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May 31, 2016
Last updated

How To Make Essential Oils At Home

Chief Operating Officer at Clawhammer
How to make essential oils

About 700 different kinds of plants contain useful essential oils, and there are several methods employed to extract them, the most common of which are water and steam distillation. We'll focus on water distillation here.

Essential oils can be costly to buy but they are relatively inexpensive to distill at home. Some botanicals store their essential oil within their leaves or flowers while others may store the oil within their rinds, seeds or other plant parts.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile oils that are extracted from aromatic plants. Essential oils have been used by many cultures around the world for centuries. Essential oils have been used for cosmetic purposes and for their spiritually and emotionally uplifting qualities.

How To Make Essential Oils

  1. Harvest the raw plant material
  2. Dry the plant material (optional) (we’ll need to check with emmet but i think the plants are typically best processed as fresh as possible)
  3. Add your plant material to the still 
  4. Add water to the still
  5. Heat the still
  6. Collect oil and hydrosol
  7. Separate the oil from the hydrosol
  8. Pour the oil into a container for storage
  9. Clean the still

    1. Harvest Plant Material

    Start the process with careful collection of your plant material. The concentration of essential oils within a plant ebbs and flows throughout its life cycle, making the timing of harvest a critical factor. Each plant species has its own unique timeline for optimal harvesting, so do your homework on each plant you're planning to distill.

    The way you handle the plants during harvest can significantly impact the quantity and quality of your essential oils. Mishandling, harvesting the wrong parts, or even harvesting at the wrong time of day can lead to a decrease in the yield and quality of your essential oils.

    Most plants are best processed immediately upon harvest with no drying or preservation. If you’re not able to distill them immediately, they should be properly dried. If not properly dried the plants can rot. The size of the plant pieces you use for distillation also plays a key role. 

    Take lavender, for example. It's best to harvest lavender just as the blossoms start to wilt, cutting about three-quarters of the plant. Post-harvest, you should hang the lavender upside down in small bundles to dry for around three days. If you're dealing with a large quantity of lavender, you can extend the drying period and distill them later. This requires a dry room with good airflow and no direct sunlight for optimal drying. After 2-4 weeks, the plants will be dry enough to be stored in an airtight container. At this stage, it's easy to separate the dried blossoms from the stems if you prefer to distill the blossoms only, a practice common among professional lavender distillers.

    2. Prepare The Boiler

    Clean the still before use if you haven't already done so (see step number 8 for more info). Next, fill thestill with distilled water. Make sure you have enough water in the still to complete the distillation. The heating element should be covered at all times and the still should never run dry. Depending on the plant and on the quantity, distillation can take anywhere from a half-hour to six hours or more after the water boils.

    3. Add Plant Material To Still

    Do not chop or cut the plant material as doing so will cause you to lose some of the oils from the plant material. 

    4. Add Water To The Still

    Next, you'll need to add water to the still. The water serves as the medium through which the heat is transferred to the plant material, facilitating the extraction of the essential oils. Ensure that the water level is sufficient to cover the plant material but not so high that it risks boiling over.

    5. Heat The Boiler

    Turn the heat to high in the boiler and adjust as necessary once boiling temp is reached. As the still is heating up turn on the water for the condenser. It is recommended to turn the condensing water on at 150 Fahrenheit. Once the water is boiling and the condensing water is flowing the essential oils should begin to come through the drip-arm and into your collection vessel. The distillation process is pretty hands-off, but you will want to make sure that you do not run out of water in your still as this will damage the distillation equipment.

    6. Collect and Separate Oil and Hydrosol

    Distillate should be directed into a separatory funnel that is equipped with a stopcock at the bottom. Once your distillation is complete allow the hydrosol and oil mixture to sit for at least 12 hours, then drain hydrosol into one container and oil into another.

    7. Store the oil

    Once the oil has been harvested, store the oil in an airtight, tinted glass container, leaving as little headroom as possible. Store hydrosol in a clear glass container. Keep both in a cool dry location to achieve maximum shelf life.

    8. Clean the still

    Once you're done distilling, rinse the still thoroughly and wipe out any residue. Next, use a food grade, professional cleanser to rid the still of any additional trace of the oil that was just distilled. We recommend Professional Brewers Wash or PBW. It's food grade and works great on copper and stainless steel. It can be used at normal strength for stainless steel. We actually contacted 5 Star Chemical, makers of PBW and asked them about using their cleanser for  cleaning copper. They approved and suggested that the cleanser be diluted to about 50% - 75% of the normal strength, as the copper won't need a normal strength dose.

    Essential Oil Distiller Systems

    Steam distilling essential oils at home is an easy, safe, & highly effective way to extract essential oil from your favorite plants. Essential oils are valued for their aromatherapy and medicinal purposes, however, buying essential oils from a retailer can be very expensive. That’s why we created our 120v Essential Oil Distiller Kit and our 240v Essential Oil Distiller Kit. Both systems can distill high-quality essential oils for a fraction of the regular retail price.

    120v Essential Oil Distiller Kit

    The 120v Essential Oil Distiller Kit is your go-to for those just dipping their toes into the world of essential oil production or running small-scale operations. It's as easy as plugging it into your standard household outlet, making it a breeze to set up.

    Advantages of Steam Distilling with 120 Volts

    Distilling essential oils with 120 volts of power comes with perks:

    • Plug and Play: The 120v system is as user-friendly as it gets. Just plug it into your standard household outlet, and you're good to go.
    • Perfect for Beginners and Small Operations: This system is your best bet if you're just starting out in essential oil production or running a small operation. It's a great way to get your hands dirty without breaking the bank.

    Disadvantages of Steam Distilling with 120 Volts

    The main disadvantage of the 120v system is slower heat-up and extraction times compared to the 240v system.

    • Patience is a Virtue: Compared to a 240v system, the 120v system takes its sweet time to heat up and extract the oils. So, you might need to wait a bit longer to get your hands on those precious oils.
    • Not for the Big Leagues: While the 120v system is a champ for small-scale operations, it might not cut it for larger, commercial operations. For those, you might want to consider its big brother, the 240v system.

    Tips and Tricks for Steam Distilling with 120 Volts

    Here are some nuggets of wisdom for getting the most out of your 120v system:

    • Keep it Shipshape: Regularly check your system to make sure it's running like a well-oiled machine. This includes checking for leaks and making sure all components are up to snuff.
    • Tweak Your Process: Don't be afraid to play around with your distillation process. This could include adjusting the temperature and pressure, or trying out different types of plant material.
    • Manage Your Energy: Consider getting on board with an energy management program to help cut down on energy costs. This could include keeping an eye on energy use, pinpointing areas for improvement, and putting energy-saving measures into action.

    240v Essential Oil Distiller Kit

    The 240v Essential Oil Distiller Kit is a more powerful and efficient system, designed for those who want to take their essential oil production to the next level. It's three times as powerful and fast as the 120v system, making it more efficient for small commercial applications.

    Advantages of Steam Distilling with 240 Volts

    There are many advantages to distilling essential oils with 240 volts of power as opposed to 120 volts such as:

    • Faster heat-up times: With 240 volts, a boil can be started in around 15 minutes. Please note that this time will vary depending on your elevation.
    • Faster extraction times: A 15-30 minute run will capture as much as 95% of the essential oil in the plant material. However, a long run is still fine and will produce more hydrosol faster than our 120-volt system.
    • Better efficiency: We compared the yield of 120 volt and 240 volt systems when distilling lavender and found that the 240 volt system produced slightly more oil.

    Faster heat-up times and faster extraction times mean you can do many runs in one day. This is important during harvest season since time is of the essence!

    Disadvantages of Steam Distilling with 240 Volts

    There is only one disadvantage to steam distilling with 240 volts. You will need access to a 240-volt outlet, otherwise known as a dryer outlet. Therefore, if you have a dryer, you already have one of these. These can also be installed by an electrician if needed. Another disadvantage is that it’s quite a bit more expensive.

    Tips & Tricks For Distilling With 240 Volts

    Fill your boiler with more water. Since our 240 volt system produces much more steam, it’s important to fill the boiler with more water in order to keep the element submerged. Never turn the heating element on when it is not submerged.

    Turn down the power on your controller if you notice steam escaping from your condenser. You do not want steam escaping from the condenser, only essential oil & hydrosol. Steam is a sign that the condenser is too hot and therefore the temperature needs to be reduced

    The Ideal Setup: One Boiler with Multiple Kettles for Plant Material

    The best way to run the still is by using one boiler and having multiple kettles for plant material. This allows for continuous operation as one kettle can be emptied and refilled with new plant material while the other is being used in the still.

    Final Thoughts

    Whether you're a hobbyist or a small business owner, steam distillation is a great method for producing your own essential oils. With the right equipment and techniques, you can create high-quality essential oils at a fraction of the cost of store-bought oils. Remember, the key to successful distillation is patience, practice, and a good understanding of the process. Happy distilling!

    Emmet Leahy is the Chief Operating Officer and lead product developer at Clawhammer Supply, a small scale distillation and brewing equipment company. He loves the process of developing new equipment for making beer at home just as much as he does using it to brew his own beer. He's also passionate about teaching people how to use distillation equipment to produce distilled water, essential oils, and with the proper permits, fuel alcohol and distilled spirits.

    • I have your homemade 5 gallon copper still and trying to find a few videos on making essential oils . Any ideas on where to find some ?

      Posted by Bruch on August 24, 2023
    • What is the point of drying the material, and then adding it to the water in the still?

      Posted by Wesley on August 30, 2022
    • what is a good machine to buy ,i am think of doing some oil for my self.
      and where can i buy them.
      thank you

      Posted by on November 13, 2021
    • Thanks i learned a lot and can’t wait to read and see more from you .

      Posted by Gerrard on November 13, 2021
    • We have approx.500lavender plants and are looking to make oil. Whst would a complete boiling system with all gauges and valves cost in Canadian dollars and is shipping free.

      Posted by Rick on November 13, 2021
    • hello!
      I would like to extract various plan oils using the process and equipment you use but I would like a list of equipment to buy and where? can you please direct me?

      Posted by Jefferson Austrie on March 30, 2021
    • Aha! The entire process is explained in a perfect and easy way. I have a question regarding essential oils distillation.
      If I wanna essential oil at home without a distiller or still. For example, I wanna make lemon essential oil and have lemon peal zest but what will I have to do to extract the essential oil that is similar to the essential oil obtained commercially?
      Your answer would be appreciated and it would be helpful for me.
      Thank you so much for spending your precious time reading my message.
      Regards: Faraz

      Posted by Faraz on December 08, 2020
    • How can I extract essential oil rom juniper berries using my air still or my t500

      Posted by sam on May 22, 2020
    • Hello
      What do you recommend for industrial work to store our oils?
      We usually use steel drums with phenolic lacquered barrel.
      Is this good way ?

      Posted by MIchael on April 23, 2020
    • Hello, Great video and information. I am looking to make essential oil. What setup would you recommend to produce best results?

      Thanks! Bella

      Posted by Bella on August 05, 2019
    • I am looking to purchase a still to distill lavender essential oil using steam method. I saw the “steam distilling essential oils” video. what components were used and what would be the cost to get this exact setup?

      Posted by Nitin Aggarwal on May 21, 2019
    • Could you please send me a link to one of your distillers that would be used to make essential oils ? Thank you for your time .

      Posted by Tiffany Creamer on August 23, 2018
    • which still is best for making essential oil. do they come with baskets for the plant material and is the plant material steamed as opposed to boiling in the pot.

      Posted by roy on July 20, 2018
    • Does anybody read before they post? The format here doesn’t allow for them to answer your questions and they ask that you email them instead. Sorry. I’m just a little frightened by the thought that some of these people are going around hoping to learn to distill stuff when they cannot read simple instructions.

      Posted by Anonymous on June 26, 2018
    • I am looking for a distillery to make essence oil ?

      how much for a kit ?

      deliver to Quebec
      postal code: j0l 1w0

      Posted by Stephane Chenail on November 25, 2017
    • Anyone here make oils? I have an electric still any one use one?

      Posted by Robert on August 25, 2017
    • I know q little about distillation, and one thing I can tel you is that it takes a lot of plant material to make oil. Small stills will make hydrosol which is the water produced along with the oil when distilling and you will get much more hydrosol.
      When asking questions about cannabis suggestions are better made in terms of tinctures or other methods such as The rick simpson oil method but instead of using his naphtha suggest 100% alcohol like vodka etc.

      Posted by Dee on August 08, 2017
    • What Items would you consider are necessary for distillation of Essential Oils?

      Posted by Matthew on February 08, 2017
    • iam interested in making oils out of my fruit trees in my yard. because they just going to waste.

      Posted by ness on January 20, 2017
    • is anyone actually interested in making medicine?

      Posted by Luraina on January 20, 2017

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