Nothing feels better than taking a long shower when you feel like you’re getting sick. But do hot showers help with colds in a way that goes beyond that comforting sensation of standing underneath the spout? In short: yes. The warm water works wonders to relieve achy muscles, congestion, and headaches. And according to Dr. Christina Burns, OMD, L.Ac, CPC, FABORM, a doctor of Eastern and naturopathic medicine and founder of Naturna, the steam might even make you sweat in a way that helps relieve your symptoms.
But the benefits of taking a hot shower don’t stop there. “It also moves and drains your mucus and lymph,” Burns tells Bustle. Besides that, lingering in an extra-steamy environment can help soothe your irritated respiratory system, too. Simply stand in the shower and breathe in the steam to feel the effects.
To try and feel better faster, you can take your rinse session up a notch by incorporating a few cold-fighting tools. Certain essential oils, for example, are known to help relieve a headache or un-stuff a congested nose, and these can be used in the shower. You could pop a few immune-boosting vitamins, or even go all-out by luxuriating in an actual bath with epsom salts — all things experts say might help relieve symptoms. While your shower may not be able to cure a cold, you can certainly help yourself feel slightly better by trying the tricks below.
We at Bustle only include products that have been independently selected by our editors. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
Dr. Christina Burns, OMD, L.Ac, CPC, FABORM, is a doctor of Chinese medicine who combines Eastern and Western science. She has 18 years of clinical experience and advanced certifications in acupuncture, herbs, nutrition, and yoga therapy.
Maura Farragher, RGN, RM, Lic.Ac, Dip AC, (Cert) Nanjing, is a transformational complementary therapist and founder of Enigma Wellness. She first started helping others when she became a registered general nurse, and has been supporting people on their journey to better health for 30 years.
1. Use A Eucalyptus Shower Steamer
Pop one of these essential-oil-infused tablets into the shower and it’ll instantly fill your bathroom with the scent of eucalyptus, which Burns says can open nasal passages and help clean the respiratory system.
This is all thanks to eucalyptus’ antimicrobial and antiviral properties, she explains, as well as the therapeutic scent. Chill under the hot water, breathe in the steam, and you’ll hopefully feel a little less stuffy.
- Pros: Easy to use, cruelty-free, long-lasting
- Cons: You have to prevent the tablet from being submerged for the full effect
Review: According to one reviewer, these “offered a consistent scent that wasn’t overpowering and lasted my entire shower.”
Active Ingredients: Eucalyptus, Mint, Sodium Sulfate, Sodium Bicarbonate
2. Breathe In Menthol Vapors
Another option? Place one of these tablets under your shower stream. They’re made of a proprietary blend of eucalyptus, menthol, and camphor — all ideal herbal treatments for the common cold, according to Farragher. “Menthol helps break down mucus and suppress coughing while eucalyptus has anti-viral properties and will work with the menthol to open airways,” she tells Bustle. If nothing else, the scent will help you relax and unwind — which is perfect for when you aren’t feeling well.
- Pros: Can help if you’re feeling congested, good for day or night use
- Cons: Only for use in the shower, can be finicky to get placed somewhere they won’t dissolve
Review: “Holy moly, my sinuses cleared up almost instantly once the tablet mixed with the hot steam!” writes one reviewer.
Active Ingredients: Camphor, Menthol, Eucalyptus Oil, Nutmeg Oil, Cedar Leaf Oil
3. Take A Vitamin C & Zinc Gummy
Studies have shown that you can bolster your immune system — and maybe even ward off a cold — by upping your intake of both vitamin C and zinc the moment you start to feel sick. As Burns says, these particular supplements are immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral. Not only that, but the addition of elderberry strengthens your immunity even more. Keep a bottle in your bathroom cabinet and pop one as you towel off.
- Pros: Gluten-free, great taste
- Cons: The first ingredient is sugar
Review: One reviewer says these are a great choice if you “just want to try an elderberry supplement for the first time.”
Active Ingredients: Zinc, Vitamin C, Black Elderberry Extract, Vegetable Oil, Beeswax
4. Relax In An Epsom Salt Bath
An Epsom salt bath is a great choice if you sense body aches or a headache coming on. In fact, the magnesium in Epsom salts has been shown to reduce inflammation in your body, Burns says, which could feel nice if you’re getting sick.
This type of bath is also extra relaxing, Farragher adds. “[Epsom salt] breaks down into magnesium, which helps with a multitude of problems including aching muscles and stress that often coincide with having a common cold,” she tells Bustle.
- Pros: Helps achy muscles, good for sensitive skin
- Cons: You need to pour in a lot of the product for best results
Review: “Best combination for sore muscles and stressful days,” one reviewer writes.
Active Ingredients: Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt), Lavadula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil
5. Soak In Peppermint-Infused Bath Salts
The Solimo Epsom salts contain a blend of essential oils, including natural rosemary, peppermint, and spearmint, so you get the aromatherapy benefits as well as the congestion relief. Dump some in your tub, soak for a few minutes, and then head off to bed.
- Pros: Resealable bag, offers refunds if you’re not satisfied with the product
- Cons: Not the strongest scent
Review: According to one reviewer, these “smell like a high-end spa treatment,” and are “very soothing and moisturizing.”
Active Ingredients: Peppermint Oil, Rosemary Leaf Oil, Spearmint Leaf Oil, Epsom Salt
6. Use Eucalyptus Body Wash
Swap your regular cleanser with this essential oil-spiked body wash from Dr. Teal’s. As Farragher says, “I never shy away from lavender oil, which is a great stress-reliever that will help anyone suffering from a common cold to get some much-needed rest.” This body wash also has the all-important Epsom salts and eucalyptus as well as spearmint to help you feel more refreshed.
- Pros: Stimulating scent, hydrating formula
- Cons: You don’t get to reap the full effects of the Epsom salts since it’s a body wash
Review: “The soap makes you feel smooth and it does have some calming properties which is really nice,” writes one customer.
Active Ingredients: Aloe Vera, Shea Butter, Vitamin E, Epsom Salt, Spearmint Essential Oil, Lavender Oil, Eucalyptus Essential Oil
7. Give Yourself A Gua Sha Facial Massage
Using a gua sha facial tool might feel really good when you’re starting to get sick, says Burns, especially if you feel congested. When you massage it over your skin, the stone works to melt tension — which can sometimes cause headaches. To try it yourself, apply a light oil to your skin then gently glide the stone across your face.
- Pros: Improves your complexion with regular use
- Cons: Have to know how to use it properly
Review: “I have TMJ and tend to have a lot of tension in my jaw area. This has really helped in releasing that tension before bedtime,” writes one reviewer.
Specs: Natural Amethyst Stone
8. Spritz Some Eucalyptus Mist
Keep this aromatherapy mist on hand to spray in your shower. Remember, eucalyptus oil is known to help relieve nasal congestion, Farragher says, so give your bathroom a few spritzes if you’re starting to feel sick, then keep it on hand for everyday use to turn your shower into a spa.
- Pros: Product lasts a long time, easy to use
- Cons: Can darken marble
Review: “The aromatherapy was incredible,” according to one reviewer.
Active Ingredients: Eucalyptus Essential Oil
9. Slather On Some Vapor Rub
Once you get out of the shower, slather a vapor rub onto your chest before climbing into bed. This one from Maty’s contains eucalyptus, peppermint, and pine essentials oils to help support your immune system and alleviate annoying congestion. Here’s hoping it’ll unstuff your nose just enough that you’re able to get some quality sleep.
- Pros: Safe for children 2 years and older, petroleum-free
- Cons: Not good on areas where you’re prone to breakouts
Review: One reviewer says, “It stops my son’s and my annoying, uncomfortable, sleep-depriving cough like nothing else does.”
Active Ingredients: Eucalyptus Essential Oil, Peppermint Essential Oil, Pine Essential Oil, Tea Tree Essential Oil, Sunflower Oil, Coconut Oil, Castor Oil, Sunflower Wax
Ács, K. (2016). Essential Oils and Their Vapors as Potential Antibacterial Agents against Respiratory Tract Pathogens. Nat Prod Commun. Nov;11(11):1709-1712. PMID: 30475513.
Banerjee, S. (2017). Magnesium as an Alternative or Adjunct to Opioids for Migraine and Chronic Pain: A Review of the Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines [Internet]. Ottawa (ON): Canadian Agency for Technologies in Health; PMID: 29334449.
Little, P. (2016). Effectiveness of steam inhalation and nasal irrigation for chronic or recurrent sinus symptoms in primary care: a pragmatic randomized controlled trial. CMAJ. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5026511/
Periera, E. (2013). The effect of inhaled menthol on upper airway resistance in humans: A randomized controlled crossover study. Can Respir J. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3628651/
Rondanelli, M. (2018). Self-Care for Common Colds: The Pivotal Role of Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, and Echinacea in Three Main Immune Interactive Clusters (Physical Barriers, Innate and Adaptive Immunity) Involved during an Episode of Common Colds-Practical Advice on Dosages and on the Time to Take These Nutrients/Botanicals in order to Prevent or Treat Common Colds. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. doi: 10.1155/2018/5813095. PMID: 29853961; PMCID: PMC5949172.
Sayorwan, W. (2013). Effects of Inhaled Rosemary Oil on Subjective Feelings and Activities of the Nervous System. Sci Pharm. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3700080/
Yadav, N. (2017). Suppression of inflammatory and infection responses in lung macrophages by eucalyptus oil and its constituent 1,8-cineole: Role of pattern recognition receptors TREM-1 and NLRP3, the MAP kinase regulator MKP-1, and NFκB. PLoS One. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5687727/
Maura Farragher, RGN, RM, Lic.Ac, Dip AC, (Cert) Nanjing, transformational complementary therapist and founder of Enigma Wellness