Can Cologne Go Bad?


Nothing lasts forever, cologne included. Anything that contains natural ingredients will eventually deteriorate. The perfume oils used to scent cologne are crafted from flowers, fruits, seeds, leaves, roots, wood, and resins all of which decompose over time.

If you love buying new fragrances as much as I do, you may have several bottles opened at the same time and find yourself wondering if you’ll be able to use them up before they start to lose their true aroma.

Can cologne go bad? Even though it doesn’t have an expiry date, cologne can go bad. Most colognes last for at least 2 years before you might notice a difference. Bad cologne changes in smell and color and the more natural ingredients it contains, the quicker it is likely to deteriorate.

The Origins of Cologne

Eau de Cologne means Cologne water. In 1709, a designer in Cologne in Germany formulated a light fragrance and named it Eau de Cologne, after the city. Since then that name has been given to any fragrance of similar strength.

Another cologne launched in Germany in 1792, is known as 4711 Original Eau de Cologne. Many brands of cologne have since come and gone but 4711 is still available today. Its success is contributed to high-quality ingredients and essential oils.

How to tell if cologne has gone bad

There are three tests that can help you to decide if your cologne is still OK or if it has gone off:

  • If your cologne smells as it did the on the day you started using it, no matter how old it is, keep on using it. The exception to this rule is if you suddenly have an adverse reaction to it such as the appearance of a rash on your skin – then I would definitely throw it out.
  • If the aroma of an older cologne has altered a little but you still like it, keep on wearing it. However, if it irritates your skin in any way, it’s time to stop using it.
  • If an older cologne has changed from pleasant to pongy, it has well and truly gone bad and should be consigned straight to the trash can.

Any scented formulations can go bad

Cologne (or Eau de Cologne) is just one version of a scented formulation or fragrance. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just a fragrance for men but can be worn by anyone.

The most commonly used fragrances are:

  • Perfume (parfum)
  • Eau de Parfum (EDP)
  • Eau de Toilette (EDT)
  • Eau de Cologne (EDC)

What is the difference between them and which lasts the longest once opened?

Here’s an infographic to help you visualize their composition:

Can Cologne Go Bad? Fragrance strength guide

Though cologne can go bad, having a higher alcohol content helps it to last longer after being unsealed than perfume, EDP and EDT.

To give you an idea of how long a cologne is expected to last before it goes bad, many manufacturers print the length of time it is expected to stay fresh for once opened on the packaging. This is known as the Period After Opening (PAO) and is stated as a number of months on an image of an open container like this:

Can Cologne Go Bad? Period After Opening symbol

The icon example above indicates a cologne should stay fresh for 30 months once opened. The amount of time varies from one manufacturer to another.

A quick guide to the expected PAO of different fragrance types


Formulation
%
Fragrance Oil

Also Known As

PAO
Perfume20 -30Parfum30 months
Eau De Parfum15 – 20EDP36 months
Eau De Toilette5 – 15EDT3 to 4 years
Eau De Cologne2 – 5Cologne or EDC4 to 5 years

What makes cologne go bad?

Cologne is a blend of fragrance oil, alcohol, and a little water. The alcohol helps to spread out the individual scents enabling you to distinguish between them. The fragrance oil contains natural and synthetic ingredients blended to give the cologne its specific aroma.

You’ll never see a complete list of ingredients listed on cologne as their recipes are closely guarded secrets. Successful brands don’t want their aromas easily reproduced by others!

As soon as you break the seal of a bottle of cologne it is exposed to oxygen and from this point on it will begin to deteriorate, albeit slowly. The cause of this gradual decline in quality is oxidation, which put simply occurs when oxygen combines with any element and alters it. What this means for a fragrance is a gradual change in smell.

If your bottle of cologne is stored in an area where temperatures vary from one extreme to the other, this will increase the rate of its decline.

Of course, any liquid exposed to air will eventually evaporate – cologne included – and this is another contributing factor when it comes to a fragrance changing from its originally intended aroma. You’ll notice the liquid looks darker if this is the case.

How to delay opened cologne from going bad

When it comes to how long a cologne lasts there are many variables that come in to play:

  • Screw top vs spray – Each time you open a screw-top bottle to apply cologne, it comes into contact with air which causes a gradual deterioration of the contents. With a spray bottle, this doesn’t happen therefore the cologne should stay fresher for longer.
  • Keep the lid or cap on tight – Only open your cologne to use it then immediately replace the lid or cap tightly. This limits its exposure to the air.
  • Exposing cologne to changing temperatures – if you sometimes store your cologne in a refrigerator and at others keep it in your bathroom, the fluctuations in temperature will cause changes to its structure and decrease its lifespan.
  • Displaying cologne – if you place your cologne on a dressing table or shelf where it is exposed to sunlight it will not last as long as if you keep it in its original box and store it in drawer or cupboard.
  • Freezing – Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can save some of your favorite cologne in the freezer. It will not fair well as deep freezing changes the chemical structure and spoils its fragrance.
  • No shaking! – It’s tempting to give cologne a shake before applying it. Don’t! Every time you do you mix air into it and speed up the oxidation process.

How to store opened cologne

From the day you break the seal of a bottle of cologne you begin the countdown of its life. You can lengthen the time it stays fresh by storing it upright in its original box in a dark place where the temperature is cool and stable. Always keep any screw-tops tightly closed or any caps on top of spray bottles.

Can you revive a cologne that has started to go bad?

Unfortunately not. If it has changed slightly and is still wearable, you can try to slow down its deterioration by storing it as suggested above, otherwise, there’s not a lot you can do.

How to store unopened cologne

The best way to store unopened cologne is in its original packaging in a place where the temperature is cool and stable.

How long does unopened cologne last?

The lifespan of unopened cologne varies wildly depending on a number of variables: the ingredients, the quality, its packaging to mention but a few. The on;y way you will truly know is by keeping one for so long and then testing it out.

You will read that some are still perfectly fine when opened 3 to 5 years after being bottled and sealed. Some have still been good after many more years. Again, there is no way of really knowing if a cologne lasts, say, 10 years unopened unless you store one this long and then use it.

Is there an optimum number of bottles you should own?

Can Cologne Go Bad? A selection of fragrances

If you like to have several different fragrances in use at once, Eau de Cologne is the ideal choice. It is usually the least expensive and the high alcohol content – along with correct storage – means it should stay smelling great for a few years.

It’s not unusual for a person to own half a dozen fragrances at any one time. Often they tire of the scent before it runs out or goes bad.

How long can a bottle of cologne last?

On average, a 100 ml bottle of cologne holds 1400 to 1500 sprays. If you use 5 sprays per day it will last for 280 to 300 days. Taking the average as 100 ml lasting 290 days, you would use approximately 125 ml in a year.

If you own 5 different 100 ml bottles of cologne, you have enough to keep you going for four years and as long as you store them as suggested they should not go bad before you’ve used them up.

However, if you have 10 bottles you feasibly have an 8 year supply and could find some don’t stand the test of time and have to be thrown away.

Bearing the above in mind, it makes sense for one person to have no more than 5 bottles of cologne at any one time unless of course, you have money to burn or you regularly use more than 5 sprays per day!

At the end of the day, you are the best judge of how many bottles of cologne you should own.

Is there an ideal number of fragrances to own? I’ve answered this precise question in How many bottles of fragrance should a man have.

Here are 10 tips to remove fragrance smells from clothes without having to wash them.

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