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. I love the idea of making my own vapor rub to be safe for my family.
    My problem with the original vapor rub is this.... petrolatum. So to have information to explain why I went to a website and found the following. (My apologies if this subject was already discussed.)

    Petrolatum, commonly known as petroleum jelly, is a byproduct of petroleum. Petrolatum is a soft paraffin or wax mixture sold as a topical skin ointment. It is acknowledged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an approved over-the-counter skin protectant and is used in the manufacturing of cosmetic skin care. However the side effects of petrolatum include finding the petroleum byproduct in breast tumors, suffocation of the skin, premature aging and aggravated acne.
    I posted the website below.
    https://www.livestrong.com/article/226763-side-effects-of-petrolatum/

      1. I also noticed you do neti pot for cleaning the nasal passages. When I have a cold or worry about infection i will put a drop or two ( no more as it can be strong) of either Eucalyptus or Lavender E O in my solution. I like the results I get.

  2. I think you are overreacting to ingredients in commercial branded products. Vicks is a highly reputed brand used by millions of parents across the globe. If you think essential oils are the best, then I sincerely suggest you to read the chemical active component of every essential oil and let us see your reaction. You said which mother wants to apply turpentine oil on their children. Turpentine oil, for your kind information is the active component of Pine essential oil. (Pinus roxburghii). So applying turpentine oil is just applying essential oil of pine. If you would mention only the active chemical component of all your essential oils, then you would panic to an extent where you would feel your home made product would sound too scary. So, please read the content of the products and get sufficient knowledge before you allow your prejudice against store brought products to create fear and panic.

    1. Hi there. I guess consumers can decide for themselves what they want to put on their bodies, but I would prefer not to use turpentine. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/706749/TURPENTINE_OIL/

      https://www.livestrong.com/article/496033-is-turpentine-healthy-for-the-lungs/

      https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/81-123/pdfs/0648.pdf

      https://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2012/02/studio-safety-pt-2-facts-about.html

      Yes, we are talking about diluting it, but still I think being aware of the issues is important.

      Compare this to Pine Essential Oil, which is a 1 on EWG. Turpentine is a 5. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/704889/PINUS_%28PINE%29_OIL/

      I am very much aware that components of EOs might be unduly rated high, but I am just bringing it up so folks are aware of what is in the products that they might purchase.

      Even Wake Forest has issued a warning about Vicks. In fact, I will add this to my post. Thanks for bringing this up :). https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2009/01/Popular-Cold-and-Cough-Treatment-May-Create-Respiratory-Distress-in-Young-Children

      1. Im thankful for more natural choices and information. As a younger adult i recall Vicks giving me heart racing palpatations. We didnt know any better. Since becoming a Christian, ive prayed for our families health and was led to use the oils.

    2. No offense meant, but are you literate in chemical engineering, or preserervatives's. At all. I am from a medical family , including(a recently deceased Dr., a Pharmacutical Rep, and my Father was a Patent attourney(who was a chemica expert. I am also licensed in Cosmotology, and have worked "Extensivly" in Essential oil's, from.all over the world. You can NEVER know too much, but Petrolatum, is a BIG CHEMICAL NO NO,in face and body formulations. It block's all moisture from
      Entering, or, impurities from exiting the body. If you don't understand an ingredient, research it yourself, before you hang your hat on someone else's opinion. There are MANY GREAT OILS OUT THERE, but do som research for yourself, and then make a qualified decicsion!

  3. The small 4oz. Mason jars with the plastic lid are even better for things like this. They don't react with the oils even over time a last for pretty much forever!

    1. Hi there. This is from Aura Cacia's site:

      Pine essential oil is steam distilled from the fresh twigs and needles, of the tree -- not directly from the crude resin, as turpentine is. The twigs and needles impart a sweet-evergreen aroma to the essential oil, which also has a turpentine-like or terebinthe aroma.

      1. Sorry, I should have said that turpentine is essential oil derived from pine trees. My only point was that it's not as toxic or unnatural as folks make it out to be and has a lot of medicinal properties and it's use goes back thousands of years.

  4. I have used eucalyptus for many years on cotton balls throughout the home. It is very good by itself, even on pillow slips. Not too much or it will make the throat sore. Just a small dab on the night cloths. Never on the skin. I make a spray to keep in the bathroom with eucalyptus and 1 or 2 other oils mixed in. It is good to use throughout the home. Or in sick rooms. (my family stays quite well, Thank God!) I also make a chest rub with 2 oz. of olive oil, in 2 oz bottles with 20 drops of eucalyptus, 5 drops of peppermint, and 5 drops of two or three other ess. oils. Any will do, for the eucalyptus oil is what does the killing of germs. Rub it up and down on the throat at the first sign of a runny nose, or a tinkle in the throat. And finish by rubbing the finger you've used under the nose. I have made this for friends with children, who ask for more,

    1. Just be careful w/ eucalyptus and little ones :). Due to the high percentage of 1,8 Cineole constituent in Eucalytpus radiata and Eucalyptus globulus, we do not recommend use on children under the age of 5. Eucalyptus citriodora is a safer alternative.

  5. The problem with using Vick's Rub on the chest, is that you cannot fan about. The Doctors always said that vick's opened the pores up and you could take in more cold and make yourself worse.

    I would do some checking and make sure that the oils I was using didn't open the pores like Vick's.

  6. My daughter had an Asthma attack overnight and after using her inhaler, saline wash and everything I knew to do, a light turned on in my head and I reached for the tea tree oil. I rubbed it on her feet, put socks on and within ten minutes she was sound asleep after over five hours of continuous coughing. ?

  7. Thank you so much! I'll be making this very soon. I was trying to find a recipe like this that doesn't call for beeswax and other ingredients that I normally don't have on hand. I will post my results soon as I can.

  8. Love this! I had my first baby last May & we have been trying to find a safe decongestant. Perfect, I'll be making this asap, ????

  9. I found the same containers at Target for 99c. I use them for eyelash growth serum.

    Something to think about: everything you put on your skin, ingest, or breathe in, has to be filtered by your liver. Your skin is the largest organ so be very careful about everything to which you expose yourself. Soap, lotion, cosmetics, etc.
    The liver was never meant to be able to act as a filter to all the garbage we are exposed to nowadays. If the liver becomes toxic, overloaded with chemicals that it can't filter, then we become ill and all of our other organs, immune system and hormones are affected. Be aware, read labels and make informed choices about what goes on your skin and in your body.
    Baby oil seems innocuous. It's made from crude oil. Vaseline..same thing. Coconut oil, Cocoa Butter, Organic Apple Cider Vinegar are very wise, and very healthful alternatives to many things that we pay much more for in our everyday lives.
    Go Organic in everything you can. Google is your friend. <3

    1. Thanks! So you make your own serum? I would love to find out about it - does it work for you? Thanks for the info. You are very right about it all.

  10. Love therecommended oil companies,I use plant therapy and mountain herb and love the effects the oils have had over the years

  11. Peppermint and eucalyptus are for use on children 10 years and older due to the ability to slow respiratory functions

  12. Stumbling onto your post, I read what you wrote about terpentine oil ; 'Who wants to put terpentine oil on a child anyway?' I do!
    But I am an aromatherapist and I know the difference betwen "Essential Oil of Terpentine" and "Terpentine oil". Unfortunatelly, the english language put the same name on both, which induces a lot of confusion.
    The "Essential Oil of Terpentine" had been part of the European pharmaceutical books for more than two centuries and is very effective in case of coughs and all the respiratory infections; It is safe and very usefull.
    The "terpentine oil" is used for treating woods!!
    If both come from the Pinus pinaster bark, the 'Essential Oil of Terpentine" is made out of the sticky residu left over once all the esthers are gone, residu that contains the essential oils.
    But I've never seen any "Essential Oil of Terpentine" in the US

    You can use essential oil of Camphor in your Vapor Rub preparation without hesitation. And simply add your EO ( Eucalyptus, Ravintsare, Tea-tree, Manuka, Pine, Linanol Thyme, camphor ...) on a vegetable oil (sesame, Wheat germs oil, ...) or shea butter and put it on, it will work wonders. The EO do the work, not the carrier! But be carreful with spearmint as it has a cooling effect.

    I agree about Petrolatum which is now forbidden in European Skin care.
    I would add I do not agree with Palm oil or shortening ; look into the disasters that crop brings to underdevelopped countries because of unscrupulous multinationals. Plus the oil qualities are very disputable...

  13. Hi there,

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

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

  14. 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?

    1. No, it won't work>
      The extract is an infusion of spearmint into a base, often an alcoholic base.
      The Essential Oil comes from the distillation of the whole plant and contains all the active principle.
      Nothing replace a true uncut EO

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

    1. 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.

  17. 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

  18. 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.