10 Best Essential Oils for Congestion (Nasal & Chest)

clearing congestion with essential oil steam

Congestion can be caused by various factors, including something as simple as the common cold. Chest and nasal congestion can make breathing and everyday activities difficult. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are effective, but many of them cause dizziness, nervousness, and trouble sleeping

Essential oils combat congestion and many associated symptoms without causing negative side effects. These oils have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties that break up mucus, alleviate sinus congestion, unblock stuffy noses, eliminate phlegm, and promote sinus drainage.

What is congestion?

Sinus congestion is a blockage of the nasal passages and sinuses, generally caused by allergies, viral infections, or environmental irritants. It occurs when nasal tissue and blood vessels become swollen with fluid. It can lead to facial pressure, headaches, difficulty breathing, and a runny nose.

Chest congestion is a buildup of mucus and fluid in the lungs and airways, generally caused by respiratory infections, allergies, and other medical conditions. It can lead to excessive coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. Most chest congestion symptoms fade within days, but the cough may persist for a week or longer.

It’s common for sinus and chest congestion to coincide, especially if you have a viral cold.

How do you use essential oils for sinus & chest congestion?

Many essential oils break up mucus and open your air pathways thanks to their antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. They can alleviate sinus congestion, unblock your stuffy nose, eliminate phlegm, and promote sinus drainage. Additionally, many of the most popular essential oils reduce the congestion symptoms, such as sore throats, aches & pains, headaches, and coughing.

You should never consume essential oils, but you can inhale it to clear up sinus congestion and relieve the associated symptoms immediately. Adding essential oil to a diffuser lets you inhale it throughout the day. But you can also inhale it directly from the bottle or add it to a bowl of steaming water.

Homemade chest rubs simulate OTC vapour rubs, allowing your skin to absorb the oils’ healing properties.

10 best essential oils for congestion

1. Peppermint oil

peppermint essential oil

Peppermint oil contains strong antioxidant properties that protect the mucous membrane and eliminate excess free radicals. Additionally, it kills some bacteria that trigger congestion. 

Many OTC congestion medications contain menthol, which occurs naturally in peppermint oil. According to a 2013 study, menthol doesn’t impact airway congestion. However, the cooling properties have a psychological effect that makes you feel like you breathe easier. So although it doesn’t have physiological benefits, menthol can provide temporary relief.

How to Use - For quick relief, place your nose directly over the bottle and take 3-4 deep breaths to inhale the peppermint aromas. If you’re having trouble breathing while you sleep, add a few drops to your bedroom diffuser. 

2. Eucalyptus oil

eucalyptus essential oil

Eucalyptus oil is a common ingredient in decongestant products like chest rubs. It contains 1,8 cineole, a compound that treats headaches, clears mucus buildup, relieves runny noses, suppresses coughs, and kills germs around the nasal passageway. You may get heartburn or a rash if you use eucalyptus oil orally; we only recommend topical or inhalation methods when using essential oils for congestion purposes.

How to Use - Pair with a carrier oil like coconut oil and then rub eucalyptus oil generously onto your chest to relieve both head & chest congestion. 

3. Tea tree oil

tea tree essential oil

Tea tree oil’s anti-inflammatory properties can reduce sinus swelling and relieve common congestion symptoms like headaches or a stuffy nose, according to a 2006 study. The same research suggests tea tree oil may be an effective way to kill certain antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It contains alpha-sabine, which has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. Tea tree oil is also an expectorant that loosens mucus.

How to Use - Add a few drops of tea tree oil to a pot of steaming water, then place your face over the pot and cover your head with a towel to prevent the vapour from escaping. You can also add a few drops to your diffuser.

4. Oregano oil

Like tea tree oil, oregano essential oil is an expectorant and can loosen mucus buildup in your sinuses and respiratory tracts. It contains carvacrol, which may stop bacteria growth. A 2018 study suggests that carvacrol may have antioxidant properties. Still, it’s important to note that most published studies on carvacrol were primarily focused on food spoilage, making the evidence circumstantial.

How to Use - Add a few drops to your diffuser or take a few deep breaths with your nose directly over the bottle. 

5. Clary sage

clary sage essential oil

Bacterial sinusitis can cause inflammation of the mucous membrane lining your sinuses. Clary sage’s natural antimicrobial properties can counteract bacterial sinusitis. It is an expectorant and can promote feelings of calmness. Additionally, it has anti-inflammatory properties, meaning you can inhale clary sage essential oil to reduce sinusitis-induced inflammation.

How to Use - Add a few drops to a warm bath or a steaming pot of water to inhale the healing aromas. 

6. Lavender oil

lavender essential oil

Lavender oil doesn’t treat congestion directly, but it can alleviate many of the associated symptoms. It has anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties which may relieve sinus pain and congestion-induced inflammation. Inhaling it will reduce inflammation in your respiratory system, alleviating pain caused by chest congestion. Inhaling lavender has also been shown to be an effective method for treating bronchial asthma.

If congestion makes sleeping difficult, use lavender oil to calm you down and increase your sleep quality.

How to Use - Add a few drops of lavender oil to your diffuser before bed or inhale the anti-inflammatory aromas directly from the bottle.

7. Rosemary oil

rosemary essential oil

According to a 2016 study, rosemary oil has anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce swelling in inflamed sinuses. The same study suggests rosemary oil has antioxidant properties, meaning it can remove excess free radicals that may impact your health. Camphor, one of the major components of rosemary oil, opens the airways and reduces inflammation in the respiratory system.

When inhaled, rosemary oil acts as an expectorant. Additionally, rosemary oil may protect against cytokine storm-associated infections, which can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

How to Use - Add a few drops to a bowl of steaming water and cover your head with a towel before placing your face over the steam. And similar to peppermint oil, you can pair with a carrier oil like jojoba oil and apply it directly to your chest & neck to relieve chest congestion. 

8. Lemon oil

lemon essential oil

Limonene, one of lemon oil’s primary components, helps open airways and reduce respiratory inflammation. It is antibacterial and can be used as a cleaning agent around your home during cold and flu season. According to a 2019 study, lemon essential oil killed more strains of bacteria than most other oils, and it has antioxidant properties.

How to Use - Add a few drops to your infuser to spread the antibacterial agents around your home. And to make sure you don’t spread germs to the rest of your family, add 2-3 drops of lemon oil to a spray bottle with water, vinegar, or carrier oil.

9. Frankincense oil

frankincense essential oil

Frankincense essential oil’s anti-inflammatory and antidepressant qualities help relax lungs and airways, making it easier to breathe. It boosts immune system health and eases pain, stress, and anxiety. You can also use frankincense essential oil to alleviate intense coughing and reduce phlegm.

How to Use - Mix frankincense oil with a few drops of your favourite carrier oil and massage onto your chest to relieve congestion. Or add a few drops to your diffuser for long-term relief.

10. Clove bud oil

clove bud essential oil

Clove bud essential oil is a natural expectorant, clearing mucus from the lungs and airways and signalling the body to lubricate the irritated respiratory tract. It boosts the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties that soothe sore throats. A 2021 study confirmed that clove bud essential oil effectively fought infections of immunosuppressed hospitalised patients, preventing secondary bacterial infections. Additionally, clove bud oil is an analgesic, meaning it can alleviate congestion-induced aches and pains.

How to Use - Add 2-3 drops to a steaming pot of water and cover your head with a towel to maximise steam inhalation. If you’re supplementing your COVID-19 recovery with clove bud oil, add a few drops to your diffuser for consistent exposure to the healing aromas.

Essential oils relieve congestion while fighting the headaches, pain, and inflammation it may cause. You can inhale them to break up congestion immediately or make topical applications that simulate OTC chest rubs. You can even use scents like lavender to help you get a good night’s sleep. You now know which essential oils to use for congestion, how they work, and the best methods to ease your discomfort, meaning you can choose the best mixture for you.