When respiratory symptoms strike, few things are more soothing than the warm, moist air from a humidifier. But for many people, a humidifier fails to deliver adequate relief. Adding eucalyptus oil to the water in your humidifier is one way to increase the immediate benefits, but it is best to know the facts before using it to avoid causing harm to your humidifier or yourself.
Active Chemical Component
Cineole is the active chemical component in eucalyptus oil and is responsible for its characteristic aroma. When inhaled, the cineole acts as an expectorant and anti-inflammatory agent, which helps loosen and remove mucus. Pure, undiluted eucalyptus oil can provoke headaches when inhaled directly, so it works best when added to the water of a humidifier since small amounts inhaled over a long period of time are less likely to cause discomfort.
Eucalyptus oil can be added to a humidifier in one of two ways with equal effectiveness. The simplest method is to place 4 or 5 drops of the oil into the water reservoir of the humidifier, where it will be vaporized with the water. Another method includes soaking a cotton ball in the oil and placing it in the reservoir. Both work well, but the cotton ball method creates a stronger scent since it diffuses into the water over time.
The plastic parts of most humidifiers will suffer damage over time if exposed to too much essential oil. This can be avoided by thoroughly cleaning all parts of the humidifier after each use with warm, soapy water. If the residue remains, a solution of 1 part white vinegar diluted in 9 parts water will break up the oil and more effectively clean away the residue, but it should be done sparingly since the vinegar can also degrade the plastic if used too frequently.
Possible Side Effects
The most notable side effect of using eucalyptus oil in a humidifier is irritation of the eyes, skin or mucus membranes. Typically, side effects arise when the oil is used at too high a concentration and can be avoided by only using a few drops at a time. While it is typically safe for most people, always exercise caution when using plant-based remedies to avoid potentially dangerous allergic reactions.
Samantha McMullen began writing professionally in 2001. Her nearly 20 years of experience in horticulture informs her work, which has appeared in publications such as Mother Earth News.