How To Make A Powerful Homemade Vapor Rub

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The chilly embrace of winter often brings with it a chorus of coughs and sniffles. When the seasonal bug strikes, we often reach for commercial vapor rubs to help clear our airways. But what if I told you that those store-bought remedies, with their ominous ingredient lists and overpowering scents, might not be the best choice for your well-being? In this article, we’re going to take a journey into the world of homemade vapor rub. We’ll explore the dangers of their commercial counterparts and how you can craft your own salves that are safe, effective, and even a bit fun. 

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The Perils of Commercial Vapor Rub

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a detective investigating a crime scene. You enter a pharmacy and find the usual suspects lined up on the shelf: commercial vapor rubs. Their labels, filled with tongue-twisting chemical compounds, could rival the plot of a mystery novel. These over-the-counter concoctions often contain ingredients like camphor, menthol, and synthetic fragrances. But what do these mysterious substances really do to your body when you’re seeking relief from congestion and coughs?

Let’s break it down:

Camphor Conundrum

Camphor is a key ingredient in many commercial vapor rubs. While it can provide temporary relief, it comes with side effects, such as skin irritation and, if ingested, potential toxicity. Plus, the strong, artificial odor can make you feel like you’ve been attacked by a peppermint factory.

Menthol Mayhem

Menthol is another frequently used ingredient, often derived synthetically. Due to the overwhelming smell and power of menthol, one sniff and the brain is tricked into thinking the nasal passages are clear. It is said that this may be the reason why many people swear that it clears their stuffiness, when it really doesn’t.

Chemical Concoctions

Commercial vapor rubs often include synthetic fragrances and petroleum-based ingredients. These chemicals can be a double-edged sword, as they might provide short-term relief but also introduce potential allergens and irritants to your skin.

Unsafe For Children

If you have littles with congestion and have reached for a product such as Vicks VapoRub®, you may be surprised to learn it’s actually not safe for children. In fact, it can cause side effects such as coma, vomiting, disorientation, seizures and even death. Not to mention it often leads to respiratory insufficiency, causing the congestion and build up to worsen.

Mucus Build Up

You may find it hard to believe, but the vapor rub you reach for when you need relief could actually be causing you to become even more congested and stuffed up, especially in young children. According to an American Study published in the journey Chest, use of Vicks Vapor Rub can actually cause mucus obstruction of small airways and increased nasal resistance. Meaning it increases mucus and decreases mucus clearance. The reason behind “feeling” like you can breathe is thanks to the extremely strong menthol odor tricking your brain into thinking the nasal passage is clear.

In essence, the store-bought vapor rubs can feel like a chemical assault on your senses and body. It’s time to escape this crime scene and venture into the world of DIY vapor rub.

homemade vapor rub

Crafting Your Own Vapor Rub

Creating your homemade vapor rub is easier than you might think, and it comes with the satisfaction of knowing exactly what you’re putting on your skin. Think of it as a culinary adventure, where you’re the chef whipping up a concoction of herbal goodness and essential oils.


Using a base in homemade vapor rub allows you to create a smooth, silky texture that can easily be applied to the skin. It helps hold your ingredients together, extends shelflife, and can even add it’s own natural benefits. Use something such as beeswax or shea butter for a silky smooth rub.

Carrier Oils

Adding a carrier oil helps to dilute the essential oils to a safe level as well as provide even distribution of the oil throughout the application spot. Additionally, using a carrier oil can provide its own benefits by nourishing and soothing the skin. Use a carrier oil such as coconut, olive or almond. These carrier oil provide slow absorption by the skin, allowing the homemade vapor rub to stay in place longer and giving lasting relief.

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Essential Oils

The essential oils are the star of homemade vapor rub and can provide relief from many cold symptoms. Essential oils can get a little tricky when it comes to application on children however, so we’ve marked the ones below that are safe for use in children and infants. Always make sure you are using proper dilution when using essential oils as they are very concentrated.

  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Lavender oil is known for its calming and soothing properties. It can help relieve congestion while promoting relaxation. It is safe for children and infants in proper ratios.
  • Mandarin (Citrus reticulata): Mandarin essential oil has a sweet, gentle aroma that is quite pleasant. It can be used to alleviate congestion. It is safe for children and infants in proper ratios.
  • Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita): Chamomile essential oil is calming and can help ease congestion while also being gentle on the skin. It is generally considered safe for children and infants.
  • Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia): Tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties that can be used to clear the airways and can be used in very diluted form for children. It may help with congestion by addressing underlying infections. It is safe for children and infants in proper ratios. Caution should be exercised with children under 3. Use a 0.5% dilution.
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Calendula oil can be used for its soothing and healing properties, which can be beneficial for irritated skin around the nose. It is safe for children and infants in proper ratios.
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus and Eucalyptus radiata): Eucalyptus essential oil is renowned for its ability to open airways and ease respiratory congestion. Caution should be exercised with children under 3. Use a 0.5% dilution. It’s generally recommended to avoid Eucalyptus radiata and Eucalyptus globulus for children under 6.
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita): Peppermint oil can help with congestion and throat discomfort. Peppermint oil has a cooling effect that can help soothe the airways fast. Avoid using with children under 6 years old. For children aged 6–12, use a 1% dilution. Safe for adults.
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Rosemary oil can help with relieving congestion. Caution should be exercised with children under 6. For children aged 6–12, use a 1% dilution. Safe for adults.
  • Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica): Cedarwood essential oil has a grounding, woody aroma that can aid in soothing airways. It’s safe for adults and older children.
  • Fir (Abies): Fir essential oil, extracted from fir trees like Douglas fir and Siberian fir, can be a valuable natural remedy to help alleviate cough and congestion. It is safe for children and infants (3months+)in proper ratios.
homemade chest rub

Using Essential Oils Safely

When using essential oils, especially for children and infants, it’s essential to dilute them properly. Always perform a patch test to check for any adverse reactions, and discontinue use if you notice any signs of skin irritation or discomfort. Here are some general dilution ratios when using essential oils:

Adults (and children over 12 years old):

2% dilution: This means adding approximately 12–18 drops of essential oil per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil.

Children 3–12 years old:

  • 1% dilution: Use about 6 drops of essential oil per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil.

Children under 3 years old:

  • 0.5% dilution: Use around 3 drops of essential oil per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil.

If you prefer to stay clear of essential oils, you can take any of the herbs mentioned and make a herbal infusion instead. Simply cover the herbs completely with coconut or olive oil and allow them to steep for 2-4 weeks, shaking every few days.

Additional Herbal Remedies

While this homemade vapor rub is extremely effective at relieving congestion and soothing airways, there are some other home remedies that can be used in conjunction with the vapor rub. Throwing everything including the kitchen sink at a cold is always my approach for our family, because lets face it, no one has time for a cold.

Herbal Teas

Sipping on herbal teas like ginger, honey, and lemon can help soothe a sore throat and provide comfort. There are many herbs, such as echinacea and garlic, that can help assist the immune system during an infection. Drinking these immune boosting herbs in tea form is often the best method.

Steam Inhalation

Steam is a great way to help soothe the airways and get essential oils to the site they are needed most. Boil water, add a few drops of essential oils (eucalyptus or lavender), and inhale the steam to clear nasal passages. For children, try doing a steam bath with a few drops of chamomile oil.


A humidifier can alleviate congestion by adding moisture to dry indoor air, which thins mucus, reduces nasal and throat irritation, and promotes restful sleep. It helps create a more comfortable environment for individuals dealing with colds, allergies, or respiratory issues, improving overall comfort and symptom relief. Add a few drops of essential oils (eucalyptus or chamomile) and leave it running at night.


A spoonful of honey can help soothe a scratchy throat and cough. It’s actually been shown to work better than over-the-counter antitussives. However, honey is not safe to use in children under the age of a year old due to the risk of botulism.

Herbal Cough Syrups

This home remedy combines the power of herbs and honey to make a powerful syrup. It can be used to soothe, relieve congestion, and even help boost the immune system.

Homemade Vapor Rub Recipe

Let’s dive into the kitchen and whip up an easy homemade vapor rub, ensuring everyone in the family can breathe easy. If you prefer to purchase a homemade vapor rub, you can find our unique blend on our shop tab!

This particular recipe is pretty easy and straight forward. However, it is not recommended for anyone under the age of 3. Check out of Herbal Blend for kid friendly relief.

Remember that any of the above oils are going to work great at relieving congestion and soothing a cough, so try creating your own blend! Be sure to keep proper essential oil to carrier oil ratios in mind (see suggestions above), especially when crafting for infants and children.

Homemade Vapor Rub

A homemade chest rub that actually works to help relieve congestion and ease coughing, using nature made ingredients!
Prep Time5 minutes
Keyword: cold and flu season, cough relief, homemade chest rub, homemade vapor rub
Yield: 8 oz



  • Pour the olive oil, coconut oil and beeswax into a glass jar or container.
  • Place the glass jar into your double boiler with just 2 inches of water set to medium.
  • Allow the oils and beeswax to melt. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Sometimes the beeswax pellets take awhile to completely melt down.
  • Once combined, allow the mixture to cool. You should be able to touch the mix without burning yourself. Add in the essential oils and stir to combine.
  • Pour the mixture into your storage containers and allow to set.


As we wrap up our aromatic adventure into the world of homemade vapor rub, we’ve discovered a safer and more satisfying alternative to those mysterious store-bought concoctions. By using natural ingredients, you can craft your personalized remedies for decongestion, cough relief, and soothing comfort during illness. So, the next time you’re under the weather, consider creating your very own vapor rub to breathe easy and enjoy the delightful, all-natural scents of healing herbs and essential oils. Say goodbye to chemical crime scenes and embrace the world of gentle, DIY relief. Your body will thank you.

Hey Beautiful! I’m Tara, garden enthusiasts, keeper of chickens, herbal homesteader and stay at home mom of 3 tiny humans and a sourdough starter named Ma. I love teaching others how to live a self-sufficient and sustainable life through homesteading, scratch cooking, and remembering to live barefoot, wild and free!

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