How to store fragrances properly

Some luxury goods, like gold and diamonds, require very little care day-to-day. However, the vast majority do require special treatment – wines need cellars, cigars need humidors, and leather needs conditioning. Why, then, do people treat their fragrances, their olfactory message to those around them, with reckless abandon, constantly exposing them to heat and light? Here’s how to store fragrances properly.

Firstly, the single worst place to store fragrances is also one of the most common – the dreaded bathroom windowsill. Many a beautiful perfume has withered into a nose-scrunching mess through months or years of innocent bathroom windowsill storage. Wearers often don’t notice the subtle change until they buy a new bottle and smell them side-by-side, but even then, rarely seem to spot the cause.

What’s wrong with my bathroom windowsill?

Perfume bottles look so elegant sitting on a windowsill, which makes it all the more unfortunate that they simply can’t stand that level of heat and sunlight. There’s a proper term for this – photodissociation is a process where photons (i.e. visible or invisible light) break molecules apart, changing chemicals’ structure. Ultraviolet rays from the sun are a particularly strong example of this. The problem with photodissociation is that fragrances are made of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of chemicals, whether natural or synthetic (see my article What are fragrances made of?), and molecular changes alter these chemicals’ smells. Additionally, bathroom temperatures change a lot due to showers.

An experiment

Over the past month, I conducted a series of experiments on Creed Aventus and Santa Maria Novella Melograno (don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with them – the experiment would have worked with most fragrances). I stored 0.5mL bottles of them in both my freezer and on a west-facing windowsill where they regularly experienced full afternoon sunlight. The control samples for the experiment were my original full-size bottles, which I always keep in a dark cupboard at a temperature of between about 15°C and 25°C. Additionally, I had a fourth pair which I moved in and out of the freezer every 48 hours to test whether temperature fluctuations had a negative effect. After one month, these were the results:

Fragrance testedFreezerFreezer – alternatingWindowsill
Creed AventusCompletely unchanged.The citrus (bergamot) note is perhaps a tiny bit weaker, though I may be wrong.Aventus was severely changed, to the point where it was almost unrecognisable, smelling of chlorine and pickled olives.
Santa Maria Novella MelogranoCompletely unchanged.Completely unchanged.Melograno was completely unrecognisable, and it smelled so bad that I actually recoiled when I tested it – it now smells like mouldy carpet and turpentine. Absolutely horrible!

It’s worth noting that a month isn’t long enough to properly test the effect of low temperatures on fragrances. The good people at (which hasn’t been updated in years) asked some experts at The Fragrance Foundation whether fragrances should be stored in the fridge. Their response was that only colognes and eau de toilettes should be refrigerated, while eau de parfums (I’ll explain the difference in a future post) should be kept cool but not that cool, as their notes are more delicately balanced.

But Ethan, my fragrances haven’t changed in the sun like you said they would

Perfume companies often put preservatives and ultraviolet filters into their perfumes to help combat the effects of people storing them incorrectly. However, these aren’t a perfect defence against photodissociation, and don’t guard against temperature changes. Synthetic molecules also tend to be more forgiving when it comes to poor storage conditions, so cheaper fragrances, which don’t smell as rich or interesting, essentially have less to lose. It doesn’t matter how you store synthetic flowers, but they’ll never look as good as a bouquet fresh from the florist.

Osmothèque and cold storage

There is one place that’s made a fine art of long-term perfume storage. Located in Versailles, France, Osmothèque is the world’s largest perfume archive, storing over 3,000 fragrances spanning the past 2,000 years (the older ones are modern recreations from ancient formulas). Normal fridges are too cold for long-term storage — Osmothèque keeps theirs at 12°C, whereas most household fridges operate at around 5 degrees or less. Osmothèque also injects argon into the bottles, as it forms a layer across the surface of the liquid and prevents evaporation and oxidisation. Additionally, they decant everything into amber glass bottles to further reduce the impact of light. Because of the issue with temperature fluctuations, I recommend only storing fragrances in the fridge if A) they’re vintage, or you want to keep them for decades, B) they’re really large bottles you decant from (i.e. 500ml or more), or C) you live in a hot climate (regularly above 30°C). And keep in mind what I mentioned earlier about different types of fragrances and refrigeration. Honestly, for most people refrigeration just isn’t necessary.

The best place for your fragrances is on you

The general shelf life of a fragrance in the real, non-refrigerated, world is only a handful of years. But even when stored in the most optimal conditions, they still won’t last indefinitely. What I’m trying to say is that the best way to make sure they smell good is just to wear them before time runs out – enjoy your ephemeral treasures before they’re gone.

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