Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Frequent Questions: How to Open a Stuck Perfume Bottle?

You've seen it happen and cursed under your breath: Your favourite bottle of fragrance on your dresser, or the precious vintage perfume you bought from a collector or unearthed from granny's attic, is hopelessly stuck; its stopper or the sprayer doesn't seem to work; nothing, rien, nada... No amount of pulling, tagging, cursing, or praying has yielded any results yet and you're desperate to pry open and have a go at the fragrant insides. First of all, don't despair, it has happened to us all...
Usually the culprit is just dried-up perfume that needs to be either mechanically or chemically removed/dissolved in order for the cap to resume its original function, i.e. keeping the contents air-tight and not playing with your nerves-strings. Secondly, here is a handy guide into opening stuck bottles of fragrances and extraits, techniques depending on the type of flacon and age of fragrance.

  • If the bottle is a modern splash bottle with cap/stopper
First of all try using a rubber band twisted a few times around the stopper might do the trick: it gives you better grip, so you can magnify your strength's effect.
If it doesn't budge try running the bottle's neck and stopper under some hot water: the difference in temperature will create convulsion and have the cap loosen. You can also try this with salty hot water, it's even better. Then taking a kitchen towel and twisting a bit you should be done. Try again and again if it doesn't work the first time around.
If unsuccessful, another version would be to take the bottle in the fridge and let it sit for a little while (around a quarter of an hour should be enough). Again the difference in temptrature would do its trick. Last but not least the more sophisticated version involves microwaves: Take a paper towel, wet it, put it in a microwave oven for a few seconds, wrap it around the neck of the bottle in question, hold it there a few seconds with another towel over it, then twist gently. It does not affact the bottle or scent at all.
  • If the bottle is a vintage, old splash bottle with stopper

You wouldn't want to get a precious vintage bottle under the tap because you risk wetting and smudging the label, which is part of the vintage perfume's value. Neither would you want to refrigerate it, because the glass due to old age can become brittle and break or snap.
Instead get pure-grade alcohol (90 proof and upwards) at the chemist's ~usually these are stored alongside 70% isopropyl. Take a very small piece of cotton wool, 'string it out' a bit and saturate it with alcohol. Place it around the stopper above the neck and squeeze a few drops out so that they seep down around the stopper, then pack the cotton round it. Wait a few minutes to sit, allowing the alcohol to dissolve any hardened residue and then carefully try to twist the stopper.

  • If the bottle is a modern/vintage Spray bottle
Sprayers sometimes get stuck. It's a fact of life: Anything mechanical is prone to the occasional glitch. That does not mean that once it's stuck it's stuck forever! I have had sprayers which I thought were stuck for all eternity to magically revive themselves without any external intervention later on. This was attributed to good Karma, divine providence, changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure disloging the mechanism and other crucial factors beyond our control. What is within our control is the following:

First of all you need to ascertain whether it is a refillable sprayer or not (Not immediately obvious in some bottles). If the former, then it's a piece of cake unscrewing the whole mechanism of the sprayer and simply using the fragrance as a splash version or decanting it into another atomiser.

I deduce the problem is in the latter category where the spraying mechanism is securely screwed on the glass bottle forming a uniform entity. In that case, you need to first remove the small cap that is on the pumping mechanism: you will see a small "rod" inside protruding from the mechanism. Sometimes gently pushing this down a few times with your finger will yield results. If it starts to leak on your fingers eventually, it means it's unclogged and you can put the little metallic cap on and spray again, mission accomplished! Sometimes however you won't be able to resume the sheer phhhhhssst of the original sprayer and it will be reduced to a small stream of juice. Consider yourself lucky anyway, you're still able to use your fragrance.

Other times you will need to additionally saturate the little protrusion with alcohol or a little oil and then alcohol, so as to dislog the remnants of aged juice that have clogged the mechanism in the first place. And other times still, none of these methods will work and you will need to actually remove the whole sprayer: Cut the metal very carefully at the bottom side with a sturdy pair of scissors for garage work first and then using a pair of pliers gently elevate the sprayer while holding the bottle with the other hand (You want to be very careful not to drop the bottle or spill the contents and also to avoid having the pliers and mechanism bounce back at your face). This method renders the original bottle useless of course, but I assume if you're intent on opening it you're mainly interested in using the scent, right? You can decant the contents into a new atomiser and use it as such. Don't forget to put a label on it so you know which scent and batch it was.

Best of luck with your bottle adventures!

Pic of Parisienne bottle via katemossfashion.com Pic of "Le Secret de Dieux," a Baccarat perfume bottle for Yardley, circa 1913 via scentss Perfume bottles egg presentation from the Barcelona perfume museum via nogoodforme


  1. Alexandra19:23

    Always use advices. Last bottle I had to open by force was vintage Ecusson-Jean d`Albret Parfum-creme (is that pure perfume or what?? I`ve never heard of that before). Bottle is similar to Parisienne, with metal cap. After an hour of hard work and using all kind of tricks, I simply opened it with a locking pliers in a second. Robust method but efficient.

  2. Alexandra19:24

    I ment useful advices :-))

  3. A,

    Glad you found them useful :-)

    I think the Ecusson you were forcing is concreta, like a semi-solid unguent. It was quite popular back in the day when the line between cosmetics and fragrances wasn't drawn. (I see a return lately with all the new solids and stick perfumes a la Crazy Libbelule et al)

    And seems like your hard work finally was reigned with success! So all's well.

  4. Anonymous22:38

    As always excellent advice for anyone who has trouble with their frags bottles, you're really detailed in your break-down, aren't you, so thanks. I had an old bottle of Jicky, almost spelled kinky, lol, which resisted everything and wouldn't budge, no way Jose, then I tried putting it in the fridge and it worked, so I'm a believer.

  5. The stopper on my new vintage bottle of Nocturnes de Caron was stuck when I bought it and I tried everything! None of the regular tricks worked and then I tried the 'slip the tip of a spoon in between the stopper and bottle' trick and it popped out! I spilled a little puddle on the rug because I wasn't prepared for it to come out so easily! Well, the room smelled like bright little aldehydes for a week.

    Anyway, I'm going to bookmark the rest of these tips for the next time.

  6. I have a bottle of Donna Karan (that's the name - it's the black bottle swan like with gold accent if you know the one?) It has a rubber push thingy, very annoying at the best of times. It's stuck and I am feeling helpless. I will try those tips and hope for the best, although I am not sure the same rules apply for a rubberised mechanism. Anyhow thank you. I adore your blog, keep up the excellent work! x

  7. Helg, it's great to have all these tricks in one handy article. I've used the microwaved wet paper towel with success myself...helped me make the acquaintance of some vintage Vol du Nuit, leading to much happiness. :)

    I've read some very funny accounts of people taking out the power tools...not the safest for person or perfume, but you know sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. ;) Hopefully, your tips will save some treasure from an unnecessary drill bit!

  8. A,

    LOL, thanks! I kinda like kinky for Jicky. It is!

  9. OLS,

    glad it worked for you, minus the accident of course! I wouldn't have thought a spoon tip would fit in there, must be a very small, thin spoon tip.

  10. G,

    thank you so much for the encouragement, really!

    I think the rubberised ones should respond to really tight pressure/twisting: Give this to a man and ask him to unscrew it. I find the challenge usually works to our benefit ;-)

  11. S,

    you're welcome, I thought it would be handy for people searching for tips (after all the Frequent Questions is just that: designed to reply to frequent questions)

    VDN is magnificent, isn't it? Love it so much.
    I couldn't bear to think drills besides my crystal flacons though. When one's desperate though...hmm...desperate measures etc. Still, scary thought!

  12. Anonymous06:24

    Hey, this is really great information. Thank you! I am going to tuck it away for later use, naturally when I am frantically and desperately trying to open something! Then I will calmly remember, aaaah, Helg posted a wonderful article once, which I have filed under P for perfume...

    Laura M

  13. Anonymous06:27

    P.S. Love that Le Secret de Dieux bottle! (Laura again)

  14. I've been there, with a Joy bottle...
    thak you so much for the tip, I was always wondering how to open that bottle!

  15. oh thank you so much!
    Your advice comes right on time since i just received an old flacon of Shocking bust under a glass dome? well the alcool made it unstuck as if i said "Sesame ouvre-toi" !
    Merci :) V

  16. Anonymous20:12

    my sample bottle of noir epices had a stuck sprayer top:
    removed the black push cap to expose the little rod underneath, lubricated it with a drop of oil as per your suggestion, then stuck it in the freezer for ten minutes... et voila! squish squish!

  17. The spoon trick worked on my vintage Jicky splash bottle of EdC, thanks! Mmmm this is good stuff. I can really smell the real civet butt!

  18. Anonymous17:02

    I just received a vintage bottle of Joy perfume with the crystal stopper and just can't get it open. I carefully tried all the suggestions like refrigerator, glycerine around neck, etc. I broke off the crystal top after a local perfume store told me to carefully wedge a quarter for leverage. Now, I am trying to figure out where the opening is-is ist where the top broke off or is it underneath? Any assistance would be appreciated. Thank you!

  19. Anon #1 and Gabriel,

    very happy for you! Enjoy!

  20. Anon #2,

    ouch, that's a tough one. I suppose you should be able to see if there's an opening by how fast liquid is evaporating, but that would be heart-breaking. :-(
    Have you tried to put a silk handkerchief (you don't mind staining) underneath and trying to pour contents, to see if there's a drip? It's a tough one trying to figure out where the crack might be...At this point in its adventure, my best suggestion would be to try to totally remove the stopper (damage it, if necessary) and then transfer the precious parfum into another vial with a secure and intact cap. That would save the perfume, which I understand is what you're mainly interested in.

  21. I am so glad I am not the only one who has broken a glass stopper off a perfume bottle trying to get it to open!! I have a sealed bottle of Extrait Jacques Leclerc in a really neat old bottle, original box, seal intact, I broke the seal, and tried to carefully pry open the stopper using the blade of a scissor for leverage, it broke right off!! I have tried everything to get that piece of glass unwedged, including every trick listed here, and even drilling it, to no avail. I am afraid to get to the actual fragrance I may have to break the top off the bottle or something!!!

  22. M,

    that's unfortunate...:-(
    Sometimes, a decisice action might be the best. Break it, get into the perfume and transfer to another receptable. Good luck!

  23. Mary P. Brown06:20

    I found a vintage unopened bottle of L'Heure Bleue at my local antiques shop. I agonized as to whether to buy it because so much evaporation had occurred and then whether I should open it or not.... gads! But I decided to open it. It has a glass stopper that was stuck so I used the alcohol trick and with the help of a wooden chopstick for leverage the thing popped right off first try, and..... drumroll..... the fragrance is awesome!!! It was my second foray into vintage fragrances and it was a huge success. I can't believe what luck I had. I wish I knew how old this is..... oh, it's glorious! Thanks so much for these very helpful tips!

  24. Anonymous12:34

    Oh, I am so glad I found this post.

    Finally my newly acquired Lanvin Crescendo Extrait came undone.
    I am quite sure to be the first person to have opened that bottle.

    I am not sure about the perfume, though, as the bottle seems to be rather old. But at least now I have a notion of the original smell.


  25. Anonymous02:25

    If you have a bottle with a glass stopper, I found that it opened after the bottle laid on its side for a couple days. The perfume itself loosened up the stuck stopper. Try it, I tried everything and even chipped the lip of the bottle and nothing worked until the bottle fell over and I didn't notice for a couple days.

  26. Petra,

    congrats!! Crescendo is very rare indeed. I only have a miniature. All the Lanvin extraits and Eaux are gorgeous.

  27. Anon,

    ingenious serendipity, then. Thank you for sharing the tip, I hadn't even considered it, but if it works for wine...then why not for perfume too? I hope readers are taking notes.

  28. Mary,

    late but just wanted to say thank you for sharing your beautiful L'Heure Bleue story. What a find!!
    You're welcome on the tips, I hope these help people.

  29. my perfume spray cap has broken, now how I can spray perfume ?

    1. If I get it correctly it means the spraying mechanism has clogged or isn't functioning? You can remove the upper part, leave it to have the protruding "rod" and find a substituting upper part from another (finished) bottle. It won't match aesthetically maybe but it might make the sprayer work again. Hope this helps!

  30. Anonymous13:28

    Some great advice on here. Thanks to everyone who contributed, and of course to perfumeshrine for all the useful information.

    I used alcohol wibes for medical use (70%) which worked really great once the debris was gone on a vintage Joy flacon.

    On my vintage Lubin Inedite it didn't help though. Tried to soak it with alcohol, loosen it with a needle and other things, but it was stuck and no place to get a spoon in there. So I stood the bottle for two days on its head and ... plop, the stopper slided out as if it were new.

    Joy is a too concentrated, so I am going to try to dilute it with pure alcohol. The seller told me that it was a really old bottle from the first half of the 20th century. Don't know about that, but the bottle seems to be quite old. Could the etched mark give any indications?

    Inedite is fabulous! The bottle was probably opened once and then stored in the back of a drawer and forgotten. The colour is a sunflower yellow and even the head notes are intact. So happy I dished the money out for this bottle.

  31. Thanks for the advice. Will try on bottle of Jean Patou Moment Supreme that just came to me. Even the remnants around the stopper smell wonderful. Am tinking I'll use everclear instead of isopropyl and then use what winds up on the cotton. Waste not...

  32. I got a Versace Vanitas 100ml perfume. I have been trying to open the lid/cover without success. Please kindly advice on how to open it. thank you

  33. Michele Kelly14:28

    I have just received a bottle of the same for a birthday present and cannot open it the shop where it came from weren’t much help when I called them
    They said return it but they have no stock


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