really doing the smelling!
  • Be relaxed and comfortable.
  • Arrange samples from weak to strong (to offset olfactory fatigue).
  • Dip strips to a depth of 0.5cm.
  • Keep the strip 1cm-2cm perpendicular to the nostrils.
  • Close eyes to prevent visual distractions.
  • Use short shallow inhalations. Sniff-Evaluate—Sniff-Evaluate. Use short brief inhalations to experience the smell, move it away from the nose, then use your memory to hold the odor and evaluate. The first sniff will give the clearest impression, subsequent sniffs will blur.
  • Inhale through the mouth by holding it 1cm away from the lips to experience the odor differently by introducing taste sensations. Exhale back up past the throat and through the nose.
  • With a weak smelling sample, warm the sample by breathing gently out your nose onto the strip. The warm breath will warm the sample and increase its evaporation and activity.
  • Pose a series of “yes” or “no” questions to cycle through until an identification is made. (i.e. - Is it aliphatic? No, then is it citrus? No, then is it…).
  • Keep a database and write prolific notes of your immediate odor impressions. You are forced to think and smell with awareness when you do this, and it will help to recall the smell in the future. You will also be able to search and find the characteristics later.
    • Write with lucidity in your expression of the odor
  • Have rest intervals (for your nose to recover)
    • Go outside for fresh air between series of smelling sessions.
    • Stimulating deep breathing and circulation helps clear the nose. It has been suggested to run up and down a flight of steps!
References:
Perfumery Practice and Principals, Calkin and Jellinek
How do you smell?, Stephen V. Dowthwaite



Wow! This one is really awesome! thanks for posting. There should be a lot more of posts like this. great job!
 

Persolaise

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Mar 12, 2010
I realise this thread was started quite some time ago, but I just wanted to say a big thank you to LGV for providing such useful, lucid information... and I also wanted to share my horror at the price of Calkin & Jellinek's book!!
 
O

oliverandco

Guest
thanks for these tips! very helpful

regards from Spain
 

actiasluna

Basenotes Dependent
Jan 30, 2010
Great tips, and some of them are good for your general health as well. (particularly the running up and down stairs between sessions to clear the nose!)
 

yfede

New member
Jun 3, 2011
Presumably you leave plenty of pages between samples so they don't blend with one another. I might do this in addition to gathering samples in drams. Having it saved in a notebook is a good idea, but I wouldn't stop there.

I was thinking about using one of those business card holders (the kind that resembles a notebook, but that has plastic transparent slots for cards) to store the mouillettes sprayed.. that way, they won't contaminate each other, and the scent will have a reasonable duration. What do you think?
 

ThePerfumeMaker

Basenotes Member
Jul 18, 2011
Hello LGV

Thanks for starting a great thread.

Jean Carles says you need to practise every day - he compares this to a musician who practises every day. He says he and his associates spend at least one-half hour every day in the lab smelling - new fragrances and old.

It makes sense.

All the best.

Warmest regards
Bill
 

davidpitt

Basenotes Member
Oct 1, 2011
Definitely, You have explained smelling techniques guide and summary in very well way, which is really informative.
 

Rayboy

Basenotes Member
Aug 9, 2012
Really appreciate this post. Will utilize these in the future when sniffing fragrances.
Thanks,
 

jsparla

Basenotes Junkie
Jun 5, 2011
Anosmic? Some additional handy smelling techniques

A small addition on this excellent 'smelling technique' thread.

I figured that i was anosmic to some aroma chemicals and had to 'learn' them.
At least, my nose had to recognize them, and since then i mastered to recognize them better and better.
I had to 'learn' a lot of aroma chemicals, Musks in particular, like Ambrettolide and Velvione.

Please, refer to this tread, where i describe a neat little trick, which might help anosmic noses to detect scents.
A general 'vanille' trick and a more specific trick with 'same aroma chemical family blenders'.
And last but not least, Chris Bartlett describes what dilution can do for you!

Happy perfuming.
 
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JasonUK1988

New member
Sep 10, 2015
Just joined and I am thrilled to find such a vast and informative database to help me along the way. I never realised how much fun perfumery could be, but my god is it hard haha! Makes it all worthwhile though :)
 

Srishti

New member
Jun 13, 2017
This is a gem for a newbie. Thanks a lot for such an informative post.
Basenotes is the best forum :)
 
D

Deleted member 13385235

Guest
Wonderful post that clarifies a lot. Thanks
 

julian35

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Feb 28, 2009
Who knew coffee beans werent good for smelling between perfume! Thank you to everyone posting these pointers.

It is best to smell into the crook of your arm, which is the way I was taught at GIP.
Smell yourself basically..... unless you have just sprayed perfume all over yourself. LOL


Like the article says "You’re better off popping out for a bit of fresh air, or sniffing your own, unscented sleeve (or skin)."
 
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