Abstract Refillable polyester bottles, for example polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, are known to interact with chemicals. Aroma compounds from a product can be absorbed by the bottle material, remain after washing and remigrate when the bottle is reused, resulting in off-flavour of the new product. A certified reference material has recently been approved with which the chemical and sensory inertness of refillable bottle materials can be tested. In this study a sensory method aimed at characterizing the sensory inertness properties of the reference bottle material was developed. A use–reuse situation was simulated by storing bottle wall strips in a solution of four odour-active compounds (the loading phase) and, after cleaning, immersing them in water (the remigration phase). The remigration water was analysed with both a sensory method, i.e. determination of the threshold odour number, and chemically using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS). Additionally, another PET and a polyethylene naphthalate (PEN) bottle material were also tested. The sensory threshold determination method could differentiate between the PEN materials and the PET materials. Results from chemical analysis showed that the inertness properties of the PET materials were very similar. The PEN material exhibited significantly superior inertness properties, with only 3–24% of the aroma transfer properties of PET.