Can a Hot Bath Help a Cold?

A woman with a cold sits on couch blowing her nose


Ever notice that when you get a cold, you want hot tea, chicken soup and a warm blankie? When you crave warmth, you are instinctively trying to destroy what’s making you miserable.

The steam from a hot bath can loosen mucus and clear nasal passages. Adding peppermint and tea tree essential oils can provide additional decongestion. However, if you also have fever or flu, bathe in lukewarm—not hot—water, so as not to disrupt your body’s ability to regulate your temperature.

Not every bath is equally as effective at helping relieve cold symptoms. Read on for tips on how to maximize the decongesting powers of your bath.


The Facts About Humidity and The Common Cold


hot stones with steam and flower


Understanding the way the common cold spreads can help you see why a hot bath might help. Researchers have observed that the common cold spreads more easily in cooler temperatures. With increased humidity, the common cold has more trouble traveling in sneezes and coughs from one person to the next.


Cold Temperature Spreads the Common Cold


One study analyzed the correlation between outside temperature, absolute humidity, and the likelihood of contracting a cold. The findings showed that when the temperature was below freezing and the absolute humidity was low, subjects spending time outdoors were more likely to catch a cold.  


Impact of Warm Steam on Nasal Passages


So what does this mean for you? It means that the common cold does not like humidity. And it means that you may feel some relief from symptoms like congestion by inhaling steam from a hot bath. Another meta-study found that not everyone experiences relief from inhaling steam, but if you’re anything like me, taking a bath when you have a cold can be a lifesaver.

Dr. Sears, one of the world’s most famous pediatricians, is a huge proponent of warm steam to help a child with a cold or cough. Of course, if your child is going to get steam from a warm bath, always supervise a child in the tub.


The Best Hot Bath for a Cold


A woman's face in bubble bath


In 1963, acclaimed author Sylvia Plath wrote the following in her book The Bell Jar


“There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know any of them.” 


While there’s no cure for the common cold, for me, a hot bath seems to cure everything else—my mood, my stuffiness, the chills—even if temporarily. But some baths pack a more powerful punch than others. Make sure to keep all the steam in the bathroom, so close doors and windows while the tub fills. And if you have a glass shower door, keep that closed as well.

And that’s just the beginning of what you can do to enhance your steamy soak.


Bath Bombs, Bath Soaks and Foot Soaks for a Cold


winter wonderland bath bomb


For the ultimate cold-busting bath, toss into the water a congestion-fighting bath bomb, like the Winter WonderlandWinter Wonderland. These are bath bombs you’ll want to make in advance. You’ll be so thankful to have them on hand when you need them. And they work wonders for congestion caused by allergies, too. (Read more about how to make bath bombs and the best way to store them.)

But if you just don’t have the energy to plunge into the bathtub at all, try a foot soak. In Chinese medicine, each point on the feet corresponds to a point on the body. When you take care of your feet, your whole body will thank you! See our recipe for The Breathe Easy Foot Soak, which I love, love, love when I’m stuffy and chilled.


The Best Essential Oils for a Cold


Peppermint oil is one of the best essential oils for a cold


What else can you do to add some good ju-ju to your tub? Well, why not add some essential oils to the water. In general, you can add about 12-15 drops of essential oil to the tub. If you have sensitive skin and you’ve never used the oil before, put a few drops on the inside of your wrist first to make sure you don’t get a reaction.

Many essential oils have been used by cultures around the globe for hundreds of years to alleviate common cold symptoms. Essential oils are extracted from plants and contain the essence of that plant’s aroma. These include:


Cinnamon Leaf Oil Relieves a Cough


Inhaling cinnamon leaf essential oil is reported to relieve a cough. If you don’t have the essential oil, try dropping a handful of cinnamon sticks or a tablespoon of dried, ground cinnamon directly into your bathwater. 


Eucalyptus Oil Stimulates Immune System


Did you know there are more than 400 species of eucalyptus trees? Eucalyptus oil is extracted from the Blue Gum Tree and is an ancient cure for congestion. Research shows that this essential oil stimulates the body’s immune response. If I have a cold, I’ll leave the bottle of eucalyptus oil next to my bed and just sniff it from time to time for some immediate relief.


Peppermint Oil Opens Airways

Anecdotal evidence says that peppermint oil is excellent at opening the airways that are blocked by mucous. That’s because it contains menthol, and animal studies prove that peppermint oil can reduce inflammation.

Make super easy homemade Peppermint Swirl Body Butter and keep it on hand for when you feel congestion. Follow directions in the video above, or download the recipe (along with other easy DIY bath recipes). Then use it to moisturize whenever you feel a little under the weather.


Tea Tree Oil Soothes Irritation


This oil is put into everything from shampoos to soaps, because it has so many good properties. It is both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory, and it can soothe your skin when you feel irritated all over—especially the skin under your nose which may be raw from blowing.


Should You Sweat Out a Fever In the Tub?


The hypothalamus is a little thermostat in your brain that regulates your temperature. Dr. Travis Stork, of the show The Drs., had this to say: 


“When you try to sweat unnaturally…it kind of messes with your internal thermostat and where your body is trying to go. I am not completely adverse to things like steam showers, but this idea of sweating out a fever is a false notion.”



What I take away from Dr. Stork, is that once you have a fever, do not get in a hot tub and mess with what your body is trying to do on its own.


Can a Hot Bath Prevent a Cold?


man in bubble bath


Let’s say you’ve only sneezed once or twice. You really just felt that worrisome tickle in your throat a few minutes ago. That is the very best time to fill the tub. 


In this post, Dr. Ron Eccles, director of Cardiff University’s Common Cold Centre actually said:


“As soon as I suspect I’m getting a cold, I run a bath as hot as I can bear and sit in it for at least 20 minutes.”


And while your tub is filling you may want to enjoy a glass of red wine, because researchers at the University of Auckland found that the flavonoids in red wine can help fight off a cold that has not quite developed.

So can a bath help a cold? Though some of the research has found mixed results, many leading experts like Dr. Ron Eccles still join me in shouting a resounding yes!


 Related Questions


Bathroom mold on the ledge with rubber ducky


What’s the Best Way to Clean My Bathtub?


If you’ve got a cold and you’re taking a bath, you’ll probably want to clean out the tub before the next bather jumps in. But you probably don’t have too much energy to go to the store and get a tub cleaning agent either. In Tricks to Make Your Bathtub Gleam Like New, you’ll find natural ingredients—ones you probably already have—that you can use to quickly disinfect your bathtub.


How Can I Remove Bathroom Mold?


Bathroom mold can potentially mess with your health. It’s important to know where it lurks, how to identify the type of mold, and how to remove it safely. This guide to bathroom mold provides a battle plan to help you destroy this ugly fungus and restore your bathroom to a pristine, healthy condition.


Shana Burg is a bath enthusiast, content strategist, and award-winning writer. She is the founder of

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