Monday, December 13, 2010

When Good Perfume Goes Bad...

Note: This post started as sort of a little inside joke. I searched wikianswers looking for the answer to one of life's little puzzles, how to explain to my readers the exact smell of bad (as in spoiled) perfume. Despite the topic, I actually love the photo above- it seems so playful and sweet; really, you can just tell everything is completely lovely, smelling of roses and not at all like... rotten calendula flowers!

But yes, oddly that's exactly how perfume smells when it's turned rotten- like funky Calendula. You probably knew that already... don't I often complain right here on these pages about how the odor of marigolds can turn a perfectly good perfume bad? Now never mind that Calendula are actually pot marigolds, and not proper tagetes; there is a smell connection!

Calendula contains all sorts of awful sounding chemicals like flavonol glycosides, triterpene oligoglycosides, oleanane-type triterpene glycosides, saponins, and sesquiterpene glucosides. Yikes! Many other flowers have various terpene constituents as well.  A little reminisce of orangic chemistry reminds me that terpenes are very unstable. As they oxidize, rancid smelling substances are formed. Calendula already smells intensely sharp and herbaceous. Add some rancid terpenes and you're going to get something pretty awful smelling. 

Vitamin e is recommended to prevent essential flower oil from spoiling but it wouldn't do at all, popping those little capsules into our aging vintage perfumes, would it? How're you supposed to get them in there, for one thing?

No matter what causes the particular smell, it is peculiar. Sometimes perfumes go a bit flat, or smell musty, or loose their top, even their middle notes- all of that is or can be acceptable. The perfume will still be wearble or interesting or good, in degrees. But that certain air of death I'm referring to always smells the same. Fried- but not like scorched wood. It's a little more toxic, like chemicals burning or smoking wires. At least I've learned to pick it up quickly and surely at first whiff. Don't laugh. When I was first smelling many unfamiliar vintage perfumes and occasionally picking up this characteristic sourness, I wondered, "What is this terrible note?" But catching it on the breath of a dying Mitsouko, and comparing it to a healthy example, nailed the case down for me. 

Oddly this kind of sickness in perfumes is not as common as you might think. Out of say 1000 older bottles maybe only 10 or less will be affected. Or could be every perfume in a case. Depends. And it isn't associated strictly with age. The oldest perfumes seem 'nigh on to immune yet it happens to relatively young perfumes if conditions are right. Likewise dark color has nothing to do with it- but an off color (unlike others of similar age) merits further investigation. Exposure to light/heat, and repeated heating and cooling seems to be at the root of the problem, not- as is often stated- exposure to air which can actually be a cure of sorts.

I discovered that accidentally, leaving a turned perfume open over night to evaporate and checking it in the morning to find it had mellowed completely.  If you find the harsh odor seems to settle down as the perfume wears, you can probably save it by opening the fragrance up to the air to let it breathe.

I'd like to quote FiveoaksBouquet from a Perfume of Life discussion on the topic of checking out spoiled perfumes: "One thing: have you tried washing around the nozzle? Sometimes it's oxidized perfume collected around and in the nozzle that is bad and the juice in the bottle can still be good. If you haven't tried that, I would suggest it, before giving up completely and then spritz a few spritzes off to clear any residue. Perhaps after that the rest will be good."

Colonia, also in a thread from POL agrees: "Besides washing the spray nozzle, try spraying the fume several (8-10) times into the sink not only to clear the nozzle, but also to clear what is in the little plastic spray tube. With a non-spray bottle, try airing out the fragrance by leaving it open for a day or so to allow old fumes to evaporate off. Gently swish around the contents every few hours. Both of the above have salvaged older fragrances for me."

The ultimate test after trying all of the above is to give the 'fume a skin or fabric trial. If the taint is detectable to you, even faintly, are you willing to wear it? Like mildew odor on towels that were left a little damp in the drier over night, even a trace of it drives me crazy. Turned perfume is about as useful as salt that's lost it's savor.

Can you even toss something like that into the trash? Or shouldn't it really be burned? An environmental blog recommended that we simply leave our rotten perfume out in the open until most of it evaporates so then you can just recycle the glass and plastic parts. But if it just dissipates and settles into the air and fabrics of your home or yard how is that good? Yet another suggestion: just rinse it down the sink. Now you know that it's probably not good for our water supply - although it many not be any worse than all the other stuff that we pour down our sinks.  But please just don't pass it along to someone who will try to dump it on sell it to someone else. Like me (or you)...

Enough said!

The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.

image: bibi lartigue On Our Honeymoom by jacques henri lartigue
image: Horizonherbs
image:smoking bottle by mother_flickr 
image: breathe minute 
image: spray at


Anonymous said...

For me the "re-viving" ingredience for a strangely smelling/stinking perfume was a cure with some best qualitiy pharmacy spirit of wine. The condensed caramel-syrupy juice just stank. Burnt, sour, rotten - yucky. I thought to thin it so the bottle would look good with some colored juice in it - just for deco purposes. And what a wonder - after a day or so the caramel had resolved in the alcohol - the scent was of old perfume, but not longer disgusting, but flowery, mild and balsamic...
Just an idea. I will have to investigate this on other "condensed" perfumes...

Amelia said...

I've had good luck reviving thickly condensed perfumes with perfumer's alcohol, too. Another great tip for readers.
Thanks, Martina!

Vintage Lady said...

I'm adding this post to favorites. It is really informative! Thanks

Amelia said...

Thanks Vintage Lady! I am following up on the whole business and I'll do another post on it-- but I've got to find another ruined perfume to use because the Mitsouko cologne was completely restored - it now smells equal my best example, after a vigorous & thorough aerating. But like I said, more details will follow.

Aimée L'Ondée said...

You know, I have you to thank for my newly beloved bottle of "Beloved" by Prince Matchabelli (which I bought after I read your post on it) and for the strategy of leaving it open to breathe for a little while (which cleared away that generic "old perfume" smell and allowed me to appreciate this gorgeous juice)! So thankful to you! Happy Holidays

Amelia said...

Aimee L'Ondee: Happy Holidays to you and what a lovely name. I'm so happy you got this gem- they don't make perfumes like Beloved anymore. Bravo to you for making such a fabulous choice and glad it all worked out!