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.
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.
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.
Here's a basic list of the simple ingredients used for this recipe. For the full details and measurements, see the recipe card below.
- carrier oil
- eucalyptus essential oil
- peppermint essential oil
- lavender essential oil
- rosemary essential oil
- tea tree essential oil
- beeswax (optional)
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 with Kid-safe Options
- Small Jars
- Small Pan for heating
- stainless steel bowl
Older Child / Adult Version
- 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.
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!