Homemade Vapor Rub for Colds (and Sore Muscles)

metal salve tin full of Homemade Vapor Rub

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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?

Although they do contain helpful essential oils like camphor, name brand chest rubs also contain toxins and endocrine disruptors like petrolatum, turpentine oil, methylparaben…


Anything you put on your skin gets absorbed into your bloodstream, so it is smart to choose the least toxic skin products you can. Or better yet, make your own 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 as well as the store-bought version, but it also works great on sore muscles, and can help relieve tension headaches and migraines, too! It also makes a great DIY gift.

Vapor Rub Ingredients

The essential oils in this vapor rub recipe deliver a soothing feeling while giving off an aroma that helps to open up the respiratory system and help improve the ease of breathing. They include:

  • Peppermint essential oil is great for relieving muscle pain, sinus congestion, fever, headaches, nausea, and more. 
  • Eucalyptus essential oil is an expectorant that helps with sinus and respiratory issues, making it great for relieving symptoms of the cold and flu.
  • Rosemary essential oil is great for pain relief, and works as an expectorant, relieving throat congestion from allergies, colds or flus.
  • White camphor is often used in chest rubs to help ease coughs in both children and adults. It works as an antitussive, reducing congestion and coughing.
  • Lavender essential oil is calming and soothing, and helps promote good sleep.

Caution: If you are making this for babies or children under the age of six, make sure to use essential oils that are safe for these ages. I make a kid-safe version of this recipe by using just 4 drops of the eucalyptus, camphor and fir oils, 2 drops of Kid-Safe lavender oil, and omitting the rest. (See recipe.)

How to Use Homemade Vapor Rub

Gently rub your homemade vapor rub into your chest, your upper back, or even under your nose for soothing relief. Or apply to sore muscles anywhere on your body!

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.

Try These Other Remedies…

3.50 from 2 votes

Homemade Herbal Vapor Rub

This recipe for homemade vapor rub will relieve chest congestion and coughing without the toxic petroleum products, parabens and other nasty additives. It'll soothe sore muscles, too!
CuisineHerbal Remedy
Makes4 oz.
Total Time 20 minutes



  • Melt the half cup of shea butter (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 best.) Do not heat the cream base directly.
  • Remove from heat once it reaches a melted-chocolate consistency, which takes about 15 minutes.
  • Let cool just a bit, then add the oils one at a time, mixing each drop thoroughly into the cream. (Use half the amount for a children's version) If you need to return the cream to the heat to keep it easy to mix, that's OK.
  • Once you have thoroughly mixed the oils into the base, let cool a bit, just enough to test on your skin.
  • 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 child'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.
  • Pour finished salve into a 4-ounce metal tin, small canning jar or small cream jar. Put the jar or tin in the fridge to help the salve to solidify quicker.
  • 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.
  • Lasts indefinitely. Keep in a cool location.


Many essential oils are not considered safe for babies or small children. Make sure to dilute this recipe for babies and children by at least half, and use as little as is needed. Always check with a doctor or healthcare provider about using herbs or essential oils on young children.




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