How to Make a Steam Distiller From a Teapot and Some Plumbing Parts

This doesn't work very well, feel free to try to improve or elaborate on the idea. I think I'm going to get started on a copper based model next weekend.

Why would you need a steam distiller?
-Steam distillation is the main method of separating essential or volatile oils from plant material, however commercial steam distillers cost around $400 and essential oils cost a lot too. With this Instructable you can start producing essential oils for less than $40.

Step 1: Introduction

Steam distillation is a process that uses steam to distill essential oils from plant material.
Basically steam goes through plant material, where it absorbs the essential oils, then is condensed and the oil is separated from the water.

Step 2: Materials

To build the distillation apparatus you will need,
-A teapot (or any vessel that will generate steam)
-A piece of pipe that will fit over the neck of the teapot.
-An elbow joint (same width as the neck pipe).
-Reducers (I'm not sure what the actual name for these is, they make the width smaller, these aren't necessary if the condenser pipe fits with the elbow joint).
-Another wide tube or pipe (this will be the outside of the condenser and needs to be shorter than the condenser pipe)
-A pipe that will fit inside the wide tube (this is the condenser pipe)
-Lots of innertube or some cement (for sealing the condenser
-Bronze wool (or some other filter material)
-Thread tape (not necessary but helps)
-A coat hanger and weight
All of these except the outside of the condenser should not leach in steam (use galvanized pipe),

To distill essential oils you will also need the material that contains the oil, this can easily be bought, found or grown. And something to collect the oil in.

(Sorry that there are no pics of the condenser stuff)

Step 3: Modifying the Teapot

Take off the whistle part of the teapot, (there should be some screws holding it in place) and put the piece of pipe over the neck of the teapot. (A mallet helps in this step). You should be able to take the pipe off with a little bit of tugging.
Then attach the clothes hanger so that it will hook up with the weight in order to stabilize the teapot.

It should look like this,

Step 4: Building the Condenser

This is probably the hardest part, and it takes a lot of patience. The idea behind the condenser is to cool down the steam and condense it (turn it back into a liquid). In order to cool down the steam we are going to force it through a pipe cooled by ice on the outside.
-Take the condenser pipe and put it inside of the condenser tube
-Seal one end with cement or inner tubes
-Fill the condenser tube with water (This is the frustrating part, because there always seem to be some leaks.)
-Stick it all in the freezer.

Step 5: All Together Now

-Put some bronze wool in the neck pipe (this is too keep the plant material from falling into the teapot)
-Put the plant material into the neck pipe
-Attach the elbow joint and reducers
-Attach the condenser

Step 6: Distilling

-Put the teapot on a stove or other heat source and turn it on
-Wait for the distillate to drip into the vessel.

When I tried it the Condenser melted very fast and there were many leaks. (I think I'll rig up a copper coil condenser).
The distillate didn't separate very easily and is supposed to be dark blue while my liquid is pale white.
It should work fine for my purposes (I'm using it as a mosquito repellent) but it would be nice to get a pure essential oil.

Step 7: What Next?

Since the condenser didn't work very well I think that I'll build a copper coil condenser (and edit this instructable when done.)
I might also try find a way to isolate the essential oil from the hydrosol (like in the kitty crack instructable)

Check out this instructable for something to do with catnip extract

Also a lot of herbs that can be distilled can be found growing in suburban areas, for example I've found pounds of yarrow and catnip in the middle of my town.



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    24 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hey, here's a great plan for a distiller:

    And it's cheap too! Very simple design. Just uses a cooking pot, a bundt pan and a domed lid.

    Be sure to read the info below the graphic!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    How quickly does this condense? I need something that can condense steam somewhat quickly (enough to fill a large thermos halfway to 3/4 of the way full within 5-20 minutes), but don't want to spend $800 on a condenser that would probably be too big to fit into my system anyway. And did you ever do that copper coil condenser?

    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    try a colling ring or really thin copper piping raped around the in side of the thermos like bewtenn the 2 walls

    It doesn't condense very quickly at all and I'm afraid that it wouldn't be able to fulfill what you're trying to do. In fact, this whole Instructable's pretty flawed, I've been meaning to take it down for years but, like building the condenser, it's something that I've never actually gotten around too. Sorry about that.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    It looks like you might have melt from the condenser ending up in your final product. The traditional Liebig condenser doesn't try to contain the "cold" (water), it pipes it off and recirculates it. I would suggest you extend the narrow condensate pipe further out of the end of the condenser, so you can be sure all that ends up in your collection vessel is condensate; add another vessel to catch the water that comes out of the condenser, and pipe additional cold water into the top. Ideally you want to pipe cold water into the bottom of the condenser and remove it from the top, but then you are getting into making serious glassware- this should be a decent compromise.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    The problem that I see is the design of the aq condensor , you need water to flow though the outer tube. The second is try using wo pieces of pipe for your steam area. using two pieces will allow for a screen to be put in that will put a clear passaqge to your material


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I think that I'm going to make a copper coil condenser (maybe next weekend) and then update this instructable with it


    I'm trying to extract yarrow flowers, for mosquito repellent. I'm going to build a copper coil condenser when I get the $$$ (I'm broke for now). How were you able to bend the copper without it kinking? I heard you have to fill it with water and freeze it first.


    At the diameter I used (8mm) you can bend it so far without significant flattening, step 2 shows how I did it (roughly).
    I wouldn't expect the Yarrow extract to be blue, but I think you may be able to extract with (cold) alcohol as an alternative.



    I'm pretty sure that the yarrow essential oil should be blue

    And I want to get the essential oil, so I can't do a alcohol extraction (it would pull out other stuff and be hard to concentrate). And to do a solvent extraction for essential oils uses a lot of costly solvents and could leave impurities.



    Hmm, it's a mixture - best wishes with the steam distillation. The only thing I've ever distilled that was coloured was diazomethane, so if I can find any Yarrow I might have a go. L


    Yarrow grows everywhere where I live (In Illinois, near Chicago) and It grows in a ton of other places, so does catnip which can also be distilled. Find a site that lists some wild plants in your area and go huntin, who knows what you'll find. However Yarrow looks a little like Hemlock (So I've been told) so make sure you find Yarrow. Yarrow or Catnip make excellent mosquito repellents, but Catnip attracts cats and smells kind of funky, so I use Yarrow. -mitch

    Side note, Don't use THIS setup for distilling your bug repellant. specifically since the catnip extract is probably destined for injestion(by cat or person, either way).

    An unfortunate side effect of running STEAM(or very hot water) through galvanized pipe is that Zinc Carbonate ends up dissolved in the product. In old water pipes, it's not much of a problem specifically because it is so dilute... but you're distilling! It's not gonna kill you or anything, but might cause some irritant issues with your lungs/stomach/skin if any significant quantity is inhaled/ingested/applied.

    Thanks for the info, I guess I'll have to try an all copper setup, maybe use a glass jar for holding the material, attach it directly to the kettle and then hook it up to a copper coil condenser. Would there be any problems with the lid on the mason jar? (You're supposed to boil it so I don't think it would leach). I'll need to totally redo this instructable

    mason jar lids should be no problem. Any NEW lids are "plain steel". Antique lids MAY be zinc coated however. Don't need to redo the 'ible. It's pretty nice for what it is and what it does. What I would advise is, when you go to make your new setup, write another ible on it! or, if it seems too similar to lemonie's ible, just post it as a slideshow, and add a link to the slideshow as step 7.5 But that's just me.

    How to bend copper tubing depends mainly on the type of tubing you have. If it comes already coiled, it's soft drawn tubing, and if done slowly and carefully, you can just bend it by hand. Too sharp a bend and it will kink, but for a coil, you should be fine. They also make "bending springs". Literally, a coilspring that has an inside dia JUST larger than the outside dia of the pipe. Slip it on, and bend away. around $20 at most plumbing stores, but worth it for a kink free coil. The easiest method for bending HARD tubing(comes in straight pipes) is to fill the tubing with SAND, cap both ends, then bend it on a pipe bender. With hard tubing/pipe, you're still only gonna be able to get LARGE diameter bends. But just so you know, I've never been able to get a tighter bend than a two foot diameter, without kinking at least once.