DIY Vapor rub (baby-safe!)

The skin is a highly absorbant organ; so if you’re looking for a DIY vapor rub that you’re comfortable rubbing into your baby’s skin – or yours – this is it.

DIY vapor rub

My daughter never had a full-blown sickness until this last month – but she did get her very first stuffy nose when she was only a few weeks old. It was the kind of minor sniffles that I wouldn’t even have noticed in my hubby, but in my brand-new baby – PANIC!!! I was headed for the drugstore at the first sign of phlegm.

Problem: every brand of vapor rub I could find had a big old warning label on it: Not for use on children under 2 years of age.

Okay, so…what was I supposed to do for the next 23 months?

Then I found the baby version. Oh, goodie! My child’s respiratory wellness is assured!

Or so it seemed.

I’d heard not to use a vapor rub on her chest (at least the adult version) because of the risk that it would actually inflame her respiratory passages even more and cause respiratory distress – but, just about every mom in my mommy group (and every nurse in the family – I’m blessed to have some medical professionals I can call even at 2 am) swore by “the sock trick,” i.e., rubbing the vapor rub on baby’s feet, then putting socks on over top.

First, let me assure you, that sock trick totally works. Even for adults. It’s magical. I used it myself when I had a cold – not because I was worried about my respiratory tracts, though. I was just curious. It was nice not to have that overpowering vapor rub-smell right under my nose! It did make me feet feel a little weirdly cold – but that was almost kind of nice. At least I could still taste my chicken soup, rather than having all my senses overwhelmed by menthol-smell.

Second, once I read the ingredients label for the vapor rub, I came to two conclusions: 1.) I was uncomfortable with the fact that the first ingredient was petrolatum, and, 2.) The rest of the ingredients were just varying amounts of essential oils (I’m referring to the baby-version of the vapor rub; the adult version is full of all kinds of whacky junk). It wouldn’t be too hard to just make my own, sans petrolatum.

*Note: Why sans petrolatum?  The warnings on the label tell you not to even let it near your mouth, eyes, nostrils, or even broken or damaged skin. Obviously, it’s not exactly something I’d want to eat - or my baby to eat! The obvious counter would be, “But you’re not eating it, you’re putting it on your skin.” Yes, and the skin is a highly absorbant organ – hence all the topical creams on the market. A simple rub-on cream can function as a birth control, hormone replacement therapy, or control motion sickness. Clearly, what you put on your skin doesn’t stay on your skin.

I was able to find several recipes for vapor rubs, but I wasn’t too crazy about any one in particular. One was kind of stinky; another, too greasy. Nothing I really liked. I finally just made this one up on my own – a non-staining, quickly absorbed, nasal-passage-clearing, smell-good DIY vapor rub that is safe for babies, yet effective on adults.

DIY Vapor Rub:

  • 3 TBSP coconut oil
  • 5-10 drops eucalyptus oil
  • 2-5 drops rosemary oil (pregnant mamas should omit this if they will be using this recipe on themselves! Click here for an explanation of why)
  • 2-5 drops lavender oil (optional, but it smells great)

Starting with the minimum amounts of each EO, mix together all ingredients and place in a tightly-lidded container (tightly-lidded because if the coconut oil gets too warm, it will melt. It’ll also keep the scents from dissipating). Add more drops of the oils until you have the desired nasal-clearing scent.

Even though I strongly recommend omitting the rosemary oil for pregnant women, note that this oil will not be harmful to your little ones outside the womb! Rosemary oil is what’s called an emmenagogue - something that helps regulate menstruation, and can inadvertantly cause a miscarriage by sending the wrong signals to the body. Outside of pregnancy, rosemary oil is a very safe, natural, and healthful way to clear your sinuses.

I sincerely hope everyone stays healthy this season! But if it’s just not possible, I hope this helps!

Linked up with Natural Living Mondays.

Jaime W. (461 Posts)

Jaime is a Christian, a wife, a mom, a writer, an illustrator, and an aspiring homesteader. She loves trying to find new ways to save money and resources--but also save her time, so she can spend as much as possible with her family! !

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  1. Great recipe! I totally agree about the sock trick, but try convincing my husband it works! :p

  2. Great recipe, I’m going to make some to keep in our medicine cabinet to have handy next time we get a cold!

  3. I so needed this! The eldest has a horrible cold we can’t seem to kick. Now i just need to grab some eucalyptus oil! ♥

  4. This is great! I make a similar one with just eucalyptus and lavender, but thanks for all the extra info on rosemary oil! I’ve also tried the sock trick and it totally works. :)

  5. Yep – the sock trick is what we live by here! As soon as I hear even the slightest hint of a sniffle, little man goes to bed with vabor rub coated feet and socks! He’s 17 months old and still hasn’t had a full blown cold yet, so I’m swearing by this remedy! I also make my own, but instead of coconut oil I use some of my homemade lotion bars and just massage eucalyptus EO into it. But the coconut oil is a great idea too!!

  6. This looks like a great recipe. I love vapor rub especially on the feet. It really is such a wonderful trick!
    Thanks for sharing on Natural Living Monday!

  7. This is a great simple recipe! Great selection of essential oils. We do the sock trick all the time. Works like a charm!

    Thanks so much for sharing on Natural Living Mondays! I am excited to see what you have to share this week.

  8. I do the sock trick too. :) It works wonderfully. Thanks for sharing with Natural Living Monday! This is one of our featured posts! I hope you will join us again this week!

  9. How many times a day can you apply on feet?

    • There’s really not a limit – I do it sort of “as needed.” It takes a few hours to absorb completely – I usually apply it depending on how badly she’s congested! 2-3 times a day-ish.

  10. Very intrigued by the sock trick. Googled it for more info and it seems everyone says that the socks have to be wet?!? Do you put wet/cold socks on the little one after the vapor rub or do you just put on dry socks?

    I have 2 little ones (3.5 & 1.5 years old). Both seem to fall sick so often now that winter is here. I have been using a drop of plain old eucalyptus on their onesies underneath their PJs.

    Thanks so much for your response.

    • I’ve never wet the socks! I use this on me and K (still trying to convince my hubby to let me do it when he’s sick – but he’s weird about me touching his feet). I can’t say whether wet socks would work better, but dry socks have worked great for us so far!

    • Dry socks however I highly recommend doing the warming socks treatment too which is cotton wet socks with dry wool socks over the top. Do at bedtime and nap time. Kids and adults.

  11. Thank you so much. I will try the dry sock trick. I don’t think my girls will like the wet sock on them :)

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  13. Can the rosemary oil be used when breastfeeding? :)

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  15. I ran across this on Pinterest. I just want to point out to you that maybe this post should not be labeled as baby safe. Eucalyptus and Rosemary both contain a naturally occurring chemical called 1,8 Cineole that can cause a child to stop breathing if too much is used. Where did you get your dilution %. Depending on the age of the child the amount of oils you are using could be too high as well. Fir Needle would be a good child safe alternative used at 1-2% dilution.

    • Thanks for this MamaRoc. I was wondering about this because I’ve heard eucalyptus is not good for infants although before I knew this I used it on my first babe.

  16. Where am I able to buy the oils?

  17. I tend not to create a bunch of comments, however i did some searching and wound up here DIY Vapor rub (baby-safe!) – SlightlySteady.
    And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if you tend not to mind.
    Could it be just me or does it give the impression like a
    few of the remarks come across as if they are written by brain dead folks?
    :-P And, if you are writing on additional social sites, I’d like to follow anything fresh you have to post.
    Could you list of every one of all your social pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  18. Whitney Hempsey says:

    Just FYI, this recipe is NOT baby safe at all. This shouldn’t be used on children under 10 due to the eucalyptus content. Rosemary is counter indicated for children under 6. The components in these oils can cause irritation of the mucous membranes to varying degrees, difficulty breathing, and respiratory distress.

  19. any precautions before and after applying?


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