How to Safely and Effectively Inhale Essential Oils


Learn how to safely and effectively inhale essential oils

Hi there. I hope you are doing well today.

Today I’m going to cover all you need to know concerning inhaling essential oils.

Taking in the healing qualities of plants via inhalation is a staple practice in aromatherapy. And for good reason. When we inhale essential oils deeply the highly sensitive cells in the back of our nostrils are stimulated and send signals directly to the brain.

Personally, I’ve found that I really enjoy inhalation as a way to consume my essential oils. And I think you might too.

Inhalation doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the simpler, the better. Below you’ll find a variety of methods and recommendations on how to go about this effectively.

Related: 14 Uplifting Essential Oils for Energy & Wakefulness

By the end of this post, your mind should be brimming with ideas of great ways to inhale your favorite oils.

What are the Benefits of inhaling essential oils?

While people inhale and diffuse essential oils for a variety of reasons, it’s been shown that inhalation is most effective and best suited to treat a variety of respiratory complaints. Bronchial and sinus congestion, sore throats, colds, coughs, bronchitis, influenza… these are all remedied by inhaling the right mixtures of essential oils for your particular ailment.

Related: 12 Essential Oils for Sleep: Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

While essential oils prove most effective for the aforementioned uses, they can also support wellbeing in many other ways. But it’s good to remember that the experiences will vary when inhaling essential oils for emotional purposes. Results are often subjective to the individual. For example, bergamot essential oil is known to be soothing and emotionally stabilizing for some when inhaled, but others may not even enjoy the experience.

Methods and Best Practices for Inhaling Essential Oils

Now let’s go over a variety of ways that you can comfortably inhale your favorite oils.

The basic premise is simple: get the active compounds of your therapeutic oil into your throat/lungs/bloodstream. The methods listed below all accomplish this, with the steam inhalation method being the most immersive and enjoyable in my opinion.

Related: 15 Essential Oils for Anxiety & Stress Reduction

Inhalation method #1: A Few drops by your Pillow

essential oil inhalation pillow
Pictured: Aura Cacia Lemon 2 ounces , Aura Cacia Lemongrass 15ml

Since inhalation works over time, bedtime can be one of best times to apply your oils.

Simply place 3 to 5 drops of your oil(s) on your pillow or on a cotton ball near your bed to get a mildly diffused inhalation effect throughout the night.

Alternatively, place a small amount of salt or Epsom salts in a bowl or wide-mouthed jar and put 10-15 drops of essential oils in the salt. The salt slows the evaporation rate of the oils so you’ll get a longer diffusion throughout the night.

Related: 8 Essential Oils for Hair Loss, Thinning & Alopacia

Inhalation method #2: Tissue / Handkerchief / Pocket square

hankerchief inhalation
Pictured: Aura Cacia Texas Cedarwood 15ml, Aura Cacia Geranium 15ml, Aura Cacia Peppermint 15ml

This is another example that’s as basic as it gets. Well, compared to inhaling your oils straight out of the bottle (which is not very effective.)

To prepare, simply:

  • Add 1 to 3 drops (or more, if you fancy) of your favorite essential oil to your favorite tissue, handkerchief, or if you’re a dapper fellow; pocket square.
  • Carry it around with you and inhale liberally.

Related: 14 Potent Aphrodisiac Essential Oils for your Love life, Romance, Sex & Libido

Inhalation method #3: Using an inhaler that’s made for Aromatherapy


Purchasing a ready-made, portable inhaler gives another easily pocketable option for inhalation.

They’re like a small a tobacco vaporizer, sleek and simple. They actually remind me a few tampon applicators… But I digress.

To use your inhaler you simply:

  • add your preferred essential oil(s) to the insert that’s included (the soft piece that absorbs the oils.)
  • Slide your insert into the plastic inhaler tube.
  • Seal it with the cap.

There you go – a super small set up that’s great for keeping in your purse or pocket.

If you decide to buy an inhaler I recommend these inhalers from essentials. They’re inexpensive, made in the US with pharmaceutical grade plastics and feel very sturdy overall. There are some cheaper options available, but since we’re dealing with plastics, I’d recommend avoiding the cheap stuff since it’s most likely made in China.

And a little FYI, there’s a money saving trick when ordering more inserts: Certain tobacco filters (like these) are a perfect fit for the inhaler I mentioned above. They’re cheap and work very well.  You’ll be spending a lot more if you instead buy the replacement inserts that are specially made for your inhaler.

Related: Essential Oil Based Remedies for Nausea, Vomiting & Upset Stomach

Inhalation method #4: Steam Inhalation

steam facial inhalation

Next up we have my favorite way to inhale essential oils. Though I enjoy having multiple methods handy, there’s just something about closing my eyes and relaxing over an aromatic bowl of steaming oil-infused water. It’s like a steam sauna for your face. Can’t beat that.

While the options I mentioned earlier are fantastic for on the go, if you’re relaxing at home and have the time to relax, go for the steam facial. You’ll thank yourself for it. : )

Related: 12 Essential Oils for Wrinkles and Aging Skin

Here’s how to set it up:

  • Pour hot water into a bowl and add 2-3 drops of your preferred oil(s). Sometimes I’ll add more, but that might be just me.
  • Thoroughly stir your oils into the water
  • Cover your head with a towel and lean your face over the steaming bowl (about 10 inches)
  • Close your eyes and inhale deeply through your nose for about one minute, up to 2 minutes at a time.
  • Repeat 2-4 times, as necessary.

If you’ve been stuffy you should notice immediate decongestant relief. If you are so stuffy that you can’t even breathe in through your nose, you might want to start with a Neti Pot before giving steam inhalation a try.

Related: 14 Essential Oils for Joint Pain & Discomfort

Inhalation Method #5: Using an Essential Oil Diffuser

Soap Stone 14-16
Pictured: Celtic Knot Essential Oil Soapstone Candle Diffuser

I’ve put this one last because it’s the least effective way to administer your oils via inhalation.

Don’t get me wrong – I love diffusers. When I’m in my room I pretty much always have a strong diffusion going, incense burning and my heater cranked. Mmmm.

But for the strong, therapeutic effects of inhalation – especially when dealing with sickness and congestion complaints – I recommend a stronger and more direct method like any of the ones I’ve listed above.

But again, it depends on what you’re looking for.

If you just want to set the mood and gently inhale your favorite oils, a diffuser is a fantastic tool.

There’s a few that I recommend. I’ve written a post about diffusers that also acts as a price guide. You can check it out here.

Related: 8 Essential Oils for Weight Loss with Recipes & Application Tips

Best Essential Oils and Mixtures to Use for Inhalation

There are many oils that go well with inhalation.

Below you’ll find a short list containing some of the best mixtures to address some common ailments

Mixtures for clearing out your sinuses and relieving congestion and sickness. 

decongest inhalation essential oils
Pictured: NOW Essential oils Eucalyptus 4 ounces

 Blend #1: Perfect for coughs, loosening and expelling mucus. It’s also strengthening the lungs.

Combine oils in a 1/6 oz (5 mL) glass dropper bottle and mix well. When needed just add drops for use with your desired inhalation method.

Blend #2: Respiratory Infection Blend

Blend #3: Common Cold Blends

For steam inhalation use 3-7 drops of the following:

For inhaling from a tissue apply one drop each of:

Oils for Inhalation that uplift, inspire and promote wakefulness.

uplifing inhalation mix
Pictured: Aura Cacia Sweet Orange 15ml

Alright, on to the cheerful and positive energy oils.

  • Lemon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet orange
  • Bergamot
  • Jasmine
  • Osmanthus
  • Ginger
  • Cardamom
  • Cypress
  • Palmarosa

Related: 7 Essential Oils for Headaches & Migraines with Recipes & Application Tips

Oils that calm, soothe and relax.

relaxing inhalation
Pictured: Aura Cacia Wild Chamomile 15ml
  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Geranium
  • Peppermint
  • Coriander
  • Rosemary
  • Clary-sage

Related: 22 Essential Oils for Treatment of Acne

And lastly, I’ll leave you with my absolute favorite scent mixture for inhalation and diffusion:

  • Lavender
  • Eucalyptus
  • Cedarwood
  • Pine


I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and find the information helpful.

If you have any questions or comments, please make yourself heard in the comment section below.

Welcome to EOSanctuary

Hi. Glad to see you here. My name is Loren Elara and I run Essential Oil Sanctuary. I’d love to connect with you and share ideas. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please make yourself heard.

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47 thoughts on “How to Safely and Effectively Inhale Essential Oils”

  1. Excellent info, I have enjoyed reading through the blogs here and would love to learn more…


  2. Thanks for sharing this information. I’m new to essential oils and enjoyed reading this article.
    God Bless You Make a Great Day
    Sharon Weaver

  3. I’m confused about your directions regarding the steam method. You state to “repeat 2-4 times, as necessary” Do you mean 2-4 times per day, or repeat 2-4 times in one application?

    1. Hi Ron. For the steam method I had meant to repeat it in one application.

  4. Hi, thanks for sharing. Why state inhalation straight from bottle not very effective? Basically same premise adding to pillowcase or inhaler tube which you advocate? Mona

  5. I read Peppermint is good for migraines. Would you suggest a mixture of oils and a direct facial sauna inhalation for a really bad migraine?

    1. Jennifer

      Peppermint is great for headaches and migraines. Early in pregnancy I constantly had headaches not full blown migraines but would carry around a small bottle of peppermint to sniff whenever my head hurt. It was a life saver! Also I switched from the spiral energy saving light bulbs back to the standard lightbulbs and noticed a drastic change in the amount of migraines. Rarely get them now. Good luck!!!

  6. Thank you so much for listing off essential oil blends for coughs. I am definitely going to go home right now and put together some marjoram, benzoin and hyssop together and see if it works. However, I have always been having some respiratory problems as well. It is more asthmatic and gets really hard to breathe at night and so do you think that Blend #2 will be able to help with that too, even if it isn’t an infection?

  7. Thank you so much! This helps a lot! But does breathing too much essential oil dangerous? And I always add 5 or more drops to my diffuser (it’s small) with water of course, but there’s not much water, is that okay?

    1. Hi Mino. With most oils you should be fine inhaling them – as with anything, just don’t go too overboard:)

      And the EO drop to water ratio you mentioned sounds perfectly fine.

    2. Never inhale Thyme and you should never ever add more than three essentials oils to a mix nor the defuser. Regards Robyna Smith-Keys of Beauty School books.

      1. Please back your claims with reputable sources. Has anyone died from following your rules? Seems pretty serious when you say never.

  8. Is there a suggested method for creating a nasal spray using carrier oils for the essential oils? how would you recommend blending oils for a soothing , non stinging nasal spray?

  9. Can your body build an immunity to the oils and make them less effective?

  10. I like inhaling my essential oils as well, but prefer to do it in ready made, and mixed blends. I use and love monq. using the code MONQ at checkout gets you 10% off too!

  11. What do you think about using an ecig to vaporize essential oils and inhaling the steam that way?

  12. Will turmeric essential oil used in my diffuser, help me to sleep at night?

    1. No Tumeric oil is for healing diseases and works best taken in powder form with black pepper and beetroot juice. It is a rejuvenator and as such will probably keep you awake.
      As Loren said she used Vetiver I recommend Lavender and Chamomile. Robyna of Beauty School Books.

  13. What if I accidentally forgot to close my eyes when doing the inhalation method? Will it affect my eyes?

    1. You should be okay. But it might depend on the oil(s) used and the degree of exposure. If you are experiencing negative symptoms you might want to check in with a doctor.

      1. Thank you for your reply! I wish I came across your website first. I put 2 drops of peppermint essential oil into hot water and at the first whiff, my eyes watered and I remembered that I am supposed to close my eyes. I used some coconut oil later to dab on my eyes to get rid of the uncomfortable sensation.

        Hopefully it’s fine! Essential oils are quite tricky and I’m looking forward to learning more about them on your website.

        1. Never put essential oils straight into your bath you must mix them with a base oil such as Olive oil or Jojoba oil. Also be sure to bath by candlelight as incandescent lights turn the odour molecules into toxins.
          Love Robyna of Beauty School Books

  14. I love inhaling my essential oils right from my diffuser..not the candle type ones, mine are the cool mist ultrasonic ones. The steady stream of mist that comes off it is perfect on my night table to lean over and inhale a couple minutes at a time. Frankincense and clary sage are an amazing blend and put me into a meditative state! I highly highly recommend a ultrasonic diffuser to anyone! They are amazing imo

  15. Is it safe to dab aura cacia lavender oil on your wrists? I find this helps me fall asleep.

  16. I have a question about inhalation. I wanted to add some neat lavender oil to my pillow to help me sleep, but unfortunately a blotch came out instead and now my pillow is infused on one side and somehow the smell has seeped into everything else that was around it (??? which is really odd seeing as they weren’t even touching it)
    Is this safe? Thanks.

    1. Hi Nana. It is probably safe, but I would say inhaling that much concentrated oil is likely unhealthy. I’d say switch pillows now, and put that one in the wash. Bonus: whatever you wash it with is likely to smell like lavender!

  17. Erik Alexander

    Great read..curious what your ratios were for your last favorite brew?

  18. I added many drops of cedar wood essential oil in a big amount of water and tried the steaming method but i inhaled a lot of it. Is it dangerous??

  19. Brenda Gail DeBerry

    I have a steam inhaler and am curious if I can use it with the essential oils for sore throat and copd. and is there a particular kind to use in the inhaler?

  20. I regularly use peppermint EO in a candle-heated diffuser. I have been having terrible congestion and thought I would do the same this evening. I usually pre-mix the oil with water and pour it into the top of the diffuser but I wasn’t paying attention with my headache and poured maybe 20-30 drops in before I realized it. I just put in water on top of it and lit the candles underneath. By the time I realized how strong it was, the scent was overwhelming in the room even with the door open. I am wondering if this is safe and if not, what does one do about having inhaled too much of something like peppermint. Are there negative side effects to inhalation beyond the fact that I am prone to panic and that has already set in with the thought of having done something to hurt myself. I have left the room with the windows open and closed the door into the rest of the house where the scent is far less pronounced. In my bedroom I cannot smell it at all as the door was shut throughout the whole time but it was likely at least an hour or perhaps two before I started to notice just how strong it was.

  21. Any suggestions for essential oils in steam inhalation for cold?

  22. Hi… is it safe to inhale the mist coming out in the diffuser directly? Thanks.

  23. Hi

    I inhale lavender through a handkerchief. I have about 2-3 drops and replenish every half a day to day. I use mostly during my work day. I wonder, can this be harmful? Direct inhalation, it feels quite strong at times. I also suffer from mild COPD so want to ensure it’s safe for respiratory conditions too.


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