Whether you want a clean smelling cologne for work, need a subtle cologne for allergies, or just like fresh smelling colognes, many men prefer mild fragrances.
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It’s useful to keep in mind that the experience of a fragrance can be affected by a number of factors beyond the scent itself.
Here’s how to choose and apply fragrances for a more subtle effect as well as our top picks of mild colognes.
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Top Picks for Best Clean-Smelling Colognes
Best All-Over Winner: Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio*
It’s nearly impossible to beat Armani’s Giorgio Acqua Di Gio* for a nice, subtle smell that’s appropriate almost anywhere.
Gio for Men launched in 1996, inspired by Armani’s vacation in Pantelleria located in the Strait of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea – full of salty seawater, sunny warmth, and citrusy breezes.
It’s a timeless classic but the only thing is that it seems as though everyone has it. It’s a good, solid choice for men wanting a well-executed fresh, clean scent that’s perfect for nearly every situation.
- Top notes: orange, lime, jasmine, bergamot, lemon, neroli
- Mid notes: seawater, freesia, hyacinth, rosemary, nutmeg
- Base notes: oakmoss, patchouli, amber, cedar, white musk
Runner-Up: Kenneth Cole Mankind*
Kenneth Cole Mankind for Men* was created from a new partnership with Par lux and is a fresh, clean scent, though still masculine.
Its slightly sweet citrus scent is perfect for daily wear, especially in warm climates or summer months. It’s one of those versatile fragrances which is perfectly noticeable. Great if you want a low-key signature fragrance.
Includes notes of mandarin, grapefruit, green apple, muguet, crisp melon rind, warm musk, patchouli, and creamy Musk.
Best Casual Effortlessness: Calvin Klein Eternity for Men Aqua*
Eternity Aqua* is a new edition of Calvin Klein’s fragrance line was launched in 2010 to be a modern, aquatic version of Eternity for men. Its light scent is inspired by the ocean and embraces a casual effortlessness.
The notes of chilled cucumber and a blend of precious woods make it a good choice for daily wear. Described as: A safe scent that is distinctive but is not attention-grabbing.
- Top notes: Chilled cucumber, citrus cocktail, water lotus, drenched green leaves
- Mid notes: Szechuan pepper, lavender, white cedarwood.
- Base notes: Sandalwood, guaiac wood, patchouli, musks
Best Subtle Romantic Cologne: Vera Wang for Men*
If we were voting purely for presentation, Vera Wang for Men would win hands-down. There were compliments aplenty on the design of the classy and timeless bottle. The scent was launched in 2004 as a complementary companion to Vera Wang’s women’s fragrance.
While the two pair together perfectly, the men’s fragrance can also stand on its own with its smooth, warm scent. One person commented, “this is a fragrance that will be discovered, not announced.” Also perfect for the office, interviews, or important meetings.
- Top notes: Mandarin leaf, yuzu
- Mid notes: Nutmeg, Leather, Anise
- Base notes: Sandalwood, Tobacco
Best Just Got Out of the Shower Smell: Burberry Weekend for Men*
Burberry Weekend for Men is a fragrance launched in 1997 that is as casual and relaxing as its namesake.
A light and invigorating fragrance, with a refreshing appeal. Get out of the shower and apply Burberry Weekend and you’ll smell fresh and clean for the rest of the day.
- Top notes: lemon, grapefruit, sweet tangerine
- Mid notes: oakmoss, ivy leaves, sandalwood
- Base notes: honey, amber, musk
Best For The Office: Jimmy Choo Man*
Jimmy Choo Man* is first men’s fragrance from the famous footwear designer Jimmy Choo. Launched in 2014, it is a confident, modern scent that blends aromatic, fruity and woody notes.
It’s an elegant, sophisticated designer fragrance that is perfect for when you want to choose a scent that is not overpowering but has enough character to stand out.
If you want to play it safe, spray this and don’t look back. It’s most notable for its crowd-pleasing appeal and versatility – good for the office or casual wear.
- Top notes: melon, pineapple leaf, pink pepper
- Mid notes: lavender, suede
- Base notes: patchouli
Best For Young Guys: Liz Claiborne Curve for Men*
First launched in 1996, Curve* has been reformulated slightly over the years and ranks well as a subtle men’s fragrance. With an affordable price point and main accord of aromatic greens, it’s a great purchase for young men or one just starting out with colognes.
Here’s a bonus – I’ve found that the number of women who love this scent almost borders on ridiculous. I have over 80 designer fragrances in my collection but none of them get as many compliments as when I apply a few spritzes of Curve. Definitely recommend it for a first date.
- Top notes: pineapple, juniper berries, lavender, neroli, lemon
- Mid notes: coriander, ginger, violet, cactus, sage, bergamot, cardamom
- Base notes: sandalwood, amber, musk, vetiver, cedar, mahogany, pepper.
Best For The Gym: *Prada Luna Rossa Sport *
Launched in 2015, Prada Luna Rossa Sport *is a sweet-outdoorsy cologne that will keep you smelling fresh during your workout. It’s a clean scent with a high freshness factor that makes it perfect for the gym.
It’s a versatile fragrance you could also wear to the office or work, and perfect if you’re one to work out during lunch.
- Top notes: pineapple, peach, bergamot
- Mid notes: jasmine, water lily.
- Base notes: sandalwood, musk, cedar.
Best Super-Budget Cologne: Yacht Man Blue By Puig*
While Yacht Man* cologne probably won’t earn you any points with cologne snobs, it’s a solid bet for the budget shopper who wants a safe cologne that won’t overwhelm or offend.
It’s a genetic blue scent similar to Nautica Blue. A bit synthetic but for the price, it’s better than expected.
Best Classic: Davidoff For Men Cool Water*
Launched in 1988, Cool Water* is a true classic fragrance which has been subtly reformulated over the years and is still going strong. It’s one of the best-selling fragrances of all time so it’s definitely a crowd-pleaser.
From its opening of sea air and mint, it feels soothing, refreshing and cool. It’s the cologne for the guy who doesn’t wear cologne. It does fade quickly though so be prepared to reapply.
- Top notes: Seawater, mint, green notes, lavender, rosemary
- Mid notes: Jasmine, sandalwood, neroli, geranium.
- Base notes: oakmoss, musk, tobacco, amber
How to Apply A Clean Fragrance
1. Don’t Over Apply Your Cologne
How you apply the perfume can make a big difference in the overall effect – even a mild cologne becomes overwhelming if heavily applied. Precisely the reason it’s important to know how to properly apply your fragrances.
One to two sprays is usually adequate. If you’re worried that it won’t last the day, reapply the cologne after a few hours or take a look at our list of longest-lasting cologne (though they tend to be heavier).
Some people mistakenly spray on their fragrance heavily at the beginning of the day but this doesn’t actually extend the longevity of the scent.
2. Try Lighter Versions of Your Fragrances
Knowing the types of fragrances and the concentration of essential oils in each can help you judge the heaviness of the scent how often you’ll need to reapply.
In general, the less essential oils a fragrance contains, the lighter the scent will be. If you’re interested in a more subtle effect you might try an Eau de Cologne (2-4% essential oils) or an Eau Fraiche (1-3% essential oils).
3. Experiment with Misting
Where you apply the cologne also affects the potency of the scent. Traditionally the recommendation is to apply on the wrists or neck.
4. Pick Your Colognes by Season
The seasons also affect our sensory perceptions. Warm weather tends to boost our sense of smell while winter dims it. You mind find your favorite scents change with the seasons it’s completely natural.
Most brands even design around this phenomenon where winter fragrances are typically stronger with woody and spicy oriental scents. In contrast, summer colognes tend to be lighter and aquatic or citrus-based.
5. Learn Your Ingredients
If you’re looking for a clean-smelling men’s cologne, aim for scents with citrus, aquatic or green notes. Colognes that are heavy on musk, oud, and spice tend to be stronger and more dominant.
Modern fragrances also tend to be lighter while many classic fragrances feel heavy if they haven’t been reformulated. If you’re looking for lighter fragrances, steer clear of the old scents you remember your dad wearing and try something new.
Once you have these basics down, you can pick a fragrance and start experimenting without fear. Here are our top picks for non-cloying, versatile and light fragrances that can be worn for most occasions.
It’s clear that there’s a diverse range of light, refreshing men’s colognes that will feel more subtle than overbearing. Even if you’re new to fragrances or trying a blind-buy, you can find one that fits your personality, budget, and lifestyle.