Homemade Decongestant Chest Rub – Compare to Vicks®

DIY Chest Rub Recipe! Ditch the Vicks® and make this instead! No added chemical nasties and much cheaper!

I never even thought of making my own decongestant chest rub.

In fact, I had completely forgotten that there even was a product like that.

Until I needed it.

Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

In this case, yes.  And though I didn’t really invent this, I finally cobbled together information from the internet and made my own.

About two weeks ago, at bedtime, my youngest son’s nose was completely stuffed up.  It’s allergy season here so a bit of sniffling is to be expected, but not the total clogging that he was experiencing.  And he was pretty miserable.  There is nothing harder for a mom than when her child is suffering and you don’t know how to help him.

We tried our saline nasal rinse and blowing, but neither worked well at all.

Then I remembered an email I had gotten from a reader, mentioning that she had a recipe for Vicks Rub.

So I reread her email and the web and I was once again off and running to “Make Your Own Land :-).”

If you have the ingredients on hand, this is a breeze.   And it has much cleaner ingredients than the commercial brand.

Now some people might not think that it is a big deal, but there is reason to be concerned about what you put on your skin.

1.  Think about how pharmaceutical companies are producing drug patches these days.  You put the patch on and the drug seeps into your skin.

2.  Then there is the whole paraben/breast cancer issue.  Parabens (used in lots of personal care products) haven been found in breast cancer tissue.  You can read this article on the FDA’s website to read more on this topic.

The jury is still out on how the parabens got in there.  And I know that there are different sizes of molecules so that some things may pass through the skin while others won’t.

Then, I looked at the ingredients in Vicks and thought,  “who wants to put turpentine oil on a child’s skin anyway?”  Yes, there is turpentine oil in Vicks — Ugh!) (UPDATE 1/1/13: I was just informed by a reader that turpentine oil is approved for use in decongestant rubs.  However, I will say that there is a warning on one of the resources that I checked, stating that:

There isn’t enough information to know whether turpentine oil can be safely inhaled by children or put on their skin. It’s best to avoid any use of turpentine oil in children.

There is also petrolatum in Vicks and I try to avoid that whenever I can.)

So, I whipped up a batch, rubbed some on my son’s chest and even dabbed some on his PJ’s directly under his nose.  Another good tip is to place some on the sick person’s pillow.

It worked immediately and about ten minutes later, he was asleep :-).

I got my great little container at Mountain Rose Herbs.  Nice color, nice compact size and travels well.

Important note:  Do not apply undiluted essential oils directly to the skin, or injest them, unless otherwise directed by the manufacturer.

I hope this works for you!

If you enjoy frugal, healthy options to over the counter products, check out my Recipes page where you can find a lot more “Make Your Own” options including:

Interested in more about Essential Oils?

Do you have a favorite natural remedy that you would care to share?

Or leave a comment with something that you would like a natural remedy for.  I’m game for a challenge!

Comments

    Speak Your Mind

    *

  1. This really does work. I have made this with peppermint. Smearing a small bit under the nose also works well.

  2. A couple of years ago I read somewhere that if you were coughing a lot at night, schmear Vicks VapoRub on the bottoms of your feet and then put socks on….it would help stop the coughing. It worked! Now I will try this recipe…far better for you, I am sure!
    Thanks, Adrienne!
    Now…any ideas on what to put on our cats nose? She has had a bad cold the past few days and keeps shaking her head to clear the snot out. Then she licks her poor nose. It is now raw and very tender. I put a dab of chapstick on it earlier…any thoughts?

  3. Adrienne…Wow, my daughter and I were in the kitchen making our shower gel, body butter and deodorant last night since we needed to stock up! This is timely with the congestion rub. I usually use Badger Balm mixed with eucalyptus and oil of oregano. Your recipe is much less expensive! Thanks. Here is a super easy body butter we’ve had good luck with: 4 T. shea butter, 2 T. coconut oil…just mash them together till mixed well and then add whatever EOs you choose..or keep it plain. Not too greasy and natural and inexpensive, too. Have a great weekend!

    • I am so glad to have helped! Thanks for the body butter info. Does it stain? Speaking of good timing, I have been meaning to order shea butter (refined, right?) to make my own hard lotion bars. Does your lotion stain?

      Also, would you mind sharing your shower gel info? I had a reader ask about that awhile ago when I posted my recipe for homemade foaming soap.

  4. WOW! :-) I’m so excited! I need to stock up on essential oils.

  5. Oh…I’m excited to make this! I use Vicks just about every night and always wondered if it would hurt me. Now I’ll just use this…I know it’ll be fine for me! Thanks!

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    http://homemadenaturalsoaps.blogspot.com/
    I also have another blog, daily life, health & food you might enjoy reading.
    http://mylifeinwhichhehasplacedme.blogspot.com/

  7. Thanks for the recipe. I will definitely be trying this.

    I’d love it if you linked this post to my Making a Home linky! :)

    Linda @ Linda’s Lunacy
    http://www.lindaslunacy.blogspot.com

  8. I am a newbie at using essential oils… when you say “don’t apply directly to skin,” you mean undiluted oils, right? Because the oil-plus-essential-oil concoction gets rubbed directly onto the skin? Just checking… :)

    Thank you so much for this! We have used Vicks for really bad colds, but I’m glad to have a natural alternative to try next cold season. One question though…I really like that the Vicks has menthol and camphor too, to help ease coughing and throat pain. Are those natural and available, or should I stick to eucalyptus oil?

    We also put Vicks (and now, we will use this!) on the soles of our feet – especially for young ones. It works nicely.

    • You are right about not applying undiluted oils directly to your skin. I will go back and change the post :-).

      I saw that Vicks has camphor and menthol as well. You can get camphor in essential oil form (and I plan to do that), but I am not able to find menthol. According to wisegeek.com, menthol is “an organic compound naturally occurring in mint plants. It is also synthetically manufactured. Menthol is widely used in a number of products and features certain therapeutic qualities. It was first isolated from peppermint oil in 1771 in the West, but it may have been in use in Japan for much longer.”

      I am going to email two friends who have pretty good essential oil knowledge and find out what they know.

      • The menthol is in the eucalyptus and the peppermint essential oils. I make this rub using coconut oil and a mixture of eucalyptus, peppermint, and lavendar (which also improves breath and has the added benefit of general calming). Also, when I have a sore muscle or tendon I take a little of this rub, add a few drops of arnica tincture, and rub it on the sore spot. It really makes a difference quickly. Beware, though, that arnica can be an irritant, so use with caution.

  9. I’ve just recently started reading labels and I am really shocked at what is in them.I use Vicks quite alot but, I have not read its label yet.
    I will have to try your chest rub!
    Thanks for sharing !!

  10. Great post! You can also get menthol at Mountain Rose Herbs – that is how I make my vapor rub. Menthol, camphor, eucalyptus, bees wax and olive oil (although coconut oil would work fine too.) I love that you are making yor own!

  11. Hi!
    Here’s a link to the vapor rub I make w/oils and beeswax. :) Works wonders!!!

    Also, you should consider the unrefined shea butter as it is simply more natural. They do all sorts of things to the shea butter to “Purify” it including using all sorts of nasties. You can melt it at a low temp and strain it through a fine sieve if there are nut shell particles, etc. in it. Just my two cents worth. Plus, it smells so much better!

    • Thanks for the info!
      I had actually heard from someone in the natural skin care business that refined was the way to go. I was hoping to try my hand at making homemade lotion bars with the shea butter and it just arrived the other day.

      Can you tell me what they use to refine it? I was wondering the same about the refining process as well.

      Also, I was previously using NOW brand’s shea butter and they changed the process. I can’t recall what the change was, but it used to be very easy to use and now it is much more difficult to apply. Where do you get yours from?

      Thanks again!

    • You mentioned a link, but I don’t see it? can you post it again?

  12. We use the eucalyptus and chamomile in jojoba or sweet almond oil for a chest rub, and if they have a cough we will mix 1 drop of oil of oregano into some oil and rub on the soles of their feet – works like a charm – no more cough in about 10min!!

    You can also put a vaporizer (even a bowl of hot water on the floor register) and put lavender, tea tree and eucalyptus in it for it to permeate the room.

  13. Here’s the basic recipe for a bug repellant I came across last summer. It worked pretty well.
    Mulu base (?), Citronella, Lavender, Cedarwood, Pennyroyal,
    Lemongrass, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Catnip oil, and Vitamin E. Blessings!

  14. I just placed my very first order with Mountain Rose…and it should arrive Monday, I got essential oil, Lavender and what do you know eucyliptus too…I’ll try a batch of this as my son gets bad stuffed noses..thanks for sharing….

  15. That is a wonderful substitute for the commercial product.

  16. Hi, just found you site, it is wonderful!!!
    What a great idea!!! I had a similar issue with my 5 y.o. he had green ick in the corners of his eyes and coming from his nose in great quantity this winter and I did not have the resources for and had not thought of this treatment, but I had an old bottle of colloidal silver, and since I have been reading up on all the nasties involved with meds and antibiotics, and actually giving him some (that didn’t work, it came right back). I decided to try the Colloidal silver in his nose, I dropped 3 drops in his nose once a day for three days cleared it up completely, after he had had this going on for months.

    • Hi Anneke!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      I will say, that I am rethinking this “recipe”. It didn’t work after the first time when my son and I both had very bad sinus colds. I am experimenting now with a new kind of essential oils that is much more potent, so hopefully that will do the trick! Stay in touch!

  17. Hi! Just popping in via dandelion house. I’ve been making our “vicks” for years. Here’s a link, if that’s ok— http://kimberlys-cup.blogspot.com/2009/10/homemade-vapor-rub.html
    BTW-You might want to rethink refined shea butter. The chemicals they are using for the refining are pretty nasty. You can buy unrefined and then just melt and strain it yourself. :) I was shocked when I found out about the shea bc I thought I was using the best possible stuff for all my body butters and lotions.

    • Thanks for the tip! Kimberly, can you tell me how to strain the shea butter? I would appreciate it a great deal. I haven’t made my own lotion bars yet w/ the shea butter that I bought, but I had heard from the owner of a lotion bar company that she recommended refined. I don’t recall now what her reasoning is. Thanks in advance!

  18. Thanks for all of this, I have made a chest rub from
    15 drops Eucalyptus essential oil
    7 drops Peppermint essential oil
    2 drops Cedarwood essential oil
    in 2 tablespoons (30g) shea butter or virgin coconut oil
    1/3 cup (75ml) jojoba or olive oil
    While it is not too bad I find the smell is a bit mild when you are all snuffly so have bought some menthol ess. Oil to add into it for a try, it is a nice soft consistency. Vicks is also petroleum jelly based which is not a great thing.
    Here is a quick recipe it is called un-petroleum jelly a safe alternative to Petroleum Jelly
    2 oz of beeswax
    10 oz of oil (I used a combination of skin nutrient oils)
    Melt the beeswax slowly in the microwave or in a double boiler, Once melted slowly add the oil Castor oil is good (see note below:) and mix. Pour in sterile jars and let cool.
    Note: I heat my oil before I mix it with the beeswax because of the higher temperature of the beeswax cause the whole mixture to cool before everything is mixed together.
    You now have a very effective safe alternative to petroleum jelly
    Anything you would have normally used petroleum jelly for use this instead.
    This might help someone

  19. Hi everyone i’am new to this site and also to making soap and lotion bars.I have started a small home based buisness for right now.I am looking for a easy receipe for lotion bars for the winter.using shea butter bees wax and vicks salve .My problem is i don’t know how much of each to use for making 4 or more 2 oz bars.can somebody please help thanks so much waiting reply

    • Hi Pam. I have been hoping to make these as well. I can’t promise how soon it will be, but with the weather getting cooler I will try to do it soon. Feel free to send me a reminder email via my Contact Me page if you don’t see the post in the near future :-).

  20. Adrienne, I’m glad to see that you’re not using the OTC Vicks! Studies have shown that it can do more harm than good. Several years ago when my cat scan showed lung issues, the first thing the pulmonologist asked was “Have you been using Vicks Vapor Rub?” Apparently, Vicks contains petrolatum which can enter the lung and cause lung inflammation. (I hadn’t been using it so that wasn’t the problem.) I’ve also read a few problms associated with the camphor. So please check that out. It’s scary what’s in products now a days! A hope your son is feeling better.

    • Thanks for your comment! I am planning on a new version of this and it doesn’t contain camphor – glad to hear that information! I knew about issues w/ petrolatum, but didn’t know about it entering the lungs – scary!

  21. Hi Adrienne,
    Can you tell me if you ever revised your recipe for the vicks rub. I am interested in making some myself for my family and noticed that you mentioned you were rethinking the recipe. Please post new recipe if you have a new and improved one :)
    Thank you.
    Maggie

    • Hi Maggie!
      I am sorry but I had a recipe picked out that looked super effective. If you need it right away, you can drop me a line at wholenewmom at gmail dot com I’d be happy to share w/ you. I am in the midst of a great search for the best essential oils and will hopefully post after that :-). I will probably revise it but I can give you what I have for now.

  22. Susan Cyr says:

    Have any of you ever tried Winter Green…VS…..Tylenol…..great for reducing fevers and aches and pains caused by the fever….just rub it all over…..used it since I was a kid, used it on my daughter and she would tell you it works…

  23. Regine Johnson says:

    would tea tree oil work

  24. Terpentine- A volatile pungent oil distilled from gum turpentine or pine wood.
    it’s natural, and I wouldn’t be afraid to use it on the skin. I like the smell of pine, and even terp. LOL just not alone.

  25. I use YL oils for 3 years now, and love it!

  26. CrunchyLady says:

    I want to caution about using TOO much EO in your blend in small children, it can stop their breathing. With that said this does work well! Also, can I suggest another more affordable option to YL’s oils? I don’t care for their prices or their sales pitch stating you can ingest EO’s safely. A small mom and pop “company” I have been ordering from for years has been really amazing when it comes to prices, quality prices, and customer service. Please check out http://birchhillhappenings.com/. I am in no way affiliated with the company, nor do I get a kickback for naming them. I have just really been pleased as I stated above.

    • Thanks . I did look at them but I am forgetting now what I was concerned about. I think it was that some of their oils appeared to be priced below wholesale which would likely indicate adulterating. But thank you!

  27. I do this with Tei Fu oil. It has also worked WONDERS for my asthma. I dilute it with grapeseed oil or jojoba oil, rub on my chest, put a warm moist towel over it, followed by a dry towel and wrap up in my robe. It can have a warming and cooling affect like icy hot and relaxes the chest muscles and makes it so much easier to breathe. I’ve spared myself a few asthma ER visits this way!

    • Never heard of Tei Fu – what is that??

      • It is an oil blend and judging by the website I found it has a lot more uses than I would have suspected! This is the link I found with information on it, including an ingredient list:

        http://www.theherbsplace.com/Tei_Fu_Essential_Oil_Blend_Pocket_Size_p_56.html

        • Although, now that I’m reading it I feel a little sketchy about it not being used during pregnancy. I don’t know enough about oils to understand but since being pregnant I developed this attitude that if it’s no good for pregnancy and breast feeding chances are, it’s probably not the best product I could be using. I just barely starting to recover from my pregnancy (I was very ill through most of it) so I seem to have paranoia brain about anything that can’t be used during such a sensitive time.

          • Hi Erin! I know this post was from a while ago, but if you haven’t already found the answer I just wanted to let you know that certain essential oils cannot be used during pregnancy because they could cause contractions, early labor, complications, etc. Stuff that you wouldn’t have to worry about not pregnant. And during breastfeeding the reason is that babies/children can’t handle the same stuff adults can because their bodies aren’t developed enough and whatever we ingest, comes out in breast milk.

  28. Lauri Valdez says:

    I currently have a sinus and upper respiratory infection I am using YoungLiving Essential oils. I am using Eucalyptus, Raven(blend), RC(blend)Thieves(blend) and peppermint oil. and it is working great!

  29. I love natural remedies and am so happy to find one that replaces Vicks! Can’t wai to try it out! Thanks heaps.

  30. KBL~RAL-NC says:

    Actually turpentine has been used for many years (historically speaking) as it has many curative properties. It used to be included in salves & creams for raw, chapped skin as well as for healing sores on the skin, so it’s not as “yuck” as you think! Think pine resin, which it is made from. Herbalists still use some of these ingredients & there is a company (whose name I forget) that still makes it’s age-old salve for chapped hands & such with turpentine in it. I’ve found it to heal very well. After all, a lot of our DIY now are falling back on the ways things were done before modern Western Medicine. Sometimes we forget that with products (such as Vicks) which have been around for a very long time. The camphor, turpentine, menthol, etc. all have curative properties. Vick’s has been around since the 1890′s and was made under the name “Vick’s Family Remedies”, which is exactly what you are doing, yes? Here’s more info on the history of Vick’s

    http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2012/08/09/vicks-vaporub-has-a-venerable-history/

  31. I use YL oils and LOVE them! I have found significant differences between DoTerra, other essential oils I have purchased from natural food stores and Young Living oils. The efficacy and healing properties are completely different. I would love to discuss essential oils with you more if you are interested in my experiences.

    Can you view my email address that I enter to comment on your blog?

    • Yes, I can, Nicole – thanks. I have already (well, still am) a YL distributor but thanks for the offer :-). I would still possibly be interested in hearing if you would like to email me – thanks!

  32. Put the rub on feet! You will be surprised at how much better and faster it works than putting it on the chest or face!

  33. Karen Dennis says:

    Gritman essential oils, out of Friendswood, Texas is very good. My choice for essential oils for more than 10 years.

  34. Terpens are any class of natural product extract that has the correct molecular structure. Most plant extracts are terpentines. It doesnt mean the paint thinner. Eucalyptus oil containes terpenes as does most essential oils. Thanks for the recipe.

    Source::double masters in natural products organic chemistry with research into oils and terpene extractions

    • I am not sure what you are referring to. This link to ingredients on Amazon shows that turpentine oil is in the Vapo Rub.

      • “Turpen”tine is okay to use. I grew up on a farm and anytime we got a sore place from a smashed thumb with a hammer or running into the footboard of a bed, Mom always doused it with turpentine. Does not get sore and does not burn. I and my brother and sister used it on our children and they are using on their children. I still use it today and people are amazed to learn. Make use you buy turpentiine and not mineral spirits. Petroleum jelly can penetrate the skin. The molecules are huge and takes a while to soak through. Essential oils can be combined with almond, coconut, olive oil, and will penetrate but will take longer and is messier. Putting oil on bottom of feet works because it is all related to the reflexology system of the body through the feet.

  35. I hope you choose Youngliving!!!

  36. Hi this might seem crazy but I was wondering is it possible to rub the Vicks vapor rub on your breast also cause being I’m a female I usually rub it at the top, in the middle and the bottom of my chest! But I usually feel like the cold is under my breast! Just wondering if u can let me know!

  37. Please be careful and check your ingredients on things! My husband recently died from kidney cancer and one of the causes is petroleum products. Vicks Vapor Rub has petroleum based ingredients in it. I am attemtpting to rid my home of anything that has or is petroleum based. Some folks think I’m a bit nuts, but from diagnosis to death was 6 months. Too many toxins going into our system unnecessarily, and my personal choice is to be healthier. Keep up the good work Adrienne!!

    • That is so interesting to me..just yesterday I shared a free Kindle book on Facebook and it said that petroleum jelly doesn’t go through the skin. Do you know any differently? Thanks.

  38. Use Young Living it’s better. Do Terra was started by people who left Young Living and started their own oils because Young Livings were to strong for them so they created Do Terra’s which are more diluted.

  39. I use DoTerra in my practice and personally. I love their oils compared to others that I have tried. They seem to be more organic and not diluted by other things!

    • Glad you like them. Why do you say they are organic. I haven’t heard too many claims about whether their oils are organic or not. Do you mena organically grown?

  40. I mean more organic in the fact that they are not diluted by other things. I was buying some “essential oils” from a local retailer and found out that they had other things mixed in and they were not pure essential oils, I have also found this with some online companies as well.

    • Gotcha. Just making sure we’re on the same page. I think if you check out my post on oils you will see that there are some concerns raised about their distillation methods. You might find it interesting and I’d love to know what you think.

      • I read recently to find out if a EO has any fillers added to the oil, put a drop on a piece of paper. Wait a hour or two. If there’s any oil marks on the paper you’ll know that there’s “something” added to the oil and it’s not “pure”. This test would be for single oils only, as blends may have coconut or some other oil added to the mixture. I tried it with my Young Living Peppermint and Orange and there was no markings left on the paper. Now, I need to try it on the health store (stinky) Peppermint oil that I bought just for comparison.

        • I heard that from several sources, but the owner of Native American Nutritionals (the company I am recommending for oils) says it isn’t true. He said a carrier oil will show up but not the synthetic things they can put into oils.

  41. Just a little note on using peppermint on kids. Be careful using Pepermint on children as it can be too strong and cause their throats to close if they are too young. Under 3 years old you should substitute spiramint.

  42. Awesome post. We do something very similar. .45 oz Coconut oil, 1/8 tsp.(small pinch) camphor, 6 drops eucalyptus eo, 2 drops lemongrass eo, 2 drops lavender eo and 2 drops peppermint/tea tree eo <3

  43. Danielle R says:

    I work with aromatherapy. Be careful with Eucalyptus and children under 5. You can dilute it more or keep it on the feet. It can be too much for their lungs. Always read up on them(this is for all looking into aromatherapy). Young living is a great resource to learn about essential oils and cautions. Thank you for the recipe, I will be using it on my children.

    • Hi Danielle. Thanks for commenting. This is what Mr. Dean, the owner of Native American, has to say about eucalyptus:

      Eucalyptus is an oil that some people have a negative reaction where others do not. Personally it is always wise to be more careful when working with a new essential oil and the feet is a great place to start. Understanding how it will react to your body will assist you in using the oils safely. (People will react differently to the oils.)

      Now with small children, you always want to be extra careful. They have more sensitive skin and are smaller. When starting out with a new essential oil, always use a small amount mixed a bit with a carrier oil. Understand how the oil works on your child before you start using the oil more abundantly. Treat the oils with respect and use them with wisdom because they can be very powerful.

      I know that there are a lot of safety extremists out there that say all types of things about the oils. This is great information to keep the masses safe but in reality don’t hold water for most people. If you slowly use the oils in dilution, you will understand how they work for you and your family and gain more specific wisdom about your situation.

      Over twenty years ago I used pure Eucalyptus blend, with four different types of Eucalyptus, to assist in healing my newly adopted three year old daughter from a chronic lung infection she had for years. This oil was eventually put on in the chest and back in their pure form, howbeit only a couple of drops.

      Before using them in the pure form, I tested the oil for several days with a carrier oil. I used wisdom and caution in my application process and understood the power of the essential oils. The result was I got rid of a health problem in two weeks that the doctors could not get rid of with all their drugs in two and a half years. The oils are that powerful.

  44. You mention in several of your responses that you were going to try a different recipe or rework this one. However, I do not see that update. Any more thoughts?
    Thanks!

  45. I don’t have any eucalyptic or peppermint essential oil( my son took it to his house). I do have peppermint extract for Christmas baking. Would this also work in my coconut oil?

  46. Hi there,

    We recently featured your article on a blog post titled ’top 31 amazing things to make with coconut oil’

    You can find it here: http://www.honesthealthblog.com/31-amazing-things-make-coconut-oil/

    Please share if it’s ok with you! I’ve also sent you an email about this via the contact page!

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