All about smelling strips

Smelling strips, known in French as mouillettes (“bread sticks”) or touche à sentir, and also referred to as fragrance or scent blotters, are hardly the most absorbing (pun intended) matter for the average Joe, but I am a Jane (not that gender is relevant), and I love perfume.

Smelling strips come in an array of shapes, sizes, and qualities, and whether you are studying raw materials, learning perfumery, or evaluating fragrances for your own use, the type of mouillette you need will likely be different from those branded blotters commonly found at department store perfume counters. The latter are great marketing tools, but the longer, thinner strips used by perfumers have advantages for those with a real passion for perfume testing. Three types on the market are distinguishable.

Tapered or pointed-end strips are great for dipping into bottles with narrow necks, and perfumers do work directly with the liquids after all; they don’t spray the juice when combining absolutes and oils. If all you plan to do is get a whiff of scents that have already been created, this may not be a priority for you, however.

Square-end strips, although not great for dipping, can be easily branded and are often sold in tear-out booklets.

Paddle-end strips have a wide surface area, better for spraying from an atomizer, and also a narrow end for dipping. Having a wider end on any strip is perfect for writing notes on, such as the name and dipping time or time to smell (more on that later).

General tips for using smelling strips

  • Write the scent name and/or other details on the strip before dipping so that you can go back and evaluate later.
  • With raw materials, a little dip’ll do ya! You only need the smallest amount of liquid on the tip to infuse the paper with its scent, and you don’t want to make the strip wet. Also consider the cost of those lovely raw materials that you may have bought.
  • Don’t place the perfumed part of the strip directly on your table or other surface, lest it transfer the scent or even stain it. The advantage of long strips is that you can fold the dipped or sprayed end up at a right angle so that the material does not touch the surface. Of course, if you have a smelling strip holder of some sort, then problem solved!
  • Don’t put the strip right on your nose when smelling. While I assume this is extremely rare, a rash is not desirable, and it may interfere with your sniffing experience. Fanning the strips in front of your nostrils is recommended, too.
  • Take small, short sniffs of a raw material on the strip; don’t smell for too long or your nose will suffer from scent burnout in no time.

Using strips to evaluate the development of a scent over time. Scents should be smelled over a period of minutes and hours to notice their change, if any, over time. If you’re interested in understanding all the notes of a scent’s structural pyramid (the top notes, heart or middle notes, and base notes), then working with three strips can be highly effective. Of course, strips cannot replace your skin, which comes along with its own particular chemistry and the added element of body heat, but that also means that using paper may lead to a more objective and accurate representation of the smell and how it wafts. True, you should consider that paper, too, carries it’s own scent, but then, what doesn’t? A paper of neutral PH is recommended, and professional strip-eurs do know this.

Here’s how you can use the strips:

  1. Mark the first strip with “base,” the current time, and name of the scent. Spray it, then let it sit and come back to sniff it in a couple of hours. At that time, you should get an appreciation of the base notes belonging to a particular scent. If you are working with a finished product and are unsure of the scent’s longevity, you can be more liberal with this spray.
  2. Mark the second strip with “mid,” and again the current time and fragrance name. Come back to that strip in 30 minutes, and you will be able to perceive the heart notes of the scent.
  3. The last strip you needn’t mark, really, as you are just going to spray and sniff immediately, and allow yourself to enjoy the scent’s top notes. These notes will dissipate in minutes.

Scent strip holders

If you really want to get into all this sniffing, you may consider a purchasing a scent strip holder. No need to get fancy, as Daniel Krasofski, a student of Anya’s Perfumery Course, shared with readers recently on Anya’s blog. He recommends buying a 35 mm film stainless steel developing reel, and simply blocking off one face of the reel so that strips will not fall through – a brilliant example of re-purposing and recycling products!

If I’m not a perfumer, why bother with scent strips at all?

Well, in all honesty, I do not, but that is not because I don’t want to have a lot of clutter in my home. However, do enjoy department store sniffing, and if you do as well, this is one way to make use of them if you leave your home with a list of scents you are keen to sniff: Carry strips with names pre-written on them. This could save time in the stores, as blotters in the stores often don’t have written more than the brand. There are only so many places to spray on one’s body parts, after all, and you probably don’t want to write all over your arms to recall which scent was what.

What I think would really be useful is something I have not yet seen on the market – scent strip holders. I don’t mean the ones mentioned above, but rather portable casings into which you could insert scented strips so that they would fade less quickly and not rub off onto surrounding objects, particularly the other scented strips you are also toiling back home in your bag. Vanessa from Bonkers about Perfume has an entertaining post about this concept on one of her posts.

In any case, I don’t recommend investing in any bottle of perfume without getting to know its personality, and perfume strips are a great way to do this (but admittedly not as good as your skin). If you’re the type of person who can go up to a perfume counter and only spray one fragrance on yourself to explore for the afternoon, then perhaps this idea is mute.

Sets containing hundreds of fragrance strips are commonly sold, and you can find them in many places – just google the phrase. A pack of one hundred or more may seem like a lot, but particularly if you are a student of perfumery, they are a most useful thing to have on hand. The Perfumer’s Apprentice is a great specialty shop to get all sorts of perfumery supplies, and offering good prices on strips is the AffWeb Store. Such specialty shops and perfume schools will naturally be good sources.

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