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How to Get Free and Affordable Cologne Samples (That Aren’t Sketchy)

One of the most common questions is "How do I know which cologne is right for me?" The problem with fragrances is they smell slightly different on everyone. This is when free or affordable cologne samples come in handy — to help you test out different fragrances before you commit to a full bottle.

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How warm your skin is, your natural oils, the soap you use, what type of situation you'll be wearing it in, the weather... it seems like there are endless variables to consider. Not to mention that there are endless colognes to try out.

In general, the best way to see if a cologne works for you is to try it out — like you would clothes — and see how you like it.

Our Top Pick:

Perfume bottle samplers

Looking to try best-selling men's cologne samples? Our top pick is with a good reputation, a wide variety of scents and reasonable prices. 

LIMITED TIME OFFER: Choose 5 fragrance samples for $20 + get $10 off your next full-sized order. 

Man spraying perfume

Blind Buy vs Trying a Sample

So how do you go about trying out a fragrance? One way is just to read a few reviews and buy it — what we refer to as a "blind buy." Sometimes you know the brand and feel safe buying from them without trying beforehand.

For example, I love most things Creed so I generally just throw my money at them whenever they come out with something new. (That's probably also why my accountant is always mad at me.)

Then there are some things that I'd label "safe blind buys" —  colognes like Gio that pretty much everyone loves or cheap colognes like Lucky that are so inexpensive, it's probably easier just to buy it than try to find a sample.

If you're on a tight budget, new to cologne or eyeing a luxury fragrance and want to make sure you love it before you buy, what do you do?

This is when samples come in handy. These are small vials, usually just 1oz or so of fragrance. It's just enough that you can wear it a day or two and see if you like the way the cologne smells on you. 

The problem is if you Google fragrance samples, you're going to end up on eBay looking at a lot of dubious listings (not that they're all bad but "Caveat emptor" — buyer beware).

I wanted to create a guide to help men find reputable free or at least budget-friendly cologne samples.

Where to Find Free Cologne Samples

Saks Fifth Avenue Building

1. Fragrance Counters at High-End Department Stores

My experience is the more high-end the department store, the more liberal they are with their samples. I've found stores like Saks, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Macy's and (my fav) Nordstroms are generally generous about giving out fragrance samples or making little testers for you (the fragrance sprayed on a cotton ball or strip of paper).

Part of this depends on your skill chatting up the sales assistant and if they think you'll buy something. If they get the feeling you're being a mooch and just want their samples to resell on eBay they're going to be stingy.  

Be courteous, ask questions, don't be greedy, show that you're the real deal. Remember they're working on commission so make it worth their while to help you.

Also, be aware that they likely don't have samples for everything — these are usually provided by brands when they launch a new fragrance so if you're looking for an older, less popular fragrance, you might have trouble finding it.

beauty specialty store

2. Beauty Specialty Stores

If you're like most guys, you've probably walked by shops like Sephora, Ulta Beauty and Blue Mercury without giving them a second look. However, they also carry an excellent stock of men's colognes and can be a great way to find those lesser-known fragrances.

I'll admit, they can be a little intimidating to go into the first time but actually, the staff is usually very knowledgeable and helpful so you'll get over it quickly.

I don't know if it's common practice but I've had sales assistants at Sephora make me sample vials in the store, just squirting the trial cologne into a vial they had at the desk. They also have pre-made promotional samplers like the department stores — though again, your mileage may vary.

Again, a lot depends on building that trust with the sales assistant that you are actually interested in making a purchase and aren't just wanting to resell it on eBay.

Push cart

3. DIY Samplers from Retailers

A lot of discount retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Kohls, and have open bottles of colognes to use as testers but unless you want your arms covered in competing scents and a headache the rest of the day, it can be hard to test.

perfume Sampler Vial Containers

A buddy of mine says he solves it by bringing his own fragrance sampler vials and just spraying the colognes directly into them. That way he can try several colognes and get enough cologne to try each for a couple of days.

Note: I haven't tried this — I could imagine you might get some side-eye if you act sketchy about it. If there's a sales assistant around, it's always good to make some chit-chat and explain what you're up to.

man encoding on his laptop

4. Finding Free Samples Online

I know most of you guys skimmed ahead to this section the minute I said "chat up the sales assistant" but I have to say, this is probably the hardest way.

Sure, if you Google there are a lot of places promising free samples — however, whether you ever get anything in the mail is another question. Or there might be $10 off shipping fees on that "free" sample.

Amra Beganovich, is an NYC-based beauty and fashion influencer who reviews of fragrances for her Instagram audience. So, she's a great source for tips on getting your hands on affordable cologne samples. Her method?

"I go to (specifically the Cologne Samples page), and browse all the samples which are around $2 each. They have top scents from Versace to Jean Paul Gaultier."

- Amra Beganovich | Founder | Amra & Elma

If you're really set on finding free fragrances, you'll need to do a little leg work and have a lot of patience. First, join our mailing list — throughout the year we work with brands launching new fragrances or other special offers that we provide first to our mailing list. You can also check out our special offers page to see if we currently have any offers available.

For absolutely free (no string attached) your best bet is getting samples free with another cologne order, for instance, Sephora and Ulta often offer 3 free samples with each order — but those are usually exclusively new launches and you won't get a lot of choices.

Free and Affordable Cologne Samples

Where to Buy Cologne Samples

If you're like me, you'd rather shell out a few bucks than spend your time chatting up sales assistants, dragging vials around Target, or applying for free sample programs online. This is when paid cologne samplers seem like a much more effective and efficient way to test different perfumes.

The good news is retailers also have incentives to get you hooked on a new cologne so there are numerous cheap options for cologne samplers.

Our Top Pick:

Cologne bottles

LIMITED TIME OFFER: Choose 5 fragrance samples for $25 + get $10 off your next full-sized order. 

If you're looking to try best-selling men's cologne samples, our current top pick is They have a good reputation, a wide variety of scents and good prices. 

calvin klein sample bottles

​1. Gift Sets and Travel Coffrets

​Another option is minis or travel coffrets. Minis are usually small replica bottles that look in photos like the full-size version but are just an ounce or two. Coffrets are minis with 4-5 of a brand's best-selling colognes in travel sizes. Generally, these are slightly larger than a traditional sample vial and come with regular spray caps.

It can be an easy way to get to know a full line of colognes and I personally like them for travel or the gym. Obviously from the name, they also make great gifts.

For more, see our post on the best cologne gift set and coffrets.

3 piece cologne sampler Burberry, Versace, and Givenchy.

2. 3-Piece Cologne Sampler

If you're looking for an option slightly larger sample size and would like to experience the bottle and packaging as well try the 3 Piece Cologne Sampler for $30 you can try 3 minis of their best men's colognes. Plus you also receive a $10 coupon valid on a large spray purchase. With a confident and sophisticated mood, their collection includes many designer scents such as Burberry, Versace, and Givenchy. 

Scentbird bottle

3. ScentBird Sampler Subscription Service

Scent Bird is a new subscription service that lets you try "date a perfume before you marry it." They have 150+ men's colognes that you can access for just $14.95 a month. You choose the colognes you want to try and they mail you a month's supply which you can use in the diffuser they provide free on the first month.

They are geared toward the big-name brands so if you're interested in designer fragrances and like getting a little present in the mail each both, this would be a good place to start. From what I've heard they're also expanding rapidly so I'm sure they'll have an even wider selection shortly.

You can read our full review here (and get 25% off).

Free and Affordable Cologne Samples

How to Use Your Cologne Samples and See What is Right For You

Now the question is what to do with all these samples you've got!

Don't think your first impression is the right one. This is probably the biggest mistake I see people make. They spritz a cologne at the counter, like the immediate effect, buy it and then two hours later they hate it. What you smell first are the top notes, but the base notes are what will linger longest. Make sure you like them too. 

1. Go Beyond First Impressions

Generally, I like to spray/dab the fragrance directly on my skin to see how the scent develops over time. Then I'll take a scent strip with the name of the fragrance just to jog my memory later.

(One note: it's a good idea to separate the strips in plastic bags or different pockets’ otherwise if you put 5 scent strips into your back pocket, they'll be an indistinguishable mash of scent in an hour.)

2. Pace Yourself (And Your Nose)

Don't overdo it. If you've just gotten into cologne, it can feel like there are a million to try and you want to do them all. However, your nose can't really register so many fragrances at once.

If you're in a store, only try to do 2-3 at a time — then take a break, get some fresh air or sniff the coffee beans they set out to help you reset your sense of smell. 

3. Try Again to Confirm

If you've managed to get a larger sample, it's worth trying it again a day or two later and see if you still like it before going in for the big order.

Sometimes the first day, I'm a bit drawn into the exotic, newness of the fragrance but you want to make sure you still like the scent once the newness wears off.

At the end of the day, relax and enjoy them. If you feel good wearing a fragrance, that's the most important part.


Pinterest pin where to find free cologne samples


Born and raised in Austin, David is a dedicated writer and avid fragrance lover. When he's not trying out perfumes, he enjoys traveling and exploring new restaurants.