I really want an essential oil distiller. They run from $150 – $500 with the one I want being in the $300 range. To my husband Jimmy’s dismay I got the bright idea to make my own essential oil distiller. For a total cost of under $30! We can be pretty relentless when we get an idea in our heads. We both jumped on this project like two dogs on a bone.
Jimmy works at a chemical plant. He oversees distilling processes for a living on a much larger scale making this project right up his ally. We worked for days with different types of materials. Leaching is the biggest issue we ran into. I will tell you the best ways to avoid it.
We went through a huge amount of trial and error with the process of creating these mini stills. The end product is a hydrosol. That is a mixture of water and essential oil. You may use the hydrosol as is or you can extract the oils from the water. There are many uses for the left over water. We have all heard of rose water, it is the left over water from the distillation process.
I am including the metric conversions but please know they are approximate, I do not know the standard metric sizes. I hope you can use the given numbers as a guide line.
¼”-3/8” or 0.635cm – 0.9525cm copper tubing 8’-10’ or 2.5m to 3m long
Plastic Pail or other container (some use milk jugs)
Container for plant material with an up flowing or cone top (preferably stainless steel)
2 Food Grade Heat resistant Stopper, Silicone or Cork to prevent *leaching
Hand held Drill
Set of drill bits
Tubing cutter (optional)
Tubing bender (optional)
~remember to drill holes in phases (step drill) when drilling into metal or stoppers. Start with a small bit and work your way up to the size you need a little at a time. Always wear eye protection.
*leaching- The removal of soluble material from a substance through the percolation of water, polluting the desired result.
Note: we tried many different materials for our oil distiller. Leaching was a huge issue. Trust me in using food grade heat resistant plugs. Others may (in my case will) leave the leached smell in the copper tubing and force you to buy more copper (that goes against the whole idea of saving $$).
1’ or 30cm piece of tubing
Stopper that fits in the mouth of the kettle
Choose a kettle that is simple and the top seals well. The size of your stopper will be based on the size of your kettles mouth. Take the kettle with you when you size it. NOTE: the black stoppers are NOT food grade and will leach into your hydrosol. When you buy your tubing have the store cut the smaller piece for you or buy a tubing cutter and do it yourself. Drill a hole in the stopper that is the same size as your tubing. Remember to drill in phases. Stick the tubing into the stopper till it is flush. You want it flush to utilize as much steam as possible.
Plant material unit
Stopper that fits in the mouth of the container
Choose a container that has a cone shape to the top in order to maximize the amount of steam that is sent out instead of collected on the bottom of said container. We used aluminum cans, they are easy to find and replaceable at any time. Some frown on using aluminum but in this setting it works ok, stainless would be a better option. ^NOTE: if using stainless you can buy a small stopper to use in this section, I suggest staying as small as possible to keep the steam hitting the maximum amount of plant material.^ Drill a hole the size of your tubing at the lowest point possible in phases as not to destroy your container. The lower you are the more of the plant material the steam must travel through allowing it to pick up more oil. When you assemble the unit use the **dough to stop leakage (see below) around this entrance point. Also ensure the container is NOT above the vessel to capture your hydrosol as it may leak liquid.
Drill a hole in your stopper the same size as the tubing. Put this stopper on the end of the tubing that will be coming from the top of the cooling coils.
Remaining copper tubing
Bucket or other container
Take your copper tubing and coil it around a large can or jar. This is very tedious; the tubing can collapse so you must take this very slow and be present in the moment. Place a folded towel on a flat surface and sort of “roll” the tubing around the can. There are many tutorials on the net about coiling copper tubing, so if you require further instruction please do a search. Once you have the tubing coiled you must make an outlet in your coil container. Take your bucket or the like and drill a hole in the side as close to the bottom as possible. Drill your hole the size of your tubing. This hole will be where the tubing releases the hydrosol.
Feed the tubing through the hole and leave a few inches or around 6 cm protruding from the hole. Take the Plumber’s putty, roll it like a snake and plug the opening around the tubing on the inside and outside of the bucket.
Now this is where it gets tricky, you must keep you coils in a down flowing sequence so the liquid can flow through the coils. When you are placing the tubing into the hole it is very easy to distort the position of the coils. At no point should point A be above point B. The way I checked this with my tubing was using a drinking straw. Cut the straw to fit your coils so it fits in you bucket but rest on the coils. Use a marker to put a ring on one side of your straw to mark point A (the lowest point in the coils). Start from the bottom of the bucket and twist the all the way to the top of the coils making adjustments as needed, if adjustments were made repeat this process. I use a canning jar ring in the bottom of my bucket under the tubing to give it a lift. This way it has something to ‘sit’ on.
Test the seal of the plumber’s putty by adding water to your bucket. If it leaks remove the old putty and try again.
You cooling unit is complete!
**Dealing with leaks
If your kettle or any heated seals have a small leak of steam it can be alleviated with a simple solution, a dough of flour and water. Rye is said to be the best but I used wheat and it worked just fine. Make your dough slightly wet or “sticky”, roll it and lay it over the leak area. Works like a charm!
Cleaning your distiller
The unit must be cleaned before the first use and after each use (mint requires A LOT of cleaning). I use a mixture of 1 part vinegar and 3 parts water. Run the unit as you normally would exclude the plant materials. Feel free to run the unit on a higher heat for the cleaning process. Run till the liquid is almost gone. Run the unit again with plain water. Repeat till the drained liquid (condensate) has no ‘smell’.
Place water into the tea kettle. Stuff the second container with as much plant material as possible. You will have to research what parts of each plant to use for this process. Place some water and ice in your cooling unit. Place a catching container under the open tubing. Start the unit heating on the stove or on a hot plate. Get the unit to a soft boil and turn down the heat, remember slow and low. You want the temperature in the plant container to be around 175F or 80C. Test this by carefully holding the thermometer against the can or if you have room in the plug in the top of the container drill a very small hole and stick the thermometer through. This makes for another hole that may leak, just fyi. When the optimum temp is reached remember slow and low. This process takes a while, so be patent. As the ice melts add more. I ladle out the water and replace it with ice taking care not to touch the very hot tubing. The discharge from you tubing is the hydrosol. I have read if you allow the mixture to settle then freeze it the oil will stay at the top of your mixture and you can simply pour it off for pure essential oil. Remember a lot of plant material produces very, very little pure oil, however a little goes a long way.
For bulk organic herbs please visit Mountain rose herbs…
Have a great day!!