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May 31, 2016
Last updated

How To Make Essential Oils Using Steam Distillation

Emmet Leahy
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 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)
  3. Add water to the still
  4. Add your plant material to the still
  5. Heat the still
  6. Filter the collected oil
  7. Pour the oil into a container for storage
  8. Clean the still

1. Harvest Plant Material

The quantity of essential oils contained in a plant varies over the course of the plant's development, so it is essential to harvest at the right time. This will depend on the type of plant, so you need to do some research to determine when to harvest. It is also critical to harvest the plants correctly. Careless handling, harvesting the wrong parts, even harvesting at the wrong time of day can reduce the quantity and quality of the essential oils. Always research the plant you wish to make essential oils from.

2. Dry the Plan Material

Drying reduces the amount of oil in each plant, but can greatly increase your yield per batch because you will be able to fit more material into each batch. Drying should be done slowly and NOT in direct sunlight.

3. Prepare The Boiler

Clean the still before use if you haven't already done so (see step number 8 for more info). Next, one still with distilled water. This still will act as a boiler. Make sure you have enough water in the still to complete the distillation. 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.

4. Add Plant Material To Secondary 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. Add the plant matter to a secondary still. Steam will be piped into the bottom of this still and will rise up through the plant material on its way to the condenser.

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. We actually contacted 5 Star Chemical, makers of PBW and asked them about using their cleanser for this application. 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.

Check out Our Essential Oils Distiller System Here

Emmet Leahy
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.
  • 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
  • I too am looking to make tinctures of cannabis.any ideas to what quanities I would put in a 1 gallon still

    Posted by barry Tibbetts on December 12, 2016

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