Hopefully cold and flu season won’t strike your home this year. But in case it does, this natural vapor rub is a good home remedy to have around. It’s safe to use with adults and kids alike and is great for clearing up congestion!
I used to keep regular Vicks Vapor Rub and the baby version on hand for times when the seasonal cold would hit. That is until I realized it had PETROLEUM in it … yuck!
In the name of not consuming or slathering my children’s skin with anything that’s more beneficial to a car engine, I’ve been making this easy homemade vapor rub ever since. You can read more about the problems with petroleum jelly (Vaseline®) here.
How to Make a Natural Vapor Rub Alternative
The familiar blue bottle of vapor rub was a staple around my house growing up. Now as a parent, I understand why. Cold and cough treatment options are limited for babies and kids. And vapor rub is invaluable for soothing the coughing and congestion that can really interfere with everyone’s ability to get a good night’s sleep. The most essential component to getting well and staying well!
Don’t let the ingredient list deter you from making this recipe, either. If you don’t have the necessary ingredients on hand or don’t want to take the time to make this salve, mixing the essential oils with coconut oil works almost as well!
Store-bought Chest Rub
Thankfully, since I started making DIY natural products more companies have come out with natural versions. (Options are great!) I found a pre-made natural vapor rub in case you don’t have the ingredients on hand and there is even a formula specifically for babies and children.
I haven’t found it in a store near me yet, but if you have a Whole Foods or a natural health store nearby you might be in luck! Here are several good natural vapor rub options available on Amazon:
- Puriya Chest Rub Cream
- Babo Botanicals Eucalyptus Remedy
- Zarbee’s Soothing Chest Rub (includes a baby option)
- Badger Aromatic Chest Rub (for ages 2+)
- Maty’s Vapor Rub (for ages 2+)
- Maty’s Baby Chest Rub
Essential Oil Vapor Rub Safety
If you’re making this for babies or young children make sure to use essential oils that are safe for their age. I take the safe use of essential oils very seriously and err on the side of caution. I love this kid-safe line of essential oils because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of choosing the correct oils. The Sniffle Stopper is most like my blend in this recipe.
I sometimes make a gentler kid-safe version of this recipe by using just 4 drops of the eucalyptus and fir oils and omitting the rest. Here’s a list of all the essential oils used, what they’re for, and their safety precautions. (Also see the additional safety notes below the recipe).
Essential Oils for Vapor Rub
- Eucalyptus – The most popular chemotypes are E. Radiata and E. Globulus. Radiata is a little gentler, but it’s listed as near threatened so it’s important to buy from a reputable grower. Both are considered safe for diluted topical use on children ages 3 and up. Don’t apply eucalyptus to the face or sinus area of young children as it can cause breathing issues.
- Peppermint oil– Like eucalyptus, peppermint has 1,8 cineole in it that can cause breathing issues in young children if not used properly. It’s considered safe to use a .5% dilution (not on the face) for children ages 3 and up. Adults can use up to 5% topically, depending on the use. This recipe keeps it at less than 1% for older children and adults, and less than .5% for children 3-6. Peppermint is about 50% menthol, so it’s great for stuffy noses.
- Rosemary – This oil is a little harsher on little ones than some of the others. It’s high in camphor which makes it good for circulation and congestion. It’s a safe decongestant for ages 7 plus and the recommended maximum dilution is 4% for kids (up to 16% for adults). I omit this one when making a homemade vapor rub recipe for little ones.
- Cinnamon leaf – NOT cinnamon bark! Cinnamon leaf is gentler on the skin and is great for the immune system. It’s slightly warming and according to Tisserand and Young it’s safe for topical use with infants ages 3 months and up. Cinnamon bark has a high risk of skin irritation, can only be used topically in tiny amounts, and is not safe for children. Personally, I skip this one with young kids.
- Clove – Sometimes I’ll use clove instead of cinnamon leaf in this chest rub recipe. It can be used on ages 3 and older in certain situations, but it’s not the most gentle option. It’s not my preferred option for young children so omit for little ones.
Baby Vapor Rub Essential Oils
- Fir – Douglas fir or fir needle are gentle options that are great in a DIY vapor rub. They help the respiratory system and are generally safe for infants 3 months and older when diluted properly.
- Cedarwood (Virginian) – This woodsy-smelling oil makes a great ingredient in moisturizing men’s lotion. But it’s also perfect in home remedies for coughing and to help relax.
- Lavender – Like tea tree oil, lavender has skin-soothing properties. It’s also high in monoterpenes, making it great for respiratory support.
Natural Vapor Rub Recipe
- ½ cup coconut oil (or olive or almond oil)
- 2 TBSP beeswax pellets
- 20 drops eucalyptus essential oil (use 4-10 drops for children ages 3-6)
- 20 drops peppermint essential oil (use 10 drops for children ages 3-6)
- 10 drops rosemary essential oil (omit for children younger than 7)
- 10 drops cinnamon leaf essential oil (safe for ages 6 months and up, optional)
Baby Vapor Rub (6 months and up)
- ½ cup coconut oil (or olive or almond oil)
- 2 TBSP beeswax pellets
- 2-5 drops fir essential oil
- 2-5 drops cedarwood essential oil (cedarwood Virginian chemotype)
- 2-5 drops lavender essential oil
- Melt beeswax with your carrier oil of choice in a double boiler just until melted. You can also use a heat safe glass bowl on top of a small pot.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the essential oils.
- Stir until well mixed and pour into a container with a lid to store. Small tins work well, as does a glass jar.
- Allow the vapor rub to cool completely and harden.
- Use as needed to reduce coughing and congestion. See safety information in article.
Many essential oils, including some of these, aren’t considered safe for babies or small children. Make sure to always dilute essential oils for babies and children. I also use as little as needed. The natural vapor rub recipe is safe for ages 3 and up with the necessary modifications listed in the recipe. You can also put the vapor rub on the soles of their feet (ages 3-6) for a gentler option.
The baby-safe vapor rub version keeps the dilution at .5% and uses gentler oils. Experts generally consider these oils and at this dilution safe for babies 6 months and older. You can also cut the amount in half and use 2 drops of each essential oil if preferred.
Always check with a qualified healthcare provider about using herbs or essential oils on young children.
You can also make this recipe with herbs instead of essential oils by infusing the oil with 1 tablespoon of each of the herbs in a double boiler over medium heat for 2 hours.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Lauren Jefferis, board certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
What are your tried and true remedies for beating congestion and cough? Ever made your own vapor rub? Share below!
- Tisserand, R., & Young, R. (2013). Essential Oil Safety (2nd ed.). Churchill Livingstone.
- Fensham, R., Laffineur, B. & Collingwood, T. (2019). Eucalyptus radiata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T133374163A133374165.
- Parker, S. (2021). Carrier Oil Shelf Life. The Lipid Oils Academy.
- Robbins, W. (n.d.). Essential Oils Directory: Essential Oil Properties, Uses, and Benefits.
- Shutes, J. (n.d.). Aromatic Program Charts. The School for Aromatic Studies.
Discussion (149 Comments)
If I grate beeswax instead of using pastilles, how much should I use?
2 tablespoons of pastilles weighs 1 ounce. You can take your shavings, and weigh them out to one ounce on a scale.
Thank you wellnessmama for the recipe. I didn’t care for the peppermint/cinnamon scent. I had an old jar of vicks baby vapo rub, and it had in order: rosemary eo, eucalyptus eo, lavender eo. With that as my guide, I followed your recipe and instructions, with substitutions. I did 30 drops rosemary eo, 20 drops eucalyptus eo, 20 drops lavender eo. I love it.
Hello. this thieves oil…what is the amounts of each oil in the mix please? Thank you. wandamall
It is important when using essential oils that you list the Latin binomial name as well. Eucalyptus has more than one …..E. globulus is one type, E. smithii is another and there is also E. citriodora (which is similar to citronella used as bug repellent scent). Another important consideration is if the oils are pure essential oils and that they are not adulterated. Research is the key here. I would not use petroleum jelly but would opt for a more natural base such as the olive oil.
I only have solid coconut oil. Can I use it instead of liquid. Actually, the recipe doesn’t say which one to use. Sarah, great substitutes. Congrats.
It really like this recipe. We had whooping cough this summer and one of my kids is still coughing some.
What did you do for the childs whooping cough? Did you use this rub?
Thanks for the ideas! Is the coconut oil to be used in place of the olive/almond in the vapor rub? I didn’t see it listed as an ingredient.
Yep… either one can be used
To dilute do you mix with additional coconut oil on top of the 1/2 c that’s already included?
Yes! In addition to the 1/2 cup. 🙂
What heat do I melt the beeswax and oil on ?
How exactly does Vicks or your natural version help with healing?
The menthol in the eucalyptus is a great cough suppressant. I use a pre-mixed thieves oil (clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, lemon, rosemary) that stops coughing better than any prescription or OTC cough syrup I’ve ever tried. The other herbs are anti-bacterial. However, please be careful to dilute well!
Eucalyptus does not contain menthol.
Instead of Rosemary essential oil can one use wintergreen?
Vic’s or a natural substation of Vic’s isn’t to cure a sickness but to help null a symptom wile your body does the healing. Just like a cough drop or a band aid they don’t do the healing just the cushion/protection
wish I had read this earlier… kiddo is sick and I don’t have all the essentials on hand 🙁
How well does this work for you? I tried making my own (different recipe) and it worked a bit but then not so well, especially when the kids (and I) were really stuffed up. Thanks!
Try making it a bit stronger and putting it in the top of you scentcy burner works great to alleviate stuffy noses and allergy symptoms!
Love this idea! Thanks. :). Love this site too, thanks Katie. ( same name as my little girl, Love It! ) love the uses for Coconut oil too, tried one so far and can’t wait to try some more!
Love this recipe. I’d rather make my own and know exactly what’s in it.
I use vicks on my own feet at times. It helps me to sleep better and soothes any tired or sorness that I may have in them. I think this would even smell better. Thanks
Thanks for posting this! I have always loved Vicks but never paid attention to the fact that it has petroleum in it…boo! Hopfully I can find all those ingredients & get some made pronto since I love to grease baby girl up especially when she gets the croup. Love your site BTW!!
I strongly disagree that cosmetic grade petroleum is harmful. What research do you have to back this up? I know of a person who has done a lot of research on cosmetic mineral oil and petroleum, they are not only just as natural as coconut or any other oil, they are better at certain things, such as moisturizing. I have very curly hair and it was always relentlessly frizzy until I started using pure fragrance free mineral oil. My son’s lips were relentlessly dry and I tried everything. A watee based moisturizer with vaseline cured him. My daughter had a chronic scalp condition. I started using fragrance free mineral oil. The “chronic” condition was gone in a week. Now she does not need it anymore. I would not avoid something because it has mineral oil or petroleum. Cosmetic mineral oil is safe and natural. It is proven to be the best moisturizer there is.
It is as always, a personal choice to avoid certain ingredients, and while using petroleum jelly on rare occasion should not pose any health risks, daily use can pose a problem… you can check up on some info here which also references sources at the bottom.
It is sourced from nature as you stated, but unless you know for a fact that the petroleum jelly you are using is not contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), then natural doesn’t always equate safe…
This oil is a common ingredient in anything that requires a smooth gliding action, and may be listed under different names, including petrolatum or paraffinum.
Mineral oil acts as a moisturizing agent only to the extent that it keeps the area of skin that it is applied to moist. While most moisturizers include important nutrients that support the fragile-and always aging-facial skin mineral oil provides no nutrients whatsoever. It actually seals off your skin, preventing it from breathing.Your skin is the body’s largest organ, and it works together with the kidneys to rid the body of toxins. However, your skin needs to be able to breathe to perform these functions. Kim Anderson, a health care consultant to Arbonne International, states that “mineral oil coats the skin like plastic wrap, disrupting the skin’s natural immune barrier and inhibiting its ability to breathe and absorb the ‘natural moisture factor’ (moisture and nutrition).” In addition, mineral oil attracts needed moisture from cells deep inside your skin. This means that cell renewal is slowed, collagen breaks down, and the connective tissue is destroyed. Normal cell development is slowed down and the skin ages prematurely when skin cells are robbed of moisture.
There are other serious health concerns connected to mineral oil. Applying it to your skin repeatedly can cause various negative hormonal effects, including ovarian dysfunction, endometriosis, miscarriages, and damage to the immune system, Anderson states.
This information is taken from an online article, “Why Mineral Oil is Bad for Your Skin”
Skin does not breathe, your lungs breathe. Heavy oils of any kind can block pores when used in excess, true, and that could contribute to the formation of comedones. But skin gets oxygen from internal blood circulation. So diet and fluid intake have more to do with healthy skin than anything applied topically. Pores secrete oils and perspiration but not CO2.
For crying out loud.. yes the skin doesn’t literally take in air and then expel it . But it certainly does need air circulation to function properly.. Ever worn a bandage for too long , removed it to see that it’s all wrinkled and gross, wet and slimy? That is what petroleum and mineral oil do to our skin. And it seals in harmful bacteria.
Charlotte, With all due respect, you seem to be confusing 2 completely separate elements in your post – there is a VAST difference between petrolatum, a chemical and mineral oil, a natural alternative – as a 4th generation Herbalist, I personally wouldn’t use Vasel*ne for anything – other than a creaky door hinge or the like.
Skin is the human body’s largest organ. It is porous – whatever you put “On” it, goes “In” it – no differently than if you were to EAT the chemical you are applying – Scary when you stop & consider it, isn’t it?
I respect everyone’s opinions as to however they choose to live, eat, stay well – I merely wanted to clarify what seemed to be an oversight.
I realize I’m coming late to this party, but why the vehemence in favor of petroleum products? Personally, I have one child who cannot tolerate anything that has petroleum in it – food, cosmetic or otherwise. I’m strongly in favor of easy to achieve alternatives. They keep my son from getting headaches, stomachaches and uncontrollable anger. I’m not strongly opposed to you using petroleum products for your children if you find them helpful, but please don’t scream how safe they are for everyone at me because they harm mine.
Petroleum is completely disgusting. If u notice when u use it, it only moisturizes topically not entering your skins layers. I am a skin specialist and my closest friend is a scientist that actually tests harmful environmental things we use on a daily basis. Petroleum is ranked among the top ten. Why don’t you get YOUR facts straight.
I agree. This byproduct of the petroleum industry is a natural cure for many things.
A byproduct of a chemical industry is “natural”? Amusing.