Essential Oils for Congestion: What Works and What Doesn't

A person using an essential oil diffuser for congestion.

While SinuSonic has been clinically proven to improve congestion and stuffy nose, many people use additional natural therapies like essential oils to support their treatment. That of course begs the question, should you use essential oils for congestion?

Essential oils have become a popular natural solution for everything from ailments to household chores. They’re used in natural cleaning products, candles, and health remedies. Essential oils for congestion are especially popular for many people during allergy season, or when someone gets a cold or sinus infection— sinusitis. 

But do they actually work? Essential oils may help some relieve congestion, but more research is needed. 

There isn’t a lot of funding for research into the benefits of natural health products like essential oils. Much of the “evidence” is purely anecdotal. But when it comes to essential oils and congestion, it just takes a few deep inhalations for you to decide if they work for you in the short term. 

Here are 10 oils worth investigating. Each has their own unique properties, and many boast benefits beyond the ability to clear a stuffy and congested nose.  

10 Essential Oils for Congestion

There are a lot of different essential oils on the market. Of these, 10 are well-known and popular essential oils that people use to relieve their stuffy nose or sinus congestion. These include:

  • Eucalyptus Oil
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Lavender Oil
  • Oregano Oil
  • Peppermint Oil
  • Lemon Oil
  • Clary Sage Oil
  • Rosemary Oil
  • Pine Oil
  • Clove Oil

Do These Oils Actually Clear Your Sinuses and Relieve Congestion?

Yes and no. Some of these essential oils can help with cold symptoms like nasal congestion and a sore throat, but not all of them will. So let's go down the list one by one and see which oils will help your stuffy nose— and which won't.

Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus essential oil is derived from the eucalyptus tree and its leaves. Eucalyptus is a popular ingredient in over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu remedies because of its soothing herbal properties.

The main compound in eucalyptus oil, cineole, has antibacterial properties that can help you recover when you're sick. It also encourages coughing and helps clear mucus out of your airways.

So in short, yes— eucalyptus oil can be very helpful for treating nasal congestion and chest congestion.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is derived from the Australian tea tree— also known as the melaleuca tree. This potent oil is a very popular ingredient nowadays and is often diffused to help reduce sinus swelling. Reduced swelling helps with nasal congestion and a stuffy nose.

Two common causes of nasal congestion are nasal passage inflammation and bacteria. Tea tree oil is an effective treatment because of its antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Lavender Oil

This fragrant essential oil is derived from the lavender plant. You may be more familiar with using lavender essential oil for stress relief and relaxation, but it can also help reduce the pain and swelling that accompanies sinus congestion. It won't however help clear your sinuses or treat your runny nose.

Oregano Oil

This essential oil is derived from the leaves of the oregano plant. Oregano leaves are also a common spice in many cuisines around the world— you probably have dried oregano in your kitchen now!

Beyond oregano’s culinary benefits, oregano oil contains antibacterial and antifungal properties thanks to a compound called carvacrol. 

These antifungal and antibacterial properties may be helpful for treating congestion or sinusitis. Although no published trials testing this exist, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence as many people report symptom relief.

Peppermint Oil

As the name suggests, peppermint essential oil is derived from the peppermint plant.

Peppermint— more specifically its main compound menthol— is another popular ingredient in many OTC remedies for colds and the flu including lozenges and chest rub. That's because of the soothing, cooling properties of menthol. 

Menthol’s soothing properties can help reduce the discomfort that comes with nasal congestion, but it may not actually treat the congestion itself.

A study published by the Current Allergy and Asthma Reports found that menthol's cooling sensation may make users think that their nasal passages are less congested, even though the congestion still exists.

Even if peppermint oil doesn’t actually reduce congestion, it may still be a good choice for helping you feel comforted and more relaxed during other treatments. It is a good addition to your other efforts.

Lemon Oil

Unlike other oils that are extracted from flowers or leaves, lemon essential oil is derived from the fruit's skin. This oil is what gives lemon zest its signature scent and flavor!

Although little is known about lemon essential oil’s ability to reduce congestion directly— it does contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

One study researching essential oil’s antimicrobial properties, including lemon, found lemon essential oil to be highly effective against common pathogenic bacteria. This is good news for anyone suffering from bacterial sinusitis, because it can help kill the offending bacteria and reduce inflammation in your sinuses if the oil is diffused or inhaled in a vapor. 

Bacterial sinusitis is a bacterial infection of the paranasal sinuses, affecting one in every eight American adults each year. Common symptoms of bacterial sinusitis include pain, swelling in the sinus area, and congestion.

Clary Sage Oil

This essential oil is derived from the leaves or flower buds of the clary sage plant.

Clary sage oil has antibacterial properties and can help relieve congestion or sinusitis that's caused by bacteria. It can also help promote relaxation and a sense of calm. However, this evidence is anecdotal and more research is needed to understand clary sage’s full benefits on congestion.

Unrelated to congestion relief, clary sage oil can also be helpful in reducing menstrual cramping— but it's for this reason that you should avoid using this oil if you're pregnant. Clary sage oil could potentially stimulate labor throughout pregnancy— so to be safe, avoid this oil until after you give birth!

Rosemary Oil

This essential oil is derived from the leaves of the rosemary plant— and this is another herb you probably have in your kitchen.

Rosemary oil has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe swollen nasal passages. It’s also believed that when inhaled, rosemary oil can help fight respiratory infections because of its antiseptic properties. However, it may not be a lot of help when it comes to clearing your sinuses.

Pine Oil

Unlike the other oils that are derived mainly from leaves, pine essential oil can be extracted from the entire tree! Specifically, the needles, cones, twigs, and stumps. This is what gives cleaners like Pine-Sol their distinctive scent.

Pine essential oil has a strong scent. When inhaled it can help break up congestion and phlegm. It also contains high levels of phenols which help fight germs and contains antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Phenols are compounds that are similar to alcohol, and are commonly used in household cleaners like disinfectants.

Clove Oil

This essential oil is derived from the buds, stems, or leaves of the clove plant. Like oregano and rosemary, dried cloves are another common kitchen staple— especially in baking.

Clove oil has antimicrobial properties, and it may be helpful in relieving respiratory symptoms, such as a cough. These benefits are largely attributed to a compound found in cloves called eugenol.

How to Safely Use Essential Oils for Congestion

The most common way to use essential oil and reap its benefits is by inhaling the oil's fragrance. There are a few different ways to do this.

  • Steam inhalation. The goal is to inhale the vapor. To do this, combine your essential oil of choice with hot water. Add 3 to 7 drops of essential oil to boiling water in a heatproof bowl or a large pot. Use a towel to cover your head, and close your eyes to prevent irritation. Inhale the vapors through your nose for up to two minutes.
  • Inhale the oil directly from the bottle. Alternatively, you can add a drop of oil to a cotton ball or handkerchief and inhale the scent from there.
  • Use an essential oil diffuser. A diffuser spreads the essential oil through the air. This dilutes the oil before you inhale it. This is a less intense way to clear your sinuses with essential oil.
  • Apply it topically. Add a few drops of essential oil to a carrier oil like coconut oil, jojoba oil, or olive oil and massage it onto your skin. For adults, it's recommended to use 15 to 30 drops of oil per ounce of carrier oil.
  • Use essential oils to compliment your SinuSonic treatment. SinuSonic uses light pressure and gentle acoustic vibrations to help treat nasal congestion naturally. You’ll notice a subtle peppermint scent when SinuSonicing. Complement your treatment further by using essential oils. Together they can help relieve your nasal congestion— all without drugs or irrigation.

What to Know Before You Use Essential Oils

There are a few important details to keep in mind before you start using essential oils for congestion. First, you should always dilute your essential oils before you use them. Undiluted essential oils can cause some problems if you're not careful, including:

  • Skin irritation
  • Rashes
  • Itchiness
  • Burns

Also, you should also never ingest essential oil, unless under the direct supervision of a medical professional. Essential oils’ primary compounds may be beneficial as a whole, but they can become dangerous in concentrated amounts. Because of this, you should not use essential oils directly on children or babies, and if pregnant, use caution and seek professional advice.

Should You Use Essential Oils for Congestion?

When used properly, essential oils are a safe and complementary treatment for many ailments and can support relief from a stuffy nose to bacterial sinusitis. Invest in high-quality oils, and test a few to see which ones work best for you. 

While some can be especially effective in treating nasal congestion, more evidence is needed to know their full benefits.

Overall essential oils are safe to use and can be helpful with nasal congestion— especially when you use them alongside your SinuSonic treatment! 

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Kehrl, Wolfgang, et al. "Therapy for Acute Nonpurulent Rhinosinusitis With Cineole: Results of a Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial." Wiley Online Library, The Laryngoscope, 3 Jan. 2009,

Carson, C F, et al. "Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties." Clinical Microbiology Reviews, American Society for Microbiology, Jan. 2006,

Eccles, Ronald. "Menthol: Effects on Nasal Sensation of Airflow and the Drive to Breathe." SpringerLink, Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, 2003,

Man, Adrian, et al. “Antimicrobial Activity of Six Essential Oils against a Group of Human Pathogens: A Comparative Study.” Pathogens (Basel, Switzerland), MDPI, 28 Jan. 2019, 

“Acute Bacterial Rhinosinusitis.” Cedars-Sinai,