How to Test Cologne Fragrances In 9 Simple Steps

how to test cologne fragrances

If you’re like me, buying your next cologne or perfume can be a challenge.

If you’re not already a trained perfumer who knows how to test colognes or have a nose for the delicate nuances of scents, it can be tough to distinguish between one scent and another.

If you’re not careful, after sniffing 2-3 different fragrances, everything will start to smell EXACTLY the same. Now you’re whole fragrance shopping day is finished!

So today, I will share with you what I have learned is the best way to properly test fragrances. The goal is to find your perfect cologne match while not overwhelming yourself and your nose with all the options.

I’m sure there are other methods, but this is what has worked for me. Hopefully you can use it as a starting point in your fragrance shopping methods and then evolve it from there.

How to Test Colognes

You can start your testing either at a perfume fragrance store or outlet mall. You will need blotting paper, a pen, a recorder (you can use your iphone), your nose, and an open mind.

Step 1

Make a list of fragrances you want to try out. If you don’t know what you want, check out our lists of best colognes and write down 5-8 that look promising to you.

This is probably the simpler way, especially if you don’t know what sweet, citrus, fresh, clean, bold and sophisticated smells like yet.

Be sure to avoid areas with competing smells. Places like restaurants that have strong smells can interfere with your testing.

Step 2

Spray 2-3 sprays of one of the fragrances on to the blotter. Some people will also spray into the air and pass the blotter through the mist.

Of course this isn’t is as effective or as accurate as spraying on your own skin, but this is a good starting point for narrowing down your options.

testing fragrances with confidence
Wearing your cologne is about exuding your inner confidence. Photo by Dami Adebayo

Step 3

Don’t sniff the blotters yet. We want to wait for the fragrance alcohols to evaporate first. While you wait, write down the name of the scent on the end of the blotter. This will help you keep track of each fragrance.

Then bend the blotter paper at a right angle so it doesn’t touch the table. We don’t want anything on the table to interact with the components in the fragrance giving us false results.

Step 4

Bring the sprayed spot on the blotter paper to your nose and sniff but not deeply. Move the paper across your nose as if it’s a person passing by you. Keep moving it to and away from your nose for short bursts at a time.

If you’re like my wife you may not like this short burst method. She insists on throwing her nose right on the paper and holding it there!

Ultimately you can do that, but my research tells me that will very quickly overwhelm your nose.

Step 5

Whatever thoughts come to you, write them down. To keep this part simple, I usually just write down literally whatever comes to me, no matter how silly or wacky it is.

You can also take out your iPhone and start recording yourself as you detail your thoughts. I find that its sometimes easier to just say whats on my mind first as oppose to thinking then writing.

Step 6

Narrow down your choices to your top 2 fragrances. To make this easier, get rid of any options that didn’t make you say holy moly thats good! The maybe’s are ok to hold on to as you make your final eliminations.

Step 7

Begin testing on your skin.

You can test on your wrists or back of your hand. Spray 2 sprits. Wait 30 seconds. Be sure not to rub the area you sprayed because this can cause the fragrance to evaporate.

Write down or record your initial thoughts after 30 seconds.

Do the same for your second fragrance using your other arm.

Step 8

Give yourself an hour or so. Walk around the mall or get busy doing other things (like reading some of the awesome articles on this blog!).

After an hour or so, sniff your spot again. Record your thoughts and feelings.

The reason you are doing this is because most colognes and perfumes are created with 3 layers. This is known as the top notes, middle heart notes, and base notes. The idea is that each layer of notes is released over a set time period.

So what you smell immediately after spraying will be different from what you smell 10 minutes later and 60-90 minutes later. Surprisingly, the experience can be drastically different between those time periods!

So what you smell after the hour is the dry down and is what you and everyone will be smelling most of the time when you wear that cologne. Your final decision should be based on this dry down smell.

testing cologne with style
Taking the time to test out the right cologne for you is critical for your overall style.
Photo by Mahdi Bafande

Step 9

Make a choice. Do you like how it smells on your skin? What do you smell? How does it make you feel? What’s distinctive about it?

How you feel when you smell the cologne on you is a big factor. You could feel a whole host of ways, all of which is part of the experience of expressing the best of you. Maybe you feel:

  • Bold and daring; let em know you are here!
  • Subtle, secretive; they want you but they can’t have you!
  • Carefree and fun; let’s hang out and chill out!

Make your choice based on the experience and feelings you want to have and convey. Who knew colognes and perfumes was such a touchy feely subject!

Bonus Tips

Reset your nose

During your testing, you can reset your olfactory senses by breathing fresh air or your skin. This helps to displace the aromatic compounds bound to the receptors in your nose.

There is the option of using coffee beans as well. But from what I can tell, it’s very controversial. Some say it works, others say it does nothing.

I like the skin idea. No matter where you go, you’ll always have your skin on you right?!

Testing on your skin is an important step.

I used to ignore doing that step because I wanted to buy something and get home!

But how the fragrance plays out on the blotting paper and on your skin is going to be completely different. It could be to the point that the fragrance has a completely different smell!

This is because skin chemistry plays a role in how the aromatic compounds in the perfume fragrance are expressed.

Patient is key

Because we live in a modern world that is so go go go all the time, it can be hard for us to exercise patience. But testing colognes properly so you get what you want requires a good bit of patience.

Patience to let the fragrance develop so you experience all the notes. Patience so the cologne can come off and you can test another.

Enjoy the process

Take your time (patience again) to find what you like and what suits you best. It may take more or less time then you expect but its ok. Don’t let the sales people rush you either.

Really the goal is to enjoy the journey of it all. Kobe Bryant used to say it’s about the journey and not the destination. I think the same applies to colognes and fragrances just as much as basketball.

how to pick a cologne for you
Enjoy the process of discovering you!

Keep it personal

What you decide smells good to you could be abysmal to someone else. The trick here is who cares!

If you like it, then thats all that matters. Cologne is personal and there are no right or wrong answers. Fragrances is all about being confident in expressing you even if it’s different from the masses.

Final Thoughts

So remember to:

  • Give yourself 15-30 minutes after the spray to let the fragrance develop.
  • Consider testing in the morning. This is when your smelling senses are the sharpest. Is that why coffee in the morning is so effective at waking us up?!
  • Test no more than 2 fragrances on your skin per day. But if you have to, you could do 4 by spraying inside both wrists and inside both elbows.

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