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Why I Stopped Using Aromatherapy Inhalers ( + What I Use Instead)

A couple of years ago, our little family started to transition away from single-use plastic products. I had been advised to stop drinking water from plastic bottles to help facilitate healing in a certain area of my body and had recently seen a documentary that was all about plastics and their effect on the environment. I’m a bit of a research nerd, so I did a lot of reading about plastics and their impact on health and the planet. Ultimately, we decided that the right move for us would be to start to replace the plastics in our lives with non-plastic alternatives that would be more friendly for our bodies & more sustainable for the earth. It wasn’t easy (plastics are in a lot of things!), but moving away from single-use plastic products was a good start.

One of the last things to go in this single-use plastic category for me was aromatherapy inhalers. Aromatherapy inhalers are little plastic tubes that house a cotton wick that holds essential oils. They are sometimes referred to as aromasticks. They’re discreet, personal use items that make using essential oils convenient when you’re on the go or in public. The trouble is that you can only use them once. They might last for a month, but once their effect starts to dissipate, they’re usually just tossed in the bin. If you’re lucky (or determined) enough to be able to pry the outer shell apart, you might be able to recycle the tube, but it’s not very easy to take apart and you can’t recycle them without removing the cotton wick from the inner tube.

The first alternatives I turned to were glass / metal aromatherapy inhalers that are fully reusable. I really wanted to love them, but they all smelled metallic (not in a nice way) because of an odd coating on the applicator and I always thought they were going to spill on me (some of them did leak). They didn’t last nearly as long and I was going through essential oils much more quickly with them than I was with plastic inhalers. They just weren’t good enough to win me over. Carrying a cotton ball or hankie around in my purse for inhalation purposes on the go worked well as an alternative option, but it didn’t solve the “not everyone wants to smell my essential oils” dilemma.

I finally settled on an option that really works for me: smelling salts. I filled a 5ml amber glass bottle with some rough, chunky Himalayan salt (which actually brings its own therapeutic effects to the table – have you seen the Himalayan salt inhalers that are available now?), dropped in a bit of herb, added some essential oils, and tested out this “new” old idea. I think you know where this is headed. Ummm, I love this method. It’s pretty, it feels good, the jar / bottle is totally reusable, and it’s still a personal application method that won’t leave the whole room smelling of your oil(s) of choice. I completely recommend giving this method a go if you’re interested in a more sustainable inhalation option.

Once in awhile, I’ll place a blend in a 1 ounce, clear glass jar to add a bit of ‘pretty factor’ to the blend (just keep away from sunlight) and it’s turned out to be a great conversation starter. I also really appreciate that inhaling an aroma from a glass bottle or jar looks a lot more normal than inhaling an aroma from a tampon-esque plastic inhaler does. 😉 (Yes, I have really had clients think the plastic models were tampons.)

If you’re interested in moving toward a more sustainable, earth-friendly option for convenient aromatherapy inhalation, I highly recommend giving smelling salts in small glass containers a try. The blends I’ve been testing have lasted impressively well.

A Few Key Points About Safety

  • 5ml bottles with orifice reducers are a good alternative for children’s inhaler blends – the orifice reducer will allow the aroma to escape, but keep the salt inside the bottle so that the child isn’t tempted to taste it. Use a chunky Himalayan pink salt that won’t come through the orifice reducer and the child can use the smelling salts the same way they would use their custom aromatherapy inhaler. *Children should only use essential oils under adult supervision. Take care to use the smelling salts in an area where the bottle will not break if it falls.
  • Smelling salts should still be kept away from pets.
  • Keep your jars / bottles clearly labeled and include safety information, such as, “For inhalation purposes only. Not for internal use. Non-edible. Not for use with pets or children.”
  • Use common sense, as always.

Have you experimented with a different sustainable option for aromatherapy inhalation on the go? Share it with me in the comments below.

Much love,
Erin

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Erin Stewart is an herbalist, NAHA certified aromatherapist, organic gardener and urban homesteader. She grows over 150 kinds of aromatic and medicinal plants for her own apothecary and distills essential oils and hydrosols in her PNW garden. Erin is the founder of Floranella and of AromaCulture’s herbalism + aromatherapy magazine.

Want to learn more about herbalism and aromatherapy?

AromaCulture Magazine is filled with educational articles, case studies and recipes written by practicing herbalists and certified aromatherapists. New issues are published each month and issues are available individually or via subscription. Visit www.aromaculture.com for more information.

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21 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Using Aromatherapy Inhalers ( + What I Use Instead)”

  1. Hi
    This is a great alternative – I personally love the idea of using salt-filled 5ml glass bottles with the orifice reducers! I have used something similar to this at home. However, I am not sure I will be able to move away from using inhalers yet! I use them to provide symptomatic relief for my patients in a hospital environment, as they are cost effective, easy and safe to use and most importantly are shatter proof. One step at a time 🙂

    1. Erin Stewart

      Inhalers are definitely the easier, safer, more cost effective choice in a hospital setting. <3

    1. Erin Stewart

      Most glass jars have either plastic or metal lids. While the lids are sometimes made of plastic, they are not single-use plastic products – they can be cleaned and re-used. They can also be recycled very easily.

    1. Erin Stewart

      What a great idea! I use the lamps in our home, but hadn’t thought of using them as diffusers! <3

    1. Erin Stewart

      I run them through the dishwasher before storing and then, before using again, I’ll sterilize them.

  2. Carole Berg

    What a novel idea! Does the salt impact the essential oil in any way? Of course, orifice reducers are made of plastic as well. I don’t suppose there is an alternative to plastic at some point in the container – whether it be the cap or the spongy lid insert. I also am not impressed with the metal in the glass and metal tubes. Thanks for the idea! Maybe there is a glass top somewhere to use on a small bottle???!

  3. Trish Eastman

    I would like to ask why you use the salt in the bottle? Couldn’t you just use a cotton ball in the bottle instead? I use Himalayan salt on my food but have never used it with essential oils.

  4. Cynthia Tamlyn

    I have successfully used salt based inhalers with several folks. I started two years ago with these from Specialty glass. http://www.specialtybottle.com/glass-bottles/vials/4dram-va4

    I still use and will continue to use plastic inhalers for most of my clients because I work primarily with children using them in school.

    I add a wee bit of scent free carrier oil to the salts and it helps keep them moist. It also makes the blend last longer as it doesn’t evaporate as quickly. I use the pink salts from Aromatics International.

    When it weakens I send clients a mini dram of the blend and direction on how to "recharge" it.

  5. This is great Erin! I too try my best to keep plastic out of the household and really didn’t like the idea of the personal inhaler for the plastic or the recycling issue. Am going to give this a try, thank you for all the great information! I love my Himalayan Salt lamp and use the salt already so this is a great addition ❤️

  6. Just confirming then, the oils do not dissolve the salts? They stay solid throughout, don’t sweat or anything? And will this aroma last as long as the cotton wick inhaler? I’ve used mine for over two months with effect. Thank you for sharing all this.

  7. I am using the glass/ aluminum inhalers from Plant Therapy and Rivertree Life. They come with a cotton wick but I fill them up with pink salt. They look classy, are reusable, safe to use. Love them. The plastic ones I use for sampling scents for friends, instead of carrying around my essential oils.

  8. This is an AMAZING idea, I love it! I’ve never made any inhalers even though I love the idea. Have always had an aversion to them for all the unsustainable reasons you point out. And yes, aesthetically I always thought it looked like a tampon haha! I had the perfect tiny glass bottles for this and just made one. Works so well and I love the quality/benefits the salt adds. This really is brilliant! THANK YOU!!

    1. Erin Stewart

      I’m so glad it’s working for you! I much prefer it to the other styles of inhalers. =)

  9. THIS is a fantastic idea! I have some small 2 ml bottles I can carry in a clamshell case in my purse – I might just resort to using this as an alternative to rollerballs!

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