Perfumes are sold in a variety of amounts, measured in ounces or millilitres (ml), indicating the volume of fluid in a bottle, decant, or vial of fragrance. The following equivalency list of the most common perfume bottle sizes measured in volume capacity is based on US fluid ounces (abbreviated fl oz, fl. oz., oz. fl., or often just plain old “oz” with or without the period). Sadly, to confuse matters more, there are also UK fluid ounces, which are a little different, as shown in the standard large bottle size:
- 3.4 US fl oz = 100.55 ml
- 3.4 UK fl oz = 96.60 ml
Perfumers may choose to use one or the other, but if you’re buying in North America, it’s probably safe to assume that the US measurement is implied. As most countries are metric, you’ll likely see the amount millilitres instead and/or in addition to ounces.
- 0.05 fl oz – 1.5 ml (This is essentially a sample vial, the ones you get from the person at the perfume counter upon kind request if you’re lucky enough to live in a culture that has this tradition, and also the size that you most often get when buying samples online. 2, 2.5 and 3 ml sizes are also fairly common for sample sizes.)
- 0.17 fl oz – 5 ml (This is Travalo brand’s purse spray atomizer’s “Excel” and “Pure” model size, which they claim gives you 65 sprays. They also offer a 4 ml “classic” size, yielding 10 sprays, and “Rollerball” model in the middle of these. Documentation elsewhere says 1 ml will give you less – 50 sprays. I guess it depends on your spray!)
- 0.5 fl oz – 15 ml (This is the size of many thin and tall purse sprays. 8 ml and 10 ml purse sizes appear common as well.)
- 0.8 fl oz – 25 ml
- 1 fl oz – 30 ml (mainstream size)
- 1.4 fl oz – 40 ml
- 1.7 fl oz – 50 ml (mainstream size)
- 2 fl oz – 60 ml
- 2.5 fl oz – 75 ml
- 2.7 fl oz – 80 ml
- 3 fl oz – 90 ml
- 3.4 fl oz – 100 ml (mainstream size)
- 4.2 fl oz – 125 ml
Which Size Is Best To Buy?
If you’re buying a perfume for the first time, then it makes sense to buy one of the smaller sizes (30 ml or less) if possible. This is especially true if you “blind buy,” purchasing a whole bottle of something you’ve never actually tried. Even if you’ve gone into a department or perfume store and tried something new and liked it, I wouldn’t buy the biggest size. I’ll bet you tried a number of different fragrances in the same testing session, and as they all began to mingle, your impression of an individual fragrance would very likely have been affected. Keep in mind also that everything in the store is designed to make you want to pull out your wallet. The way a perfume smells on your body changes over time, so ideally, you really need to test one fragrance for several hours to know if it’s going to work for you. I usually end up with at least 2 fragrances on my person when trying out the fragrances from a store, so even after sniffing later in the same day, who knows how true the scent is? Maybe the two are mixing together and confusing my nose.
What if you received a sample in the mail and enjoyed it for a day or so? I don’t believe that those little 1-2 ml vials provide enough juice to help you properly make a judgement, unless you luck upon a perfume with amazing lasting power and projection. I like a little more time to get to know my fragrances. But for many people, a day may be enough. Make sure to sniff yourself throughout the day to see how your scent progresses.
If you’re purchasing an old favourite, go for the biggest bottle you can afford, since per volume it works out much cheaper. As long as you keep the bottle cool and out of direct sunlight, there’s no need to worry much about the perfume going off before you’ve finished it. It should last well more than a year if tended to. Over time it is often only the top notes that disappear, and those tend only to last minutes anyway, so with that in mind, well-tended bottles of fragrances can actually keep well for decades. Even if the colour changes, the smell may still be in tact.
To be honest, I do not often respect my own advice. If a bigger bottle costs 20% more for 100% more juice, hell yeah, I’ll buy it, depending of course on the overall price. I can decant it out to friends if I find I won’t be using it all. I own quite the selection of purse sprays, too, so having a 100 ml bottle of everything is not problematic when I travel. All the better, actually, as then I can carry a few favourites with me without weighing down my bags. If you like fancier travel bottling, look out for designers like Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, or niche brands such as Kilian, who offer some of their fragrances in lovely and handy 3 x 15 ml travel sets. Duty free shopping is also a super place to pick up smaller sizes, as are the websites of many niche brands, which sometimes offer 15ml sizes in addition to the sampler 1 ml and 2 ml vials.
Going on a Trip by Air?
The standard for duty-free items seems to be a maximum of 3.4 oz (100 ml). Liquids usually must be carried in a bag together that is tamper-evident and displays satisfactory proof that the liquid was purchased on the day of travel. In some cases purchases are only allowed if they can be delivered directly to the aircraft. As for carry on luggage, that too varies depending on the carrier, but the standard there seems to be 3.4 oz (100 ml) each as well (anything larger has to be checked), and all liquid containers have to be placed in a separate clear plastic, zip-top bag no larger than 8 in x 8 in (20 cm x 20 cm), which is quart size. Typically, you have to remove the plastic bag from the carry-on bag at the security checkpoint for separate x-ray screening. Of course, for check-in baggage, I’m not certain if any restrictions apply at all. In all cases it’s best to check with your airline.