Essential oils are renowned for their various benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing.
The downside? They can be pretty expensive to buy. And that’s where this guide on how to make essential oils at home comes in.
In this article on how to make essential oils, we’ll cover:
- What are essential oils?
- How are they usually made?
- The pros and cons of making your own essential oils
- How to make essential oils at home in 9 steps
- Shelf life and how to store your essential oils
Let’s get into it!
What are essential oils?
Whenever you peel an orange, pluck a stalk of lavender, strip a sprig of rosemary, or sniff a rose, the lovely fragrance that fills your nose is the essential oil of the plant.
Essential oils are liquids containing the natural fragrant essence extracted from flowers, leaves, bark, roots, fruit peel, berries, and other natural sources.
Essential oils are named so because these liquids capture the plant’s unique fragrance or “essence” by concentrating their unique aromatic compounds through the process of extraction.
Commonly, once extracted these essential oils are mixed with a neutral carrier oil or blended with other essential oils for reasons including reducing toxicity, prolonging shelf life, or optimizing their desired health effect.
How to Make essential oils: The 3 Main Methods
There are three main ways that essential oils are extracted from plant substances:
A common and probably the most simple method of extracting essential oils is through expression. Also known as scarification or cold-press extraction, in this method, the plant matter is mechanically pressed in order to release the essential oils.
This method works best for plant matter with thick, oily peels such as lemon, orange, or grapefruit.
#2: Steam Distillation
Steam distillation is probably the most popular and common method of producing essential oils.In this process, hot steam is passed through the plant matter, causing it to release its fragrant oils. These are carried away in the steam, which is then cooled, leaving the pure essential oil suspended in distilled water (also known as a hydrolat).
This method is most suited to extracting essential oils from woody, robust plants such as lavender, rosemary, or cedarwood. Steam distillation is too harsh for delicate plant matter such as rose, with the heat destroying the petals before the oils can be released.
In large-scale commercial production, this method occurs using a “still” – an apparatus used to distill liquid mixtures using cycles of heat and condensation.
#3: Solvent Extraction
Solvent extraction is another popular method of producing essential oils. In this method, the plant matter is introduced to a solvent such as ethanol, benzene, dimethyl, or hexane.
After a period of time, the solvent draws out the botanical essential oils. This infused mixture is then usually dissolved in pure alcohol to remove the solvent.
As pure alcohol is extremely volatile (meaning it evaporates easily at room temperatures), it quickly evaporates taking the solvent with it, leaving behind what is known as “an absolute” – the pure essence extract of the flower.
Solvent extraction is a much gentler process than steam distillation, and as such is typically used to produce essential oils from delicate flowers such as jasmine, chamomile, and ylang-ylang.
The Pros and cons of Homemade essential oils
Before you commit to making essential oils at home, there are some benefits and drawbacks that are useful to take into consideration:
The pros of making your own essential oils are many. For one, it’s a much cheaper alternative to buying them in a store, especially if you’re looking at buying organic essential oils.
Plus, making your own is a super fun activity, great for doing with friends or with your little ones. You learn heaps in the process and you have more freedom to customize your oils how you like them – picking your own scent blends, which carrier oil, packaging, and so on.
Homemade essential oils also make really cute gifts, that show a lot more care and effort than shop-bought alternatives.
Despite these benefits, there are some drawbacks to making your own essential oils. For one, the final product will not be as pure as those you buy in-store, due to the extracting process being a little more makeshift when making DIY essential oils.
Also, making your own essential oils is much more time-consuming than simply ordering them online or buying them in a store.
Finally, it’s important to note that essential oils made at home won’t have undergone the health and safety checks of commercially produced oils.
Some oils can cause skin irritation and can even be toxic in too high doses. Commercially produced essential oils come with safety warnings, unlike homemade oils. For this reason, it’s always important to dilute your essential oils and patch test them before use.
How To make essential oils at home
The distillation and expression methods above are mostly used for commercial production and can require a lot of specialized and expensive equipment. For this reason, the best way to make essential oils at home is using solvent extraction.
You will need:
- Dark glass or stainless steel bottles to store your essential oils in
- Plant matter/botanicals (remember, this method works best with delicate flowers)
- Solvent of choice, choosing between:
- Ethyl Alcohol or Vodka (must be minimum 60% alcohol content)
- Neutral carrier oil such as canola or (choose one that is liquid at room temperature)
- Tight-weave cheesecloth and a thin nozzled funnel
- Two non-metal containers, such as big jars, ceramic or glass dishes
- Something to cover the two containers such as a lid or beexwax wrap (no single use plastic please!)
Step #1: Prepare your materials
First things first. Gather all of your materials so that they’re ready to go. Make sure that everything is clean and dry, as you don’t want anything contaminating your oils.
Make sure you’ve got heaps of your desired botanicals as it you’ll need a lot of plant material to make a small amount of essence. If you can, use dehydrated plant matter to evaporate its water content.
Oh, and make sure the botanicals are organic too, as any pesticides will become concentrated through this extraction process and could cause breathing and skin irritations.
Step #2: Mix solvent and botanicals
Next, time to mix your solvent of choice with the botanicals.
For this step, get one of your non-metal containers and fill it with your petals or other plant matter. Then, pour over your solvent of choice, enough so that the plant material is completely submerged.
Note: The ratio of plant matter to solvent should be much, much denser than in the picture above!
Step #3: Wait
Next up, cover your plant-solvent mixture and pop it in a dark, cool, dry space. Leave it here to infuse for about 48 hours.
Step #4: Strain
After this time has passed, time to strain your mixture.
Using your cheesecloth (also known as a muslin cloth), strain the plant-solvent mixture into the remaining non-metal container. Squeeze firmly to massage any remaining oils out of the plant matter.
Discard the strained contents of the cheesecloth, wash the cloth and keep the infused mixture for the next step.
Step #5: Add more botanicals
Next, add more of your chosen botanical to the infused solvent that you just obtained through the straining process.
Try to fit as much plant matter in as is possible whilst having it all submerged in the liquid.
Step #6: Wait
Once again, cover your plant-solvent mixture and pop it in a dark, cool, dry space. Leave it here to infuse for about 48 hours.
Step #7: Strain
Follow the same straining instructions as described in step #4.
Step #8: Repeat
Repeat the process of submerging, waiting, and straining a few more times until your essential oil is at your desired strength. (On each round, smell the mix to see if you want a more powerful scent or if it’s just right.)
Step #9: Decant and store correctly
The last step on our how to make essential oils guide is to decant the mixture into your bottles and to store them correctly. To do this, use your thin nozzled funnel, placing it in the opening of the bottle and then very slowly pouring the mixture in.
The storage step deserves its own section – it’s a whole process in itself . . .
. . . Shelf life and How to store your essential oils
Putting an exact expiry date on essential oils is very difficult as there are many variables at play that can shorten or extend their shelf life, such as the freshness of the plant matter used, the method of extraction, the carrier oil (if any), and how it is stored.
When essential oils come into contact with oxygen, light, bacteria, or heat, their composition can change. These changes affect the integrity of the oil and are the main reasons why essential oils expire.
Storage is an important part of how to make essential oils, as it plays a huge role in preventing these factors, so once you’ve made your essential oils it’s super important to store them correctly to protect their integrity and prolong their shelf life.
To do so, follow these tips as good rules of thumb:
- Always store your essential oils in brown glass containers to protect them from UV rays.
- If you’re set on using clear glass containers, then wrap them in aluminium foil.
- Store your essential oils in a dry, cool place. Placing them in the fridge is perfect, making sure the containers are closed properly and moisture-tight.
These tips should help keep your essential oils fresher for longer. However, as there is no exact way to measure the expiry date on homemade essential oils, use some discernment if you think that your oils have gone bad.
Some telltale signs that your oils have expired are:
- A change in consistency – becoming thicker or thinner than when first opened.
- A change in smell – sour or stagnant.
- A change in color – cloudy, lighter, or darker color than when first opened.
- Mould, flecks or sediment – these changes can signal bacteria present in the oils.
And with that, we’ve come to the end of our how to make essential oils guide. We’d love to hear about your creations, so comment in the section below.
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