How did we decide what our soap would smell like? Mass-market soap and other products contain fragrance oil made of zillions of synthetic ingredients. Just what the hell is the “spice” in Old Spice anyway? As a reaction to complex synthetic mainstream soap, for many years, the natural soap “genre” used very simple single-ingredient fragrances. Good old Sappo Hill, the brand that planted the soapmaking seed in my brain many years ago, is a good example. A quick glance at their website shows tea tree, lavender, almond, lemon, and others, all scents made with just one fragrance or essential oil. We decided to do something a little different.
Looking at the Perfume Industry for Soap-Scenting Clues
We wanted to use natural scents, but we also wanted to make unique signature smells all our own. We studied a bit of how perfume is made, that is, how people specifically in the business of making things smell good go about crafting a scent masterpiece. A perfume is a lot like a piece of classical music. There are different smell “notes,” which can be divided up into top middle and bass categories. Light floral and citrus scents fill the top note range. Middle notes are more herbal. And finally, base notes are deep, often distilled from sap or tree oils. To complicate matters, some essential oils fall between categories. Some are top-to-middle, while others are middle-to-bass.
How we Test New Scent Combinations
Scent theory offers a good starting place, but ultimately, the best way to test new scent combinations is to just try them together. A new scent blend often starts with a hunch. One way to get a ballpark idea about a new blend is to place the open essential oil bottles next to each other and waft a bit of the essence of two or three scents up towards your nose. If you get too near the bottles, the smell can be too overpowering, but if you’re about a foot away, this can give you a pretty good idea of what the oils smell like together. For another technique, you can put a few drops of each essential oil together on some tissue or another surface. This is particularly useful if you’re making a scent that doesn’t involve equal portions of the oils. So in this case, if, say, the blend was three parts lavender and one part lemon, you would be able to try three drops of lavender and one drop of lemon to smell the relative strength of each together.
The Smell of Freshly-Poured Fat
After arriving at a scent you like, there’s one more piece of information to consider, which is the ambient smell of the base oils in the soap. Even unscented soap has its own light smell. The ambient soap smell tends to mellow the essential oil blend a little. It is fatty, deep, and comforting, and is most noticeable right after the soap is poured. Every batch, the fresh still-liquid soap looks and smells like fresh pudding. Every time we are tempted to taste it. We even did one time, which I recommend NOT doing. It tastes terribly acrid, and nothing like it smells.
At first, one’s scent-crafting experiments might be a bit awkward, but that’s because most people don’t think about smell very often. The sense of smell can be exercised just like any other sense. Brain connections are strengthened. After a while, you get a pretty good idea of how things are going to smell together. You might even say you develop a sort of smell imagination, the same way you might crave a certain food, you can almost smell it, only it’s the beginning your next soap blend there waiting on the horizon.