Saturday, 27 November 2010

FAQ: How do I remove a perfume stopper that's stuck?


There is something to be said for those spectacular vintage perfume finds... the scents of yesteryear that you might have stumbled upon at a yard sale, or triumphed over others to win in an online bidding war. Fortunately more often than not, the item turns out to be well preserved for it's vintage, but occasionally the one thing standing between you and enjoying your ultimate fragrance find is the ground glass stopper - one that simply won't budge!
Possibly the most frequently asked question I receive from antique perfume enthusiasts is "How do I remove the stopper?" ...
With so many differing opinions online, I can only suggest the methods that have worked for me with maximum results and minimum risk.

Stubborn ground glass stoppers won't shift usually for one of two reasons: either the stopper has expanded slightly inside the neck of the bottle over the decades, or perhaps perfume residue has hardened between the stopper and the bottleneck, forming a glue-like seal. In both instances, I have on numerous occasions managed to remove stoppers with the following non-destructive method.

You will need:

The perfume bottle in question
2 plastic pipettes
A soft cloth
A few drops of of cooking oil
Access to a refrigerator/freezer
A good measure of patience


First of all, its a good idea to clear a workspace. Take your time and handle the bottle and materials with care. Start by giving the bottle a gentle wipe with a damp cloth (avoiding wetting any paper labels), particularly around the neck area so that surface dust and residue is minimised.

Step 1: Take the cooking oil and a plastic pipette and draw up just a small amount of cooking oil.
Carefully pipe the oil slowly and evenly in the small space where the glass stopper and bottle neck meet. Try not to flood the area, but be sure to turn the bottle slowly and ensure you have evenly oiled the rift. (The idea is that this will act as a light lubricant when the time comes to try and remove the stopper). Once you have piped the oil onto the neck of the flacon, set it aside for 15-20 minutes. Resist the urge to twist it at this point.



Step 2: Take the perfume bottle and gently place it inside your freezer. (Frost free is ideal so that there is no risk of damage to the paper labels). Leave the perfume to sit inside the freezer for approximately 20-30 minutes. The perfume itself won't freeze due to the high alcohol content, but the glass will shrink ever so slightly. After 20-30 minutes, remove the bottle and take it back to your clean work area. It is more than likely small beads of condensation will have formed on the outside of the bottle. Hold it firmly in the soft cloth at the base, and fold the cloth over the top of the stopper so you can get a firm grip of it. Applying a reasonable degree of pressure in a clockwise direction only, try and twist the stopper. (In the case of a perfume bottle with a fluted neck, then pull the stopper upwards with a very slight twist). You may need to attempt this several times. 9 times out of 10, here is where the stopper will pop off or hiss as it lets the trapped perfumed air loose for the first time in decades!


Step 3: Here you have to work rather fast. Set the stopper down for a moment, and immediately use the cloth to clean around and inside the open mouth of the bottle. Try and wipe up as much of any remaining cooking oil residue that might be present before it trickles down into the juice. Pick up the stopper and thoroughly wipe the oil residue from the stopper too (you may even see the tiny beads of oil on the surface of the cold glass). Take a look inside the bottle and see whether you can see any tiny drops of oil floating on the top of the solution. If yes, use a clean pipette to extract it.
If the stopper has old caked-on perfume residue around it, wash it off carefully under warm water with a soft cloth, and dry it thoroughly before placing the stopper back into the bottle.


Once loosened, (provided you do not get the bottleneck and stopper coated in perfume residue again), you should be able to open your bottle without any trouble each time thereafter.

Note: I would advise you not to knock the stopper on the side of a bench in an attempt to "shock" it into shifting, nor would I advocate heating the glass bottle in any way as the results can be both unpredictable and disastrous.

In extremely severe and unfortunate cases (usually if the glass is extremely thin and delicate or if the handler is very impatient), the stopper can occasionally snap off, leaving the decorative part in your hand, and a glass plug inside the bottleneck. This link provides the best possible advice I have found regarding a method to both salvage the perfume, and repair the broken stopper.

Happy vintage perfume hunting, people!

21 comments:

Martina Rosenberg said...

Thank you for sharing your careful way of opening stuck stoppers ! I wish I had known some weeks ago, when I danced around a vintage flacon of Zibeline/Weil and kind of prayed for a wonder...
I finally opened it with a much more brutal way, by wrapping a round nose plyer with tissue paper on both noses and placing them side by side with the stopper neck. Then I used them as a kind of crank to lever up the stopper ( which I had wrapped in foam padding before, to prevent breakage when it would fly away)
All worked out smoothly, but my nerves were blank...You can see this lovely undamaged bottle in my blog. I still tremble, when I think of this adventure. Will try your way next times !

Angela Cox said...

So no hammers then Dimitri ? So far I have not had too much trouble but if I had a bottle of a vintage Mitsouko sense might go out the window. I shall show the instructions to my husband who will tie me to a chair ,tape my mouth and make me watch as he does a lovely job ( shut up in the peanut gallery)....I tear Christmas paper off like a loon too.

ggs said...

Thanks for the tip. I haven't heard of using oil before, but have had success using a pipette with drops of alcohol to loosen vintage crystal stoppers stuck fast due to perfume resins. One advantage of alcohol is less concern about it contaminating the perfume.

It is a little nervewracking trying to open a valuable vintage bottle!

queen_cupcake said...

Thank you for posting these tips. I have a couple of bottles I want to try to get unstuck.

Dimitri said...

Thank you all for your comments. :)

Angela, you're hilarious! I totally know what you mean!

GGS, non-scented perfumers alcohol is great for breaking down the residue, but I find it evaporates too fast to act as a lubricant.

Queen Cupcake... please let me know if this method works for you!

Anonymous said...

It works! Thanks D.! : )

gretchen lang said...

Wow, my husband just did a mind-blowing job of removing a broken-off stopper from a bottle of vintage Chanel 5 that I got for a song. I took a bunch of pictures but am not sure I'll be able to post them here; I'll try. It's a 3-oz (my best guess) bottle of pure extrait from sometime between 1924 and 1950 - see the dot under the "No" in the pics. That's right, 3 ounces - the bottle is more than 3" high by 3" wide by 1.25 inches deep! I just put on a dab and my eyes rolled back in my head.
Here's how he did it:
1) First he filed a flat spot on the broken stopper top so the drill bit wouldn't slip, then he used a drill press with a 1/8" carbide glass-cutting bit at a very slow speed, with a very small amount of water dripped on to cool it. He paused frequently to clean away the glass dust slurry.
2) After drilling down about 1/4", he put a drop of 2-part epoxy in the hole, and inserted a steel pin (he says if he did it again he would square the end of the pin first to prevent it from turning in the hole). He first flattened the end of the pin that protruded so that he could grasp it with a vise grip.
3) He allowed the glue to set for 24 hours, put the bottle in the freezer for 30 minutes, and then very quickly did the following before it could warm up at all:
4) He put a tiny amount of vegetable oil around the seam between the stopper and the neck, and wrapped a hot wet paper towel - microwaved - around the neck (not allowing it to contact the bottle and heat the perfume).
5) He grasped the pin with vise grips and tapped smartly upward on the vise grips with a small hammer while holding the bottle on a towel to cushion it.
6) VOILA! the stopper lifted out and then a careful wipe of the neck to remove the oil residue, and I have a lifetime supply of pure Chanel 5 perfume! My hero.
*I just tried to paste the photos and couldn't, but if you let me know how to do it I'll add them. They're instructive.

susiemusic said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I have followed your instructions (but using a drop of oil on a cotton wool bud instead of a pipette)on a 50 year old bottle of Chanel No 5 that has been sealed all its life until tonight! I am thrilled that your advice worked and I am now enjoying the glorious, unspoiled fragrance.

cj fairbanks said...

I am trying the "Oil & Freezer" method at this very moment. (Monday June 4 9:30 in morn.) My 1st attempt did not work. I was patient and cautious. I am sooo afraid that the very slender glass stopper is going to break off in my hand!! I will post back if i ever do get the stopper out..or don't! FINGERS, TOES AND ANYTHING ELSE I CAN THINK OF ARE CROSSED. Wish me luck!

Kate Eaton said...

I cannot thank you enough for this tip on removing a stopper. My 2 OZ Baccarat bottle of Shalimar had a broken stopper and was so rudely stuck... a sad aftermath to the 2 oz bottle I received 2 months before this one arrived, as it's stopper unstuck in transit and all of the contents leaked out and arrived empty! Now I had the opposite problem. I tried several fixes to no avail. I added a little sunflower oil with a swab around the stopper and bottle seam, waited my 1/2 hour and then gave it the freeze for another 1/2 hour. The broken stopper finial had just enough left (albeit crumbly glass) to apply a wide rubber band and use my pliers to carefully lift and twist clockwise... the stopper came out after about a half-dozen tries (grips). I am so happy.

Now to try this on my full 1000 ml (yeah BIG) bottle of Shalimar cologne next! Thanks again.

Blog Curator said...

Im so pleased to hear you found it helpful kate - enjoy that lovely Shalimar deliciousness!

Zoso Roxy said...

Hallelujah!!! THANK YOU for these concrete, effective solutions! My 2 oz. vintage black glass "Boule" of Arpege, with the gold-painted glass ball top & stopper, was FROZEN SOLID. After reading recommendations, it became clear that what I suspected, was in fact true: My large bottle of this 1927 treasure release (date of my boule, unknown), pure extrait, had become "glued" shut with it's own dried juice/oils, just exactly at the snugly fitted glass stopper/neck.

I now have a huge blister on my thumb, from 2 hours of my own stumbling attempts to grasp & twist the ribbed glass top, carefully yet steadily...

Next, I tried running it under hot water (concentrating on the neck area)- more twisting- bigger blister- no luck. Then, I tried the suggestion of taking a sterile dropper, and carefully applying rubbing alcohol just all around the small diameter circle, where the stopper enters the neck of the bottle- AND, I put this in the freezer for 20 minutes... Still, my thumb is severely blistered now, but no luck OPENING the boule!

Finally, I threw my hands up in despair, and filled a small child's stainless steel drink cup with 91% rubbing alcohol, (what I had in the medicine cabinet), & inverted my boule in the cup, so that the entire neck area was completely covered & SOAKING in pure alcohol. All was lost anyway, I figured.

So... I left it alone, and after a half hour, decided to see what, if anything, had changed... VOILA! I carefully turned it right-side up (inverting & spilling the 1/2 cup of alcohol into another cup), and- Took the boule out, barely grasped the gilded glass stopper top- It opened easily!

It turns out, that it was indeed "glued" shut with it's own dried juice & oils, just at the delicate neck- I also learned that ~ 1/2 way down the length of the glass stopper portion (which inserts into the neck), is grooved, running around the diameter of the stopper- THAT's exactly where the "glue set". The alc. dissolved it (yeah!). I took a cotton pad, soaked up some alcohol, & carefully cleaned the entire (intact!) stopper, + inside & outside the neck, all around the bottle, etc. And now, I am wearing my vtg. Arpgege- SCORE!

There is no-thing like this deep, dark, explosion of GORGEOUS floral aldehyde w/ civet- Mwa-hahaha!!!

Now, I feel a lot more confident about how to resolve this, if I encounter again. That stopper was STUCK / FROZEN for-EVER (I thought). Once my thumb blister heals, all will be well :) omg, it smells D-I-V-I-N-E !!! THANK YOU !

Dimitri said...

Thanks for your message Zoso Roxy :) Im pleased you managed to finally pop that top like a champagne cork :)
You might have missed the alert when you hit "Publish Your Comment" that notified you that comments are stored and published *after* they've been moderated by yours truly - it wasn't a bot thing. ;)
Hope you stop by again.
Dimitri

Lee Curran said...

Just received a vintage Caron Nuit de Noel bottle with quite a bit of fragrance but with a stuck stopper. I googled the problem and came upon your site. After sharing the info. with my husband (I am hopeless at fixing things), he sprayed the top with liquid graphite lubricant (very inexpensive in an auto parts/supply store) and then put it in the freezer for one-half hour. After taking it out of the freezer, the stopper came off immediately with no fuss or muss. No vice grips, pliers, drills necessary...it worked beautifully!

Dimitri said...

Im happy to hear the info was helpful, Lee!

Anonymous said...

Just unstuck my sixties bottle of Belle de Rauch parfum. All I did was pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes.

I suggest trying this first before getting all messy and/ or complicated with oil, glycerin, lubricant or alcohol prior to the freezing. Only after the freezing doesn't work on its own: that's the time to add other steps. Keep it simple!

Ling said...

Thank you for sharing. I was actually in a panic mode when I realised that I couldn't budge the stopper of my newly acquired Caron nocturne parfum. I soak the top part in hot water (avoiding contact with the bottle), it remained firmly stuck and my fingers got all red trying to twist it open. Was contemplating to try your method as a last resort until I tried putting it in the freezer. Thank goodness! I managed to get the stopper off with a gentle twist after 10 mins in the freezer. Hope this won't affect the quality of the juice. Again, thank you for sharing all your experiences! Merry Christmas everyone!

jennyg said...

My epic battle with a "cognac bottle" flacon of Revillon's Carnet de Bal ('37) has finally ended in glory. First, I followed your directions but to no avail. My bottle was in the 1/10 percentile that is immune to such efforts. I then took Zoso Roxy's directions with the isopropyl alcohol. No results there either at first, but after a second soak, which removed all of the paper around the stopper, I was able to pry it off with a wooden spatula. All very scary and frustrating, but I now smell delicious!

LAugust said...

Normally a little hot water is all I need; however, I have come across the occasional stubborn stopper. In one instance the stopper had apparently already been broken & glued back on before being sold so let's just say there was a Dremel tool involved. I would up gluing the top & stopper back together!
The best way I have found was:
1)With a Q-Tip apply a small amount of olive oil around the seal.
2)Boil some water in the microwave (and I do mean BOIL!!) to a very high temp.
3)Take a tablespoon and pour the very hot water over where the stopper is inserted.
This has worked every time except for the broke & glued stopper.
GOOD LUCK!
Lynev

Kathy Garrison said...

When I've come across a stuck perfume stopper, I put it in an ultrasonic (jewelry) cleaner. This worked every time for me.

Anonymous said...

What advice to loosen a stuck sterling silver perfume bottle? it's small, on a necklace. Never had perfume in it, and hasn't been opened in 10 years. Many thanks.