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How To Use A Steam Vaporizer For Cough And Congestion

All of a sudden, you hear it. That nasty, loud sound coming from your little one that just irks your ears. You know what it means… a virus most likely. It interrupts your day and your night, it makes your child irritable, and it leaves you exhausted. Thankfully there’s help… simple, natural help. Keep reading to find out how a steam vaporizer for cough and congestion can help.

That Irritating Cough

Coughs, in my opinion, are obnoxious. They are just plain irritating. They hurt, they’re annoying, and you can’t really control them. Plus, there are so many different types of coughs and natural treatments for each kind… keeping up with it all can feel really overwhelming.

Coughs can also be classified in two different ways. Productive and non-productive.

A productive cough means that each time a cough is made, mucous comes up from the lungs, and is the body’s way of clearing unwanted nasties from the respiratory tract. Many times it’s referred to as a “wet cough”. These are the kinds of coughs that can turn into bronchitis and pneumonia if coughs are suppressed (you don’t cough) or if medicines that keep you from coughing are taken.

A non-productive cough would be the opposite. Nothing comes up, and these are sometimes referred to as a “dry cough”. These are usually a result of an irritant or the signal that a cold is coming to a close.

Either way, both types of coughs can hurt and be really frustrating.

How To Use A Steam Vaporizer For Cough And Congestion

Thankfully there are natural methods that we mamas can use to help our little ones with those coughs. There are many recipes for cough syrups that can help soothe your little one’s throat as well as help the body to get better quicker. The great thing is that you probably have most of these cough ingredients in your kitchen now.

But beyond making a DIY cough syrup, there are other things you can use that will help to loosen congestion in the lungs and soothe those spasm-like coughs.

When your child is congested or coughing a lot, you can always go for the old home remedy of going into the bathroom and turning your shower on to produce steam or even heating a pot of water on the stove and putting yourself and your child safely over the steam that comes up, but with the new steam vaporizers, there’s really no need to go to such drastic measures unless you’re in a pinch.

Using a steam vaporizer is great because it adds moisture and humidity into the air allowing your child to breathe it in. That warm steam helps to loosen the congestion that’s built up in the lungs so your kiddo can better cough it up as well as soothe the throat if it’s dry. There isn’t sufficient enough evidence to show that breathing in steam reduces the duration or severity of a cold, but it sure does have good results when it comes to helping relax coughing fits.

When it comes to choosing a vaporizer, you can go with this cheaper steam vaporizer that can be used to put steam into a whole room or you can use the personal steam vaporizers that give you a good bit of steam right to the face. Just be sure to be careful of getting to close to these so you don’t get burnt… especially with a child.

It’s Heat & Menthol To The Rescue

Now, beyond just using a steam vaporizer to release steam in the room, you can also use them along with some DIY concoctions that can help calm those coughs even more. Most of these concoctions include the use of menthol or camphor essential oil which helps to open the sinuses or at least make you feel like you can breathe better, but you can always go with a synergy blend of oils that’s specific to breathing better. This is the one I have, but doTERRA and Young Living also have really great options too.

One option you have to boost your vaporizer’s effects on congestion and coughs is if you get a vaporizer that has a place for menthol sticks to be inserted, you can either buy them or better yet, make them yourself. You also have the option of putting essential oils in the medicine cup that comes on most vaporizers so that the steam picks up the oils as it comes out and distributes them in the air. Some vaporizers even work when you put the essential oils straight in the water. The only caution with putting your oils in the water is that essential oils tend to damage plastics so it could damage your vaporizer over a period of time. I’d only do that when using the cheaper versions.

UPDATE: Use caution when using menthol essential oils around children under 6 years old. Some children can experience decreased respiration.

Stay tuned to upcoming posts because I’ll be sharing how to make DIY menthol pads soon. Subscribe to the blog posts below so you don’t miss it!!

Do you use a steam vaporizer when you or your kiddos are congested or coughing? If so, how does it work for you, and do you add anything extra to it for some additional help?

56 thoughts on “How To Use A Steam Vaporizer For Cough And Congestion”

  1. I love this, I have used a steam vaporizer off and on for a few years and wondered if it helped. Good to know that does; also very happy about the cough remedies, I will definitely be checking them out. I usually give them honey but then they get a little hyper seems like. Guess the increased activity from the honey is a good sign that they are not that sick. (: take care! Sarah

    1. Saved my life back in the 50,s. I was 4 0r 5. They made a blanket tent over my bed and I think they did it for a couple days.

  2. I know peppermint oil isn’t safe for use directly on babies, but is it safe to put into a humidifier for reducing congestion?

    1. No, peppermint EO should be avoided in all routes until after 6 years of age. Now, from my understanding this is just because a small percentage of kids can have decreased respiration with it so I’m not sure if it’s okay if your kids aren’t one of the few that do. Really it would be best to ask an aromatherapist.

    1. It depends on the type of cough… whether it’s a dry, scratchy cough or whether it’s a wet, loose cough. For dry, scratchy coughs, herbs that are soothing and cooling (like marshmallow root and honey) to the tissues are best. For wet, loose coughs, herbs that are drying (like sage and thyme) are best. If your cough is dry, but you feel like mucous is stuck and you can’t cough it up, soothing and expectorant herbs (like linden and elecampane) help your coughs to be more effective and at the same time soothe those irritated tissues. You don’t want to stop a cough… you want to help get the excess mucous up and out. Other than that, herbal antivirals (like elderberry) are best to help the body overcome the virus that’s causing the cough. Hope that helps!

  3. Hi Meagan

    My elderly mom has mucous in her nose all the time. I’ve read that sniffing Goldenseal can be helpful for sinuses, but that would be impossible with my mom. So what about adding some Goldenseal tea to the water in a basic table steam vaporizer? What do you think?

    1. I’ve actually never heard of that Les. Do you know the reason for sniffing it? Goldenseal is a great antibacterial type herb, and it’s commonly used to help the body fight infection which is why I’m guessing it’s sniffed so that it can get into the sinuses to help with infection there. Goldenseal also acts locally so my guess is that it would actually need to be applied to the area you needed it on. I’m not sure tea would be sufficient. I do think you could use an anti-congestion essential oil blend in a EO vaporizer as well as a steam vaporizer to help add moisture into the air. You could always make a eucalyptus, rosemary tea and put that in the steam vaporizer. Just make it strong with HOT water so it extracts as much of the oils from the plant material as possible. Those are my thoughts. You could try it and see. I definitely think the steam vaporizer running constantly can help though.

      1. Hi Meagan (I just noticed your reply today—thanks.)

        I don’t know the reason for sniffing; I read it in “The Little Herb Encyclopedia” by Jack Ritchason.

        Thanks so much for your thoughts, and the link as well. I will try using tea since I don’t have an EO vaporizer.

        1. You can also put essential oils in the medicine cups of steam vaporizers… just not the actual water, and that could work as well.

  4. Please , please give me the name of the best steam vaporizer that I can have my little grand son sit in front of. Something with a stream…not that fills the room.

    I looked on line two weeks ago and everyone was pointing one product but I can not find my note now. All I can see is advertising masked as information.

    Deepest thanks,
    Ciena Rose

    1. The one I use is linked to in the post Ciena. If you want steam right in his face I’d suggest the personal steam vaporizer as it’s safer. Thanks!

  5. I have quiet bad asthma, I use one in my room at night to help with my coughing in the winter. Works well for me, can recommend it to anyone else who has asthma and trouble in the winter or smokes etc.

    1. Thanks for sharing the tip!! Do you use it as is or do you put anything in it like essential oils, herbs, etc.?

  6. Meagan,
    Just purchased a vaporizer/atomizer( cold water and essential oil go into) from Whole Foods. I have a 16 month old and I am nervous to use it. Is it safe and which oils would be best???

    1. Yes Tiffany… vaporizer/atomizers are safe. In fact, inhaling EOs are one of the safest, most effective ways to use them. Anyway, the safety issue will be in which oils you use. This is one of my favorite books for EOs for kids. If you’re looking to use them safely and learn what to use and when, this book is a must-have in my opinion.

  7. I have used vaporizers my entire life. I’m always congested from allergies and asthma, in addition to colds/flu, and it gives me comfort through the night (or whenever I’m in my room resting). It feels like it helps the yuckyness move through and out my body a little more easy.

    I even travel with a vaporizer; could probably pack my clothing in a carry-on if it were not for my vaporizer.

    1. I’m glad to here they work so well for you Stefanie! We love ours too. We have one for all the bedrooms and even run them when we aren’t sick if we think we need extra moisture in the air. What brand do you use? I think we may need to find another one that works more consistently. Sometimes I have trouble getting ours to steam.

  8. Hi..I have just started using a small, portable inhaler. It delivers a fine mist [2 speeds] like an atomizer. It has multiple attachments, but I like the one that covers the nose. A short therapy of a cool mist [I prefer the cool mist] moistens the nasal passage, loosens mucus in my lungs, great at night. Most of my congestion is from an occasional cold and allergies. MY QUESTION, right now I use water only, however, I would like to flavor the medicine cup a bit….What would be your safest suggestions?
    BTW, I am 69 year old male. Thanks for any help.

    1. I’ve actually never used a personal inhaler like the one you’re talking about. I’d definitely consider it, and eventually, I’ll look into it. With that said, I’m not sure I have much to offer you in the way of recommendations since I don’t have any experience in this specific situation, and I’m not an aromatherapist. I know you can put essential oils in them, and as far as supporting your respiratory system goes, there are many essential oils that can be used. Here’s a great blend that I often use for congestion and here’s a basic post on inhaling essential oils as well. Perhaps a Google search will help you with the specifics of how much essential oil to use and how often if you don’t have access to an aromatherapist.

  9. Michelle Richardson

    I am using a cool mist humidifier by Vicks with a door on the side for a vicks vapo pad. I am wanting to use your DIY method of making home made pads. will that work in this machine? Also can I use the old vicks pads to put the new oils on? Thank you in advance

    1. If your humidifier has a place for a vapo pad, then the DIY pads should work the same way. However, I’ve never used that machine so I really can’t speak for it. And yes, you should be able to reuse the old pads. Hope that helps!

  10. A doctor recently told me to put vodka in the humidifier water. I have a few questions regarding this as he rushed off before I could think of these specific questions. #1- what is the best ratio of water to vodka. #2- does work as good or better than menthol oil. #3- what are the benefits and possible downfalls of using vodka rather than menthol. My son is 6 years old and has had chronic croup since his tonsils were removed at just under 2 years old. He just got diagnosed with bronchitis and an ear infection earlier today. Please direct your answers toward the bronchitis as regular steam has already proved itself for lessening and soothing his dry cough caused from the croup. Any advice is greatly appreciated TIA ?

    1. Hi, Jofess! I’m very sorry, but I’ve never heard of putting vodka in a steam vaporizer. I’d think that could be a fire hazard, but I’m really not sure. Perhaps you could call his office and ask. And yes, simple herbal facial steams or hot baths and the use of steam vaporizers at night tend to help with congestions and soothing dry coughs. Best of luck!

  11. Hi Meagan,

    I am having this phlegm issue and I feel heavy a bit in my head and I feel tooth ache and sometimes ear pain , is it because of the phlegm as I had a flu a week back and normally it goes of altogether but this time the phlegm remains. I love to steam breath but which would you prefer me to buy and should I add anything to it such that I can get rid of this phlegm issue…how long will it take to get rid of all the phlegm in me ? Please help…

    P.S how much time to steam ? till full body sweats ? morning or evening ?
    Thank you
    Regards,
    tom

    1. Hey, Tom. I’m very sorry, but I can’t offer specific advice for your situation as I don’t work with individuals. However, when my kids are congested, I run the vaporizers in their rooms at night to help keep mucous thin. I often use the DIY vapor pads in the vaporizer or I simply diffuse kid-safe essential oils for congestion into the air that will help them. It wouldn’t hurt to do a facial steam using herbs though. I have a recipe for on that’s specific to congestion in my Herbal Remedy Recipe e-book. Hopefully, those tips will help you. Good luck!

  12. Hi Meagan,
    I’ve had a nasty cold and cough for the last few days, and have just started using a Vicks Vaporizer in my room. My question is, is it safe to use the vaporizer in my room if my 2 year old daughter shares my bed? She isn’t sick at all, but she does tend to wander into my bed in the middle of the night and I wondered if it was safe to use in the room, even if she’s not sick. Thank you for any help!

    1. A vaporizer is a great thing to use for adults and kids, and they’re totally safe, as long as you teach your little one not to mess with it. The safety issue comes into play when you use medicinal products or essential oils with them. You’ll want to make sure that the vapors you’re using are safe for your little one. Other than that, all is well! Hope that helps, mama!

      1. Hello Meagan,
        Do you ever need to treat the water that is being vaporized? I am simply worried about bacteria or any kind of spores getting spread from the water into the air.
        Thank you

        1. I use distilled water in mine so there’s not much risk for bacteria or spores in the water, Fritz. Other than that, I’m not sure that bacteria is an issue with them as the steam vaporizers heat the water hot enough to vaporize it which would kill any bacteria. Hope that helps!

  13. Our doctor suggested we use a vaporizer whenever my daughter has a cold. We found it very helpful. Because she has Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism, she on medication (Zoloft) so we are limited to over OTC meds. So he also suggest placing Vicks rub or some menthol rubbed on the bottom of her feet at night and have her wear socks. We found this helps to. It’s just during the day we find the cough gets to where she gags or she got excess mucus. So we give her honey with lemon and warm water.

    1. I’m so glad you’re finding these methods to be helpful for your little one, Vera! Thanks for sharing what’s working for you here!

  14. Hi there,

    I just noticed that you have an update and caution about not using menthol for children under six. I understand that you have UPDATE bolded, but the rest of the message is very small and italicized (most often words to be ignored) and it would seem this is essential information. I just wanted to suggest that you make this information as visible as possible.

    1. Do you mean, can you use a steam vaporizer as a facial steam? Yes, I don’t see why not. Just be careful about the temperature, of course.

  15. Hi my son has very bad asthma flare ups and he’s 3 and I have a two year old in my house as well ..m my husband and I have very bad allergies as well .so with that said out house is a congested tornado 24/7 .so was the best oil or anything to use on a vicks warm steam vaporizer naturally ..to help airways in the water or on the steam spout …either or both helps .can u let me kno please and thank God for your site I found ..I hate taking my kids to unnecessary hospital trips and all this uncomfortable medicines and greaseball oils to make them feel even yuckier I notice that steam baths and a soothing vapo steam helps my son better so .can u please let me kno the beat oil or anything for the vapo ..please ..

    1. Hi Ashley! Approaching asthma and allergies naturally can feel overwhelming, but with enough research (and working with your primary care doctor and even a holistic practitioner) you can get good results. As far as essential oils for steam vaporizers go, I recommend making “homemade vapor pads” to use in them. Here’s a post on how to make menthol ones, but they’re not safe for little ones (only older children and adults). Instead, maybe try the oil mentioned in this post as it’s safe for kiddos 2+.

    1. The sell them in the stores (near the steam vaporizers), but if you prefer to go the natural route, using essential oils in the medicine cup or on a cotton pad near the vaporizer is your best option.

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