How To Make All-Natural Vapor Rub

Heather Dessinger

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Homemade Vapor Rub

Inside: How to make natural vapor rub, plus an update on which respiratory support essential oils are safe to use with young children. More on using essential oils safely with children here.

I miss my nose.” <– That’s what I told my husband a few years ago after gulping down a glass of vinegar I’d mistaken for water. Not fun, y’all.

Also not fun . . . stuffy-nosed kids doing the snot slurp every few minutes. In this post I’m going to share my “Better Than The Unnamed Company That Rhymes With Nicks” vapor rub recipe, which has helped my family breathe easier during cold and flu season.

But first, let’s talk about congestion

Congestion – or snot as my kids like to call it – has a wonderful, maybe even heroic, purpose. The body uses it to trap pathogens and push them out of the body. As the Society for General Microbiology explains:

The respiratory system – the nose and passageways leading to the lungs – is lined with cells that produce sticky fluid called mucus that traps invading microbes and dust. Tiny hairs called cilia move in a wave-like motion and waft the microbes and dust particles up to the throat, where they are either coughed or sneezed out or swallowed and then passed out of the body.”

That’s one of the reasons I tend to avoid over-the-counter decongestant medications. Mucus has a job to do, and I don’t want to get in the way of that. Instead, I want to assist the body in a way that’s aligned with what it’s already doing.

How to support our first line of defense

In addition to supporting what my body is trying to accomplish, I ALSO WANT TO BREATHE. And I want my kids to be able to breathe and sleep well. That’s why during cold and flu season we often use a Nasopure bottle to assist the body with moving out mucus that has captured bacteria, dust, etc. It’s basically a neti pot that’s easier for kids to use.

When my kids need more support, I make a this vapor rub recipe for them. And thanks to an online class called “Protect Your Family from Colds and Flu Using Essential Oils” taught by clinical aromatherapist Andrea Butje, I’ve also added portable “breathe easy” essential oil inhalers to my natural mama kit!

Now, you may be wondering . . .

Why avoid store bought vapor rub?

Two reasons. The most popular store bought brand contains:

  • Strong essential oils that have caused respiratory distress in some children (source)
  • Turpentine (a lung irritant) and petrolatum, which is often contaminated with PAHS, a highly toxic compound which is linked to cancer, development and reproductive toxicity, and immunotoxicity. (source)

The new greaseless formula is even worse – parabens, diazolidinyl urea (a formaldehyde releasing chemical that is toxic upon . . . inhalation) and PEG-100 Stearate (which is often contaminated with dioxane).

Fortunately, you can make your own vapor rub with age appropriate essential oils and natural ingredients – and it’s easy!

Homemade Vapor Rub With Eucalyptus, Peppermint and Rosemary

What parents need to know about peppermint, eucalyptus and rosemary

Eucalyptus, peppermint, and rosemary are popular essential oils for vapor rub, and for good reason. However, there are some cautions when using them with children (which we’ll cover below), along with safer options that are just as helpful.

Peppermint essential oil contains a high percentage of monoterpenes, which are thought to support healthy respiratory function by stimulating mucus membranes. Unfortunately, it also contains a constituent called 1.8 cineole. Too much can sometimes act negatively on the temperature receptors of children’s lungs and cause difficulty breathing, so it’s often avoided.

Eucalyptus globulus and rosemary are also favorites for respiratory support that contain the problematic 1.8, cineole.

Is there ever a time when using peppermint or eucalyptus with children is safe?

Yes, says Essential Oil Safety co-author Robert Tisserand. According to him, peppermint can be diffused with care around 3-6 year olds and applied topically at a concentration of 0.5% – that would be three drops (substituted for another oil) in the recipe below. Regarding use in a diffuser, in the comment section of this post he clarified that “with care” means about two drops.

In children under three, Tisserand recommends that eucalyptus globula and radiata can be diffused around children under three and applied topically at a concentration of 0.5% – that would be three drops (substituted for another oil) in the recipe below. For children 3-6 he recommends a 1% maximum dilution of eucalyptus globula or radiata, which would be six drops (substituted for another oil) in the recipe below.

“I believe these guidelines are super-safe, if anything a little over-cautious.” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Rosemary is not recommended for children under ten.

Vapor Rub Recipe With Essential Oils

Which essential oils support respiratory function?

Fortunately, there are other oils that contain a high percentage of monoterpenes (a component believed to support respiratory function) without high concentrations of 1.8 cineole.

One of those is lavender, which surprised me. I once thought of lavender as sort of a wimpy oil that was mostly good for soothing skin irritations and calming emotions, but I was so wrong. It contains about 39% monoterpenes, while peppermint is less than 10% higher at roughly 47%.

Here’s a list of child-safe oils that support respiratory function:

  • Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana)
  • Cinnamon leaf (Cinnamomum verum) – NOT cinnamon bark. The maximum recommended dilution in Essential Oil Safety is 0.6%, which would be a maximum of 3 drops in the recipe below)
  • Fir Needle (Abies sibirica)
  • Fragonia (Agonis fragrans) – Smells a lot like eucalyptus, but safe for children.
  • Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
  • Juniper Berry (Juniperus communis)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Lemon (Citrus x limon) – For topical application I recommend the distilled lemon I linked to because it does not cause photosensitivity. If you use cold-pressed lemon essential oil instead, you can safely use up to 12 drops in the recipe below.
  • Pine (Pinus Sylvestris)
  • Rosalina (Melaleuca ericifolia) – Supports healthy respiratory function (similar to eucalyptus)
  • Spruce (Tsuga canadensis)
  • Sweet Marjoram (Origanum marjorana)
  • Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)
  • Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
  • Thyme ct. linalool (Thymus vulgaris ct linalol)
This quick, easy-to-make natural vapor rub is my family's "go to" during cold and flu season.

Natural Vapor Rub Recipe

This is the recipe I use for adults – feel free to substitute any of the essential oils above if you have them on hand, just don’t use more than 3 drops of cinnamon leaf or 12 drops of expeller-pressed lemon. For kid-safe recipes, scroll below.

*If you’re pregnant or nursing, here are some additional guidelines for essential oil use


In a double boiler (or a stainless steel bowl set in side a pot of boiling water), gently melt shea butter. As soon as it is completely melted, remove it from heat and stir in the essential oils. Transfer the mixture to a container with a tight fitting lid and store in a cool area when not in use.

Natural Vapor Rub Recipe (Kid Version)

I’ve written before about why and how to dilute essential oils for daily use. However, during times of illness or injury it’s appropriate to use higher concentrations than we normally would. Below are some guidelines that will help you choose what’s best for your littles.

Vapor Rub (1% dilution) 

This dilution is the recommended starting point for kids 2-5. However, it is appropriate to go up to 3% for short periods of time as needed.

Vapor Rub (2-3% dilution)

This dilution is the recommended starting point for kids 6-9. However, it is appropriate to go up to 6% for short periods of time as needed.

Vapor Rub (6% dilution)

This is the strongest dilution suggested for kids 6-9.


In a double boiler (or a stainless steel bowl set in side a pot of boiling water), gently melt shea butter. As soon as it is completely melted, remove it from heat and stir in the essential oils. Transfer the mixture to a container with a tight fitting lid and store in a cool area when not in use.

What if my child is under two years old?

According to a clinical aromatherapist I posed this question to, the best approach is to diffuse essential oils for this age group. Here’s a recipe you can adapt based on what you have on hand.



Diffuse oils as needed. A good rule of thumb is 30-60 minutes on, one hour off, then repeat if desired. Another option is to place the oils in an inhaler to take on-the-go.

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world.