Kiss Vicks Goodbye – DIY Chest Rub

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When we are sick, many of us reach for the Vicks Vapo Rub.  I often have, hoping it would ease my congestion.  Over the past few years I have grown more wary of using any petroleum-based products, and have sought more natural means of dealing with colds and congestion.

I was going to save this post for the winter months, but my daughter just came down with a summer cold and I thought some of you might too. (But hopefully not!)

With the surge in skin-based medicines such as the birth-control patch and the nicotine patch, it has become increasingly obvious how much the skin actually absorbs.  What we put on our bodies is just as important as what we put in our bodies!

There are many natural products available at the health food store, but they can be expensive.  Making your own chest rub could not be easier.  All you need is a little olive or almond oil and some essential oils.

Here is the very un-complicated process:

Pour 2 ounces of sweet almond oil or olive oil into a small bowl or cup.

Add 20 drops of essential oil – choose eucalyptus, hyssop, thyme, peppermint,  basil, or rosemary.

This recipe comes from An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants, by Mary Bove, N.D. page 286.

I have personally only used  eucalyptus so far and often make just half the recipe (1 ounce oil, 10 drops eucalyptus).


Eucalyptus oil should be used with caution. This is intended for use with older children. Children under 3 years old should not use Eucalyptus essential oil. 

Chest rubs are useful because they help to relax the chest muscles by increasing circulation.  The aroma is also soothing and aids the opening of respiratory passages.

Bove mentions that the recommended essential oils (mentioned above)“are very volatile and therefore penetrate the skin easily, stimulate blood flow, relax the muscles, and deliver medication to the local area.  They can be especially effective with spastic, tight coughs.” (page 99, An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants )

With younger children you may wish to start with less than 10 drops per ounce of oil and see how they do.  Do not apply essential oils directly to the skin, and never ingest.


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  1. Thanks for the recipe. I will definitely use it for the next cold. One question, if you are not supposed to put it directly on the skin, how do you apply it?

    1. Kim, I meant not to apply the undiluted essential oil directly to skin. It is fine when mixed with olive or almond oil in the amounts recommended in the recipe. Thanks for asking. I will update this post with application instructions so it is clear.

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      1. Just so you are aware, many true essential oils can be ingested and applied directly to the skin. Try Young Living Essential Oils.

  2. I have used lots of different oils around the house, but this is one I don’t keep around. We’ve tossed around the idea of making our own Tiger Balm substitute, but this will serve many of the same purposes! Thank you for the tip, and for contributing to Simple Lives Thursday!

    1. I’d like to make a tiger balm substitute. I have been researching recipes. The ones I have seen need quite a few essential oils. I don’t have everything on hand or else I would have given it a try.

      Would love to know if you find a good recipe for it.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing! I’ll have to keep an eye out for a sale on those oils. 🙂 I do like the consistency of the herbal rubs we use that are similar to vicks. Any ideas on how to get that consistency? Thanks!

    1. Sustainable Eats mentions below that vicks is a salve. She is absolutely right in what her recommendation. I have made a few salves with beeswax and oil before, but I don’t have an exact recipe. The more beeswax, the harder the salve. You can experiment with amounts. If it is too hard, soften again by warming in a pan, then add some more oil. If too soft, add some more beeswax.

      I’d like to work on a recipe for this. I let you know.

      I do have a favorite lavender hand slave recipe I will be posting soon. Maybe the measurements in that will work for this…

  4. .ambre. vic’s is a salve. You use an oil base like this and then add some melted beeswax so that you get the right texture when it cools since the beeswax will harden again. You can google for salve recipes.

    1. Thanks so much for answering this question!

      I just remembered that I have made a basic salve before with 1/4 cup beeswax and 1 cup olive oil. I thought it was a little hard and would like to add less beeswax next time. The good thing is, if it turns out too hard you can just re-melt it and adjust the amounts.

  5. Ooh, ooh, can I add to this forum? Ok,thanks. 🙂 I bought a bottle of eucalyptus oil at the beginning of the summer for a mosquito repellant. I found that it worked great for existing bites, controlling the itch and inflammation, and was quite refreshing as a toning facial spray. I simply combined a minute amount with some witch hazel in a spray bottle (a recycled antiseptic throat spray bottle, in this case).

    While researching the uses of eucalyptus oil (It’s anti-microbial as well, so I had my friends spray it on their cuts and scrapes. Witch hazel is an astringent, so my spray had MANY uses this summer), I read several times that it was not safe to use on children. I did a search just now and found a website (see below), which provides advice on using aromatherapy with kids. It advises the use of eucalyptus smithi, a safer alternative. I would do some further research on this topic if you desire using eucalyptus in your recipe for children.

    Also, I wonder if anyone has tried coconut oil as a lotion? It’s great for my hands, doesn’t sting, and has a creamy consistency similar to petroleum–at least, until it melts into your skin. I think I’d melt some of it, add the essential oil(s), then use it after it reaches it’s semi-solid state.

    Okay, I’m done rambling. Here’s the website:


    1. Thanks Heather. I have not heard this before and will definitely look into it.

      I love your mosquito repellent idea too. Will be trying that one for sure.

      Coconut oil is a favorite lotion of mine. I have used it as a facial moisturizer for a few years now. It took a little getting used to, but now I love it. I used it on my belly when pregnant too.

      I appreciate you stopping by and sharing that information!

      1. Eucalyptus is still a lot safer than Camphor. Camphor is highly toxic for infants and children. Eucalyptus in high amounts can still be, but it’s fine for this amount in this recipe. If you’re still nervous about it, just decrease the amount. Sure, you don’t want to use anything all the time and on a regular basis, including lavender (to relax and get to sleep). Look at all the vapor stuff out there made for infants and children….all in which have eucalyptus, menthol, AND camphor….Vicks Baby Rub even has Lavender. So it’s not just the petroleum people should be worried about. An even more natural approach to eucalyptus is boiling the leaves in water. Your entire house smells great from the eucalyptus. Oh, eucalyptus also repels spiders.

        Anyway, thank you VERY MUCH for posting this recipe. I’m currently sick with a bad sinus infection so I’ll be trying this right away! Not that I like any oils rubbed on my chest, but I’ll try it anyway. LOL.

    2. I’m pretty sure that coconut oil is good for the skin too because I have a coconut oil lotion that is the same as the cooking oil. I seems the same I think ive tasted both too but cant remember. =) Oh I also read an article about all its uses and that was in it. Its also good for putting in your hair. If you put too much its greasy but a little helps strengthen and smooth your hair. We put just a little in our native foster children’s hair with their long black hair.

  6. Oh, I’m glad to know that you use it on your face. I’ve been afraid to, since I hadn’t heard of anyone trying it. I noticed some blackheads after making coconut oil deodorant, but I think I have the confidence now to try it on my face and see how I like it. Thanks.

    1. I have a friend who hates to use it on her face! So I guess it is personal preference. I like it though and have read of many others who use it the same way.

      I haven’t done any research on this, but I know some people use it to help with acne. Maybe it is the antibacterial properties?

  7. This is awesome! I have been looking for something like this for awhile. I was using the baby vics on the bottoms of the feet and then putting socks on, works like magic for a stuffy nose and congestion. I hate vic but hadn’t found anything better.
    Do you mind if I share and link to you on my blog?

  8. Does this stain clothes? Just wondering because some of the Vicks rubs leave grease spots on the undershirt etc… Thanks for sharing. I am anxious to try it although I hope I don’t have to this winter!

      1. Hi! Just thought I’d let everyone know that some oils wash out easily in the laundry–safflower oil being one. We use safflower in our house as a carrier oil because of that reason. We DO use the warm/hot setting on the machine, though. Just FYI! 🙂 Anna

  9. We kept old sheets or old washcloths or any old absorbent cloth and made Vick’s rags out of them. This protects the clothing. You just pin it inside the shirt or around the neck to cover the area so that it did not get on the PJ’s or clothes. This sounds wonderful and I will definitely be using it this winter.

  10. Fantastic! I’ve been wondering how I could make this myself. FYI – “vicks” on the bottoms of the feet will help break a cough or fever. Just rub it on the bottom of your (or your child’s) feet and cover with heavy socks.

  11. I found your blog through My little boy and I have been fighting a nasty chest cold the past few days and this is exactly what we need! I’m going to make it right now. Also, I’m going to have to find a copy of An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants-that sounds like something I could use around here on a regular basis:) Thanks!

    1. I have never made this to keep. I just make a little when I need it.

      Essential oils should stay good for a long time. The thing you would need to take note of is the olive oil. I’m not sure of the time frame for when it can go rancid. As far as I know it stays good for a few years.

  12. I have just discovered this blog (love it!) so I am chiming in a little late. I use coconut oil on my face every night as do both my teenage daughters. It is a wonderful moisturizer. We just keep a little bowl of it next to our sinks. It stays harder in the winter and turns to liquid in the summer. I also cook with it quite a bit.

    1. Hi Marti,
      Thanks for visiting! I love hearing how you are using coconut oil as a moisturizer for yourself and your teen daughters. It’s a great idea to keep a little bowl by the sink…I might have to try that out.

  13. I would love to try this as the foot solution. Have you done that for night coughs? I was told to put the vicks baby rub on her feet last night to help her cough, but I knew that I was also applying petrolatum with it, it was night 4 and the dark circles around her eyes were so sad, so I went ahead and used it. I use olive oil for cooking, so I think I could just use that, unless there is some other kind of olive oil. I can pick up the other stuff at Henry’s or Trader Joes? Thanks so much for this tip. My daughter has a horrible barking cough and it is so aweful at night she has a hard time catching her breath during a fit. She had to miss a local singing audition last night because she couldn’t hold her notes. There is another round next weekend though, so I hope this will help her to feel better by then. I am gonna go out and buy what I need to help her with out petroleum! Thanks so much!

    1. the ingredients in the vicks baby rub are:
      Petrolatum (I know I don’t want that)
      Eucalyptus Oil
      Rosemary Oil
      Coconut Oil
      Mineral Oil
      Lavender Oil

      Do you think I should do like 3 drops of each of the oils with the 2 oz. olive oil?

      1. I would do up to 20 drops of the essential oils combined. That would be the eucalyptus, rosemary and lavender. So maybe 5 or 6 drops of each in 2 ounces of oil. Or you could try a smaller amount to see if you like it. Say, 3 drops of each in 1 ounce of oil.

        I like your idea! I’d like to try this combination of oils too.

    2. *Christine, when my daughter had a barking cough, she was diagnosed with Asthma. When she gets a cold, and it hangs on, it is her Asthma acting up. She has to use an inhaler and if it develops into a chest infection, she requires antibiotics. Make sure your daughter doesn’t have asthma, untreated asthma can kill people. Every time I hear ‘barking cough’, I think asthma; it is not always the wheezing/gasping you see ‘actors’ do on TV shows.

  14. I’ve made a similar rub for when we get sick in our house. Olive oil and eucalyptus for the kids, but for adults I also add rosemary and lemon essential oils. I found the following recipe in The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy: 1 drop lemon, 2 drops eucalyptus, 3 drops rosemary – diluted in one teaspoon of oil. What I love about this book is that there is also info about which essential oils can be used on children and at what age.

  15. We have also put very hot water into a bowl and add drops of eucalyptus oil to the bowl of hot water. Then the person with the cold holds their head over the bowl with a towel over their head. This seems to work pretty well for helping to clear congestion. I am definitely going to try this ”recipe” if I need it this winter. Thanks for sharing.

  16. For a wonderful ‘chest rub’ for colds:
    To 1 oz. of a carrier oil (olive oil, almond oil etc.) add:
    5 drops nutmeg essential oil
    2 drops cinnamon eo
    10 drops eucalyptus eo (I use e. smitthi)
    10 drops ginger eo
    3 drops rosemary eo

    For an adult, after ‘patch testing’ on the crease of elbow for 24 hours, this may be used directly on the chest and you might even want to increase the eucalyptus to 20 drops.

    For a child, I would do as advised above and put this on a cloth etc., not directly on the skin.

    Lavender can be added if you intend to use at night, and a few drops of frankincense peppermint or tea tree may also be added to the Adult version if you wish.

    Disclaimer: I am also not a certified herbalist, please verify safety of herbs for your own peace of mind before use. I cannot be held accountable for undesirable outcome.

  17. I couldn’t tell from the photo which Eucalyptus oil (Eucalyptus Globulus, Eucalyptus Radiata, or Eucalpytus Citriodora) you are recommending. Only Eucalyptus Radiata can be used by the elderly, pregnant or children. The other two are not recommended for pregnant women, children or people with high blood pressure or epilepsy. Not all Eucalyptus oils are the same. I recommend only using therapeutic-grade Eucalyptus Radiata for your rub recipe. 🙂

  18. What a fantastic Idea but I still think I would mix some with a petrolium jelly as a broncitis suffer for years. When I was a child my grandmother and mother always put vicks on my feet then socks.
    This really seems to work I used this remedy with my children when they got a chest cold and still use it on myself to this day. So love the idea and am going to use it but will also have some for my feet.

  19. I bought the main ingredients in the vaporub and added them to coconut oil – menthol, camphor and eucalyptus oils….. loving it….For me, I have made it a wee bit stronger than the vicks…..
    I buy my essential oils from New Directions Aromatics…. They have a big selection, the prices seem reasonable and I have had no issues with them…..

  20. I reluctantly used Vicks last night on my 2.9 year old son’s feet. At 3AM it was the only thing I could think of to help him sleep. Tonight he went to bed with almond oil and eucalyptus on his feet instead! Thank you for posting this. It was the only alternative I could find for this petroleum phobic mamma!

      1. Last night was a better night! Stocking up on a few more oils for the future use. If anyone is interested I’m a fan of Floracopeia. It’s an environmentally/sustainability conscious company and great quality oils. And again…thank you Stacy!

  21. I use a similar method for my headache balm

    I use 30 ml of aqueous cream… (2 tablespoons)
    Add 5 drops of each of the following: peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus (you can substitute the lavender for rosemary if you wish)


    Put all in small jar or egg cup and stir well.

    To use.. Dip both index fingers in cream and then rub some gently on the temples..don’t rub totally in and leave women your fingersmformthe nape of your neck… Tis is at the top,of your spine where the hair line starts and gently ub here.

    You will feel a tingling sensation

    Cover and keep in fridge for further use. Use within 6 months

  22. Thyme is a natural bronchodilator. For a dry barking cough (which indicates constricted bronchial tubes, common both in asthma and bronchitis), get out a large glass or pyrex bowl, measure out 2T dry thyme (make sure it is not old, but fresh.) into the bowl and then pour 2 cups of boiling water over the thyme and stir using a wooden spoon. Let the thyme steep until the water comes to room temperature. In the meantime, have your child or yourself breathe in the steam from the hot thyme water.

    Once the steam has dissipated and the thyme water has reached room temperature, strain it through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a 4 cup container or pitcher with a lid. Next add 1 cup of honey to the thyme water and stir well until combined. (I usually shake it up real good however sometimes this results in foam on the top of the solution. You have now made your own Thyme Cough Syrup that will keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

    Directions for use:
    Take 1T as often as needed for relief of asthmatic or bonchial cough, and laryngitis.
    This amazing cough syrup works within 5 minutes of your first dose!
    You will be so glad you tried it and the best part is — you have everything you need for it already in your kitchen cupboards or pantry! ^_^*

  23. Try putting the rub on your feet, instead of your chest or face. (Put a pair of socks on afterwards.) It absorbs much faster and better, and you’ll be surprised at how much better it works this way.

  24. Pingback: Homemade Vapo Rub
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  30. I just made a salve. This is how. Everything is liquid measure for ease of explanation.
    3/4oz Pure Beeswax
    1.5 oz Pure cold pressed coconut oil
    20 drops Eucalyptus oil (Young Living)
    5 drops peppermint oil ( ” )
    3 drops Tea Tree
    2 drops Wintergreen

    Melt the coconut oil first over a VERY low flame in a stainless steel container
    Add shaved or melted beeswax keep stirring using a wooden stick until blended
    remove from the heat and add your essential oils.
    Heat will destroy the E oils so do not keep it on the flame. you can melt everything in a proper container using a candle warmer as well which is safe for the oils.