This easy to make Homemade Vapor Rub is a great all-natural alternative to the ever-popular Vicks® VapoRub many people know and love. It works great and is sure to become your family’s “go to” during the sniffle season–and beyond!
Years ago, I realized that I could save a lot of money and reduce toxins in our lives by making my own, well–many things.
Those are all super helpful things, but when your child is sick, necessity becomes the mother of invention in a whole new way.
Homemade Decongestant Chest Rub
One night at bedtime, 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. There aren’t many things more difficult for a mom than when her child is suffering.
I reached for my trusted saline nasal spray and encouraged lots of nose blowing, but he still couldn’t breathe well.
Luckily, I remembered an email I had gotten from a reader, mentioning that she had a recipe for Homemade Vapor Rub. 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.
It worked great. About ten minutes later, he was asleep :-).
Why should you make a homemade chest rub?
Of course, Vicks® works great, but here are three good reasons to make your own rub instead.
Aside from addressing congestion and cough issues, did you know that vapor rub is also great for things like sore muscles, and aching joints? You can even use it after a workout or for regular aches and pains and more.
You really might want to have a chest rub around for more than just when you’re sick, so why not make it yourself and really save some money!
There are reasons to be concerned about what you put on your skin. It’s known that many things that you put on your skin (your largest organ) are actually absorbed into your bloodstream.
Absorption is, of course, dependent on molecular size, but that is not the only factor at work. (source) And once absorption happens, it bypassed the liver (and the filtration that happens there) and can be a concern.
Personally, some ingredients in Vicks® are things I would prefer to avoid. For example:
- Petrolatum is derived from petroleum, which is known to be often contaminated with PAHs, a toxic compound, and as such, has been classified by the European Union as a carcinogen. (source)
- Turpentine. While it might sound worse than it really is, it is for certain a potential lung irritant.
- Similarly, the main active ingredient in Vicks® is synthetic camphor oil. Camphor oil itself is a known irritant, and ironically can even cause coughing. (source) Additionally, I recommend using pure essential oils only.
If you make your own chest rub, you can make it however you wish.
Allergic to menthol? Avoid it. Have a young child, you can use kid-safe essential oils only!
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.
Regarding the crystals, just know that they 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, it’s important to 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. My post on the other uses of vapor rub has a lot of information on that as well.
What should you use for a kid-safe homemade vapor rub?
If you are making this Homemade Vicks for young children, please take care to use only essential oils that are safe for the child’s age, and be very careful about diluting them properly. See safety notes below.
What base / carrier oil is best to use?
This formula is very forgiving. You can use almost any oil you like. There are somewhat fancier methods out there but I went for simple here. Just lightly heat and stir.
You can make this rub with or without beeswax. As indicated, you can use either palm oil, coconut oil, or shea butter.
What’s a good container for this rub?
You can use whatever you like, but is a great option for a container from Amazon. Nice compact size. Of course you can use any small container with a tightly fitting lid. I like glass, but you can also choose a plastic option to avoid breakage concerns.
Homemade Vapor Rub | Decongestant Chest Rub
- Small Jars
- Small Pan for heating
- stainless steel bowl
- Place the shea butter or other solid oil in the top of a double boiler (or stainless steel bowl set on top of a saucepan full of water) over low heat. Heat until just melted. If using a liquid oil, you can skip this step.
- When melted, carefully remove the pan from the 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 to the carrier oil. Blend well.
- Pour blend into a small glass jar.
- To use, rub mixture on chest.
- Store closed jar in a dark, cool place for up to 1 year.
Kid-friendly Homemade Chest Rub
For a Kid-friendly version of this rub, use the following essential oil combination:
- 4 drops tea tree essential oil
- 2 drops thyme essential oil
- 2 drops lavender essential oil
- 2 drops frankincense essential oil
- 2 drops lemon essential oil
Please do your own research when it comes to using essential oils, particularly on young children and around pets. Consult with an aromatherapy expert or your physician for appropriate dilution amounts and before using essential oils on young children.
In general, note that camphor oil should be avoided for young children, and rosemary oil should be avoided for children under 10.
Eucalyptus and other 1,8 cineole-rich essential oils should not be instilled (includes being placed, inhaled, or atomized) into the nose of infants or young children.
1,8 cineole or cineole rich essential oils should not be placed on the face of children under 10. The source for the above two statements are in Tisserand’s book, Essential Oil Safety – 2nd Edition. (source)
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.
I’d love to hear how this works for you!