What Are the Best Tips for Steam Inhalation?

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  • Written By: Megan Shoop
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2019
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Steam inhalation usually involves breathing in the warm steam from a bowl of hot, scented water. Those with asthma, sinusitis, bronchitis, and even the common cold often use this technique to help cleanse airways and break up mucus. When done properly, the scents may even help to kill some of the germs causing the infection. People performing steam inhalation should always let the water cool a bit, add scents right before inhaling, and cover their heads and the bowl with a towel to keep the warmth and steam centered around the face.

Heating the water is one of the most important parts of steam inhalation. The more steam the water produces, the more beneficial effects the user can reap from the treatment. Very hot steam can sometimes cause burns, so it is also important that the water not be too hot when the patient starts the treatment. Typically, the water for steam inhalation should be brought to a rolling boil and then allowed to cool for about 10 minutes. At this point, the water should still be too warm to touch, but the steam shouldn’t be dangerously hot.


Scents and essential oils should be added right before the patient intends to use the treatment. Adding scents to the boiling water may cause them to dissipate before the patient has a chance to breathe them. Mint, rosemary, thyme, and licorice are all popular herbs to add to steam inhalation treatments. Bruised, fresh herb leaves may be added to the water and essential oils and extracts are also viable options. Extracts may be cheaper than herbs and essential oils, if cost is a concern.

Mentholated ointment is also a popular choice for steam inhalation treatments. In addition to rubbing it on the chest, patients may scoop a large spoonful into their steam treatment water. The ointment should be gently stirred into the water until it melts. The patient shouldn't need much mentholated ointment to create very strongly scented water.

When the scents are thoroughly mixed into the water, the patient should sit with his or her chin about 6 inches (15.24 cm) above the water. The patient should then lean over the water and cover his or her head and the bowl with a thick towel. Breathing deeply should pull the warm steam and the scents into the sinuses, helping to clear them of mucus and infection. After about two minutes, the patient should sit up to let his or her face cool, then lean over the water again. This may be repeated until the water cools.


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