Essential Oils Will Not Mix With Water!

Essential Oils Will Not Mix With Water!

Based on their chemistry, pure essential oils obtained via distillation will NOT mix with water. Not only will they NOT mix with water, their specific gravity in most cases is lighter so they will float on top. Anyone who disputes this fact had better do some research on how essential oils are extracted from plants. I have included a simple yet colourful diagram to demonstrate this process to those who are unfamiliar with essential oil distillation.

Steam Dist DiagramIf you are reading this and are sure that YOUR essential oils will mix with water, think again. If they do, they are probably already diluted with a solvent or alcohol which is a favorite trick of many essential oil companies. How do you think they can sell commodities such as these at a cheaper price than everyone else?

Conversely some will make ridiculous claims that their oils are sooo pure they’ll mix with water which is a false justification to charge excessively higher prices. The irony is that if it is a pure undiluted essential oil with no chemical alterations. it will not mix with water.

There are many chemicals which can solubilize essential oils so they become miscible with water but only a few are on the natural side. One is glycerine, a non-fermented alcohol which is very skin friendly, inexpensive and easy to obtain. It does not completely break down all essential oils, but does enough of a job that the essential oil is dispersed safely when adding water.

The other option is alcohol, either pure ethyl alcohol (grain) or denatured alcohol which must be at least 60% while 100% (anhydrous) is optimal. Pure ethyl alcohol is strictly controlled in Canada and costs a small fortune creating a barrier for the average person to obtain. Denatured is relatively inexpensive and not controlled, but there are few suppliers out there. For those of us in Canada, vodka is not useful as our liquors are limited to 40%.

Contrary to many written resources, witch hazel can’t dissolve an essential oil either.  I’m not sure where this myth comes from other than the idea that commercial witch hazels tend to contain up to 30% alcohol with the concentrated plant extract and the rest water.  This is not nearly enough alcohol content to dissolve an essential since at least 60% is required.

An average ratio is 1 I.U. drop essential oil to 1 ml glycerine or alcohol. This can vary slightly with different essential oils and the amounts you wish to dilute. Once the essential oil is solubilized, you can add any amount of water required. If you do not take this step, you could end up with either an ineffective product or painful application.

For example if you create a room spray by adding essential oils and water in a bottle and shake before use, the essential oil will not make it to the bottom long enough to be sucked up through that little hose to the sprayer. As the spray is used up, the essential oil will continue to float on top of the water. What you are left with is a mess of oxidized essential oil in the bottom of the bottle. Ineffective product!

If you intend to add essential oils to a bath without premixing, your sensitive body parts will have an uncomfortable encounter with the pure essential oils which are still floating on the top of the water. Painful application!

Enjoy your bath…

Sandy Powell

Comments ( 20 )

  • Patricia

    I’m from Argentina and I don’t understand what “I.U.” stands for in this formula: “1 I.U. drop essential oil to 1 ml glycerine or alcohol”
    Could you explain? Thanks.

    • Admin

      it means “International Unit”. For further context there is approximately 20 I.U drops in 1 ml of liquid. Hope this helps

      Sandy Powell

      • Carolina

        Hi, so for every drop of EO I should add 1 ml of glycerin?, ex. 10 drops of tea tree oil diluted in 10 ml of glycerin?, thank you

        • Sebastian McGaughey

          Hi Carolina
          Yes, that will work. Depending what you’re using it for, you may need a different ratio.

  • Katrina Williams

    Thank you! Thank you! I have been looking for this type of information and I found you-this blog. This was EXTREMELY helpful. I had white willow bark and I could not get it to solubilize with my oils and it was either on the top or at the bottom. I added the white willow extract to vegetable glycerin and IT WORKED! Thanks and Many blessings to you!!! Now I can finalize my final body oil formulate as I now know how to solubilize it with glycerin. The water was in the white willow bark extract and not in my actual carrier oils. When I tried to add the white willow bark to my carrier oils it just sat on top of the oils. Thank you for this insight.

    • Admin

      Glad it worked for you and that we have been helpful. You will find glycerine to be a multi-faceted ingredient which is safe, simple and inexpensive. Good luck with your formulations!


  • Andrea basile

    This segment was very nicely explained. Thank you.
    I am new to essential oils but am wondering if the process of emulsification could also serve to even out the aroma emission from my diffuser.
    I am frustrated by the fact that my diffuser seems to emit the peppermint aroma preferentially, and later during the day, the other components of the EO mix come out by themselves. I would prefer a balanced mix of smell throughout the day.

  • Lea

    Will carrier oil/essential oil mix with glycerin? Also, is it safe to use pure glycerin on the skin?

    • Sebastian McGaughey

      Hi Lea! The essential oil will mix with the glycerin, the carrier oil will not mix with the glycerin. It is safe to use glycerin on the skin, but it will be sticky.

  • Joyce

    Just wonder can I add glycerin last? Or I must solubilise EO and glycerin first before adding water? Thanks.

    • Sebastian the Editor

      You must use the glycerin to solubilise the essential oil first, so you cannot add glycerin last.
      Thank you for your support
      – Sebastian the editor

  • Deb

    Can I use vegetable glycerine and essential oils to make a spray to deter flies?

    • Sebastian the Editor

      This is a tricky question, but you sort of can. Glycerine will partly allow some essential oils to mix with water, but you will have to experiment to see. You’d have to use pure alcohol or polysorbate 20 for the essential oils to fully mix.
      Thank you for your support
      – Sebastian the Editor

  • Ninpfan

    To Sandy or Sebastian: Have recipe that calls for Apple or white cider vinegar (2 tbspns), glycerin (1/2 tbspn), coconut oil (1/2 tspn), castille soap (2 tbspns), essential oils (4 drops) & 1/4 cup water. Mixed vinegar, glycerin, coconut oil, castille soap & essential oils (in that order). Haven’t gotten to the add water part yet because what I’ve got so far looks a lot like something that’s gone bad – thinner liquid with thicker coagulated lumpy stuff in it. From reading what you wrote I should’ve mixed glycerin & EO’s before adding other stuff and it seems the ratio is way off from what you suggested (IUs won’t help I don’t know how to convert please), but also that the coconut oil won’t mix w/glycerin, so can you tell me – is there anything I can add to make this mix together before adding water or do I just need to start over? To do it right next time, can you suggest what order/how to mix etc? This is supposed to be a dog shampoo. For fixing what I’ve got, I do have on hand Polysorbate 80 (not 20), Propylene glycol & DPG. Will any of those work & in what amount for what I have here? I do have Everclear as well (live in RI) but I didn’t want to add that because it’s supposed to moisturize and the alcohol would be counterproductive for that wouldn’t it? There’s so much info online and so much of it wrong it’s hard to tell what is valid. You seem to know your stuff so I would appreciate your help. I know I’m an example of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing! Ha!. Thanks.

    • Sebastian the Editor

      Thank you for asking for advice! This recipe is one that is complicated and a bit ridiculous, and feasts on the unsuspecting. Whoever produced this either isn’t knowledgeable in chemistry or is irresponsible. I’d suggest ditching the recipe. Coconut oil is not necessary, neither is the vinegar. It creates a cornucopia of chemistry problems to deal with. That level of vinegar will cause dangerous chemical reactions- which is what has caused the lumps, amongst other issues. That much vinegar will drop the pH to a dangerous level.

      The essential oils will mix with the Castille soap, so you don’t need the other stuff. You could keep the glycerine as it will have a mild effect. I’d mix the essential oils, glycerine and Castille soap all together really thoroughly, then add the water.

      Thank you for asking for our help and advice,

      Sebastian the Editor and Sandy

  • Rob


    I’ve been dissolving essential oils in vodka for years. I think it works just fine. I use a little glycerin (just a little bit), distilled water to increase the yield of my room spray or whatever I’m making – but vodka has been key for me and have had great success.

    I’ve found perfumery alcohol works (Safire blue) works – but it’s somewhat hard to get. It’s also called “Specially Denatured Alcohol (SDA) 40B” so I go back to vodka.

    • Sebastian the Editor

      Here in Canada, we are limited to 40% alcohol, but 60% is more effective. Most essential oils are clear, so you cannot see that it hasn’t completely broken down.You need a minimum of 60% for it to start to be effective.
      We actually do carry SDA is you are interested.- Sebastian the Editor

  • Brooke

    THANK YOU!!!!! Oh my goodness. I stumbled across your blog after a looooong time of searching for answers. I unfortunately learned the hard way that you cant just put essential oils into a bathtub…. lol

    I wish this information was more easily available because this was the first time I’ve ever heard of this!

  • Sister Moon

    I’m a bit confused. It’s possible to mix essential oils with glycerin and then add water to make a spray? Thank you for your knowledge.

    • Sebastian the Editor

      Hello! Yes, you can mix some essential oils with glycerine to create a spray, at about 1ml of glycerine per drop of essential oil. But, not all essential oils will not break down in glycerine so you’re better off to use an alcohol that is at least 60%. Here is a link to our specially denatured alcohol.

      – Sebastian the Editor

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