Natural Parenting Natural Remedies

DIY Vapor Rub for Colds (and Sore Muscles)

DIY Herbal Vapor Rub

With cold and flu season upon us, many people reach for the trusty Vapor Rub to soothe their coughing and congestion. But have you looked at the ingredients in the average off-the-shelf mentholated salve?

After helpful essential oils like camphor and menthol, name brand chest rubs also contain things like petrolatum, turpentine oil, methylparaben…


Anything you put on your skin gets absorbed into your bloodstream, so it is smart to choose the most non-toxic skin products you can. Or better yet, make your skin care products from non-toxic or edible ingredients you can feel really good about, particularly when you use them on your children.

This recipe not only loosens chest congestion and eases cough, but it also works great on sore muscles, and can help relieve tension headaches and migraines! It also makes a great gift.

Related: 3 Homemade Natural Cough Remedies

Here’s a special trick for getting maximum effectiveness from any vapor salve—especially for that nagging post-nasal drip cough: Apply your Homemade Vapor Rub thickly to the soles of your feet, then put on socks over the salve, and lie down.

Really. It works exceptionally well. I don’t know why.

Homemade Herbal Vapor Rub




  1. Melt the half cup of the cream base you have chosen (or the oil/beeswax base) by placing it in a bowl inside a larger bowl full of hot water. (If you have a very small double boiler, that would work too.) Do not heat the cream directly.
  2. You want your base to be as liquid and easy to mix as it can get. Remove from heat once it reaches a melted-chocolate consistency.
  3. Once your base cream is soft, add the oils one at a time, mixing each drop thoroughly into the cream. If you need to return the cream to the heat to keep it easy to mix, that’s OK. Different bases melt and set at different temperatures.
  4. Once you have thoroughly mixed the oils into the base, let cool a bit, just enough to test on your skin.
  5. Smell and test the batch on the inside of your wrist. Everyone has different skin sensitivities. If the salve is too strong for your skin (or your baby’s skin), melt the salve again and blend in 1-2 more ounces of base cream to dilute. If the salve doesn’t smell strong enough, add 1 more drop of each essential oil until you reach the strength you desire.
  6. Pour finished salve into a metal tin, small canning jar or a recycled glass container.
  7. Apply to the feet, neck, chest and upper back for relief of chest and sinus congestion, or apply to sore muscles or headachy temples, as needed.
  8. Lasts indefinitely.

About the author

Dawn Gifford

Dawn is the creator of Small Footprint Family, and the author of the critically acclaimed Sustainability Starts at Home - How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. After a 20-year career in green building and environmental sustainability, chronic illness forced her to shift her expertise and passion from the public sphere to home and hearth. Get the whole story behind SFF here.


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