Homemade All-Natural Vapor Rub with Kid-Safe Options

This Homemade Vapor Chest Rub is an affordable, easy recipe that's made with all natural ingredients. It relieves discomfort associated with stuffy noses, coughs and chest congestion, so you and your family can feel better fast and everyone can get a better night's sleep.

homemade vapor rub in small glass jar with essential oils and thermometer in background

Most of us know the soothing smell of Vicks from when mom brought it out during cold and flu season. The menthol scent basically kind of makes you feel better just smelling it. What you might not know, however, is that the ingredients in commercial vapor rubs, while not super toxic, are not the best.

Thankfully, this homemade vapor rub recipe works just as well as "the real thing" and there and that I've made sure to share safety options for even small children too.

Making your own natural products is great since you can customize them as needed while choosing better options for ingredients than what's used in most over the counter products.

Our DIY Chest Rub Experience

One night, our youngest son's nose was completely stuffed up. It was allergy season, so a bit of sniffling was normal, but a fully-clogged nose was not.

He was pretty miserable.

I reached for my trusted saline nasal spray and encouraged lots of nose blowing, but he still couldn't breathe well.

Luckily, I remembered seeing online that Homemade Vapor Rub was indeed a thing. I was determined to figure this out, and fast.

I quickly experimented, whipped up a batch of this rub and rubbed some on my son's chest.

About ten minutes later, he was asleep :-).

Is Vicks Vapor Rub Safe?

The truth is-- store bought Vapor Rub isn't great, but it's not worthy of a hazmat suit either.

Compared to spraying glyphosate on your weeds (it's been heavily linked to cancer) and perfume-laden products in your home and on your body (they are known neurotoxins), Vicks Vapor Rub isn't that bad.

(Side note: for great alternatives to the above offenders, check out my DIY Weed Killer and DIY Essential Oil Body Spray for starters).

Even though one blogger refers to Vicks as "deadly vapor rub", it's just not.

However, here are some reasons why you might want to avoid Vicks and make your own homemade vapor rub instead.

Petrolatum - Derived from petroleum, which is known to be often contaminated with PAHs, which have been classified by the European Union as a carcinogen and are also linked to skin irritation and allergies. (source)

Synthetic Essential Oils - Vicks clearly states that the camphor oil in their product is synthetic. While they claim it's just as effective as natural camphor, it's still synthetic. I prefer not to use synthetic essential oils--just the real thing for me, please. There are other options and when you make this chest rub yourself, you can choose the oils that work best for you, just do make sure to only use pure essential oils.

Turpentine - This doesn't really belong in this list because it's really not scary when used appropriately. Since it's used as a paint thinner, many think that this component of Vicks is horrifying, but hey, olive oil can remove eye makeup and that's for sure not hazmat suit material.

homemade vapor rub in small glass jar with essential oils and thermometer in background

Ingredients

Here's a basic list of the simple ingredients used for this recipe. For the full details and measurements, see the recipe card below.

Instructions

Following are the basic instructions for making this chest rub. For more detailed information, see the recipe card below.

Melt the carrier oil, if needed.

Add essential oils and optional beeswax, and stir.

Store in a glass container.

Menthol Crystals and Camphor Oil

While I don't use them in this formula, there are some posts about DIY vapor rubs out there recommending the use of menthol crystals and camphor oil. While you can of course use either of these in your rub, here are a few things to consider.

Menthol crystals are very intense and some people have reported discomfort while using them. If you choose to try them, you would only need to use about 1/8 teaspoon of crystals for this formula. A little bit really goes a long way.

Regarding the camphor, note that it is toxic. Though it's truly only toxic in large amounts, it's still best to use caution, especially with children. You can read more about camphor toxicity here.

How to Use

Of course the typical use for a chest rub is--on your chest! Pretty clever, huh? It's great to keep in your natural medicine cabinet to help open airways, address and more. However, vapor rub is also known for helping with sore muscles and joint pain. See this post for more alternative uses for vapor rub.

How to Make a Kid-Safe Chest Rub

There are a few things to keep in mind regarding essential oil safety when making a kid-safe version of homemade vicks (or any natural remedy that uses essential oils): the type and concentration of the essential oils used.

While eucalyptus, peppermint, and rosemary are well known for respiratory support, you have to be careful using these around young children.

Eucalyptus, rosemary, and peppermint all contain 1,8, cineole, which can sometimes cause problems with the temperature receptors in kids' lungs leading to breathing difficulties. I could get into a lot more details, but here is some basic information on each of these.

Rosemary, as a result isn't recommended for kids under 10.

Most forms of eucalyptus (eucalyptus globulus and eucalyptus radiata) aren't considered to be safe for kids, however Eucalyptus Divas is fine. It's just harder to find.

Peppermint is also problematic for the above reasons.

Thankfully there are other oils that support respiratory function that can be used for kids, some of which are lavender and lemon. I provided a kid-safe option in the recipe card, but you can make your own knowing the following basic math details.

There are 295 drops in a tablespoon. 3 drops of an essential oil in 1 tablespoon of a carrier oil (replacing the carrier oil) would be a 1% dilution. 6 drops would be a 2% dilution, and so on)

Here are the safe dilution details for different age groups.

Ages 2-5: 1%. Can use up to 3% for short periods of time

Ages 6-9: 2-3%--up to 6% for short periods

Under Age 2: Diffuse only

homemade vapor rub in small glass jar with essential oils and thermometer in background
homemade vapor rub in glass container

Homemade Vapor Rub with Kid-safe Options

This Homemade All-Natural Vapor Rub is the perfect thing to help you breathe and sleep better when you aren't feeling well, or are suffering from the sniffles or congestion.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes

Equipment

  • Small Jars
  • Small Pan for heating
  • stainless steel bowl

Ingredients

Older Child / Adult Version

Younger Child Version

Instructions

  • Melt the coconut oil (or other solid carrier oil) in a small pan over low heat, if needed. If using shea butter, use a double boiler or alternative.
  • Heat until just melted, then remove from heat.
  • Allow mixture to cool for about 5 minutes so that it's still liquid, but not as warm. This will allow you to blend the essential oils into the mixture without damaging the oils' healing qualities.
  • If using beeswax, stir into the rub after removing from heat.
  • Add essential oils and blend well.
  • Pour blend into a small glass jar.
  • To use, rub mixture on chest or wherever needed.
  • Store closed jar in a dark, cool place for up to 1 year.

Notes

Alternative carrier oils that would work well for this rub include palm oil or cocoa butter. Olive oil or almond oil will work great but will not result in a solid chest rub.
Note that if you choose to use shea butter, you'll want to heat it over a double boiler over hot water. If you heat or cool off shea butter too quickly, it can turn grainy--it's a bit more finicky to work with than other carrier oils.
The small amount of beeswax adds texture / heft to the formula.
 
 
 
Tried this recipe?Mention @wholenewmom or tag #wholenewmom!

This post was originally published in 2015. I updated it with more information and new images. Following is a copy of the original image for reference.

Uncapped small green translucent jar with its cap beside it

I'd love to hear how this works for you!

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147 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I look forward to trying this vapor rub. I will be experiencing some. I am a huge fan of Castro Oil just as a foot massage oil. It helps with sleep. I wonder how it would work with this recipe?

      1. 5 stars
        Yeah, I have used castor oil packs for years, too. The stomach packs calm and makes you drowsy they are time consuming and kinda messy, but totally worth it. I have used small packs all over the body with a lot of success. My favorite me thing is to massage my toes with a small mixture of castor oil and coconut oil two or three nights a week. I’m 69 and have nerve pain in my toes, it is a game changer for me.
        About the vapor rub. I know I will probably need to use bee wax or coconut oil as well because the castor oil is thin like cooking oil.
        Also, I don’t know if I should mention this, but The Dollar Tree has great small glass jars for us that do alot of DIY.
        I do enjoy your newsletter. We are gluten free eater’s, but I still learn something.

        1. I've done some of them- not as many as I could have...they really calmed my son down. I love that you are saying that about your toes. I have someone I need to email about that. You can do castor oil, but it will just be thin - that's OK!

          That's fine about the Dollar Tree :). Probably it's the $1.25 tree b/c of inflation now, sadly.

          Thanks for the kind words! You mentioned that you are GF but still learn something--do you mean that you would like more recipes or that you are pretty experienced w/ GF eating?

          I hope to have a lot more content soon--almost done a new post on zeolite ;).

  2. Someone has probably already mentioned this, but...
    The 1,8-Cineole content of eucalyptus and menthol in peppermint can cause a slowing down of breathing and possible neurological side effects in young children. The latest I've seen from Tisserand is that peppermint should be avoided altogether in children under 3 and at a dilution rate of 0.5% for children 3-6. Eucalyptus should be at a 0.5% dilution for children under three and at 1% for the 3-6 range. https://tisserandinstitute.org/learn-more/kids-inhalation-safety/
    For the recipe, you have 2Tbsp of oil-- 0.5% of that is 4.5 drops, 1% is 9 drops. So the "any amount" needs to be qualified. If someone uses eucalyptus for all 12 EO drops, the resulting rub would not be suitable for children.

    1. Thanks for sharing this. I updated the post with additional safety information. Sorry it took so long to respond. Your comment got buried and I just noticed it again. Take care!

  3. You should reconsider the pure spirit gum of turpentine, it's an old time remedy that healed my elder family members. I probably wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the real turpentine.

  4. Are your samples still available? Can this be used on any age? I have a 5 & 15 yr old as well as my husband and myself.

    1. Hello there - Did you mean to leave this regarding the CBD oil? There are samples of that available. Feel free to email me at wholenewmom {at} gmail {dot} com or adrienne {at} wholenewmom {dot} com.

  5. Hi is the final chest rub liquid form? Or solid like the commercially available vapor rub? If liquid, can it be changed into solid?

  6. A thought on turpentine: turpentine has long been used as a chest rub, however, modern turpentine is usually a petroleum distillate called mineral turpentine, which is very different chemically from past turpentine, which was made from pine oleoresin as a byproduct of resin production. That kind of turpentine may not be quite as unhealthy.

  7. This is the reason that it is suggested to avoid the use of these essential oils (and others containing a high content of these chemical constituents) in young children. Peppermint is safe to use at 6+ years, but ALL eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils should be avoided until 10+ years of

    1. Hi there. Tisserand, who is well regarded as the expert in EO safety, says that you can use both peppermint and euc at younger ages - Peppermint at age 3-6 can be diffused or used topically up to .5% and Euc can be diffused or used topically up to .5% under 3 and diffused or used topically up to 1% for 3-6 years.

      I'm seeing mixed thoughts on rosemary.

      This is all very confusing. Why the differing info?

    2. I have the menthol crystals. How do I incorporate those. Also would I use the other essential oils too?

      Loving this!
      Thanks

      1. Hi there. I can't really advise on this. I think the menthol is super strong and as I mentioned in the post, should be used w/ caution. Please do be careful!

    1. Hello there. Actually, according to Tisserand, the expert in essential oil safety, he says you can use peppermint can be used for ages 3-6 diffused or topically up to .5%. For Euc. he says it can be used on kids under 3 diffused or topically up to .5% and for ages 3-6 it can be diffused or used topically to 1%. https://tisserandinstitute.org/learn-more/kids-inhalation-safety/

      I guess it depends on whom you are talking to but caution is advised.

  8. Hi, please suggest a baby safe chest rub for my 2 months old. She has a terrible cough and I dnt want to give her medicines orally...pls help..

    1. Hi there. The post has been updated with new safety information. I hope it's more helpful now.

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