Essential Oil Distiller
Understanding Steam Distillation)
Essential Oil Distiller is a true vertical steam distillation unit made from
scientific-grade borosilicate glass, specifically designed for easy steam
extraction of essential oils from plant materials by the non-chemist at
home, resulting in the highest purity essential oils. Unlike other steam
distillation units on the market, ours' offers true "dry steam" distillation
in an all glass (Pyrex) system. Coupled together with ground glass joints,
there are no hoses or rubber stoppers in contact with your product because
it's all glass! The "open-to-atmosphere" design means that steam pressure
can never build up in the system, making the system much safer to operate
and insuring that the distillation process will take place at exactly 100
degrees C (at sea level) and not a degree higher! The simple design
addresses a number of problems associated with competitor's stills, Because
of it's "vertical" design, the biomass flask stays dry, none of the "boiling
water" is wastefully condensed and trapped in the biomass flask, and because
it uses separate flasks for boiling and biomass, there's further insurance
that overheating or possibly burning your plant material will never happen.
Our uniquely designed filter traps up to 20mL of either "heavier than
water" oils or "lighter than water" oils while automatically draining away
the excess condensed water (the "Hydrosol", that can be kept for many
purposes) thus allowing you to start the distillation and let it proceed on
it's own without constant need of attention. When the distillation is
complete, the receiver then doubles as a tapered separatory funnel, allowing
you to easily separate your prized oil from the remaining water. See
Understanding Steam Distillation for
more information on the process parameters.
The production of a very small
amount of essential oil requires the distillation of a lot of water. Other
essential oil distilling setups require that you constantly watch the vessel
that catches the condenser drips because the excess water must be constantly
drained off as it is condensed. When the distillation is complete, the
contents of the "catch vessel" must then be transferred to a separatory
funnel in order to separate the water and oil layers. This is cause for much
time and labor unnecessarily spent. We have designed a unique receiver that
captures both "lighter-than-water", and "heavier-than-water" oils and
continuously and automatically drains off any water ("Hydrosol") that's
being condensed!! You can simply send the excess water to the drain and toss
it, or it can be kept as "Hydrosol" and used. Water drips in to the
receiver, and as it fills, excess water begins to be removed from the middle
of the vessel via the side-pipe. The vent on the side pipe is to prevent
siphoning action. As your oil accumulates, it either floats on top or sinks
to the bottom of the receiver, while water from the center of the vessel is
constantly drained off. The receiver can hold approximately 20mL of either
weight oil. When the distillation is complete, the Teflon valve is carefully
opened and the water and oil is then drained and separated into respective
vials. Because it is all automatic, you can start the distillation and walk
away for hours at a time, with confidence that everything is going to plan.
LOADING THE BIOMASS FLASK
If you are working around a sink, tile or other hard surface, please
LINE IT WITH A TOWEL or FOAM RUBBER DRAWER LINER available from the
You don't want to be amazed at how easy it is to break glassware.
LOADING THE BIOMASS FLASK
First insert the little stainless steel screen tube that we provide into
the bottom of the flask, so the plant material doesn't clog the hole or
fall through. Just fold it a little at the top and stick it through the
bottom of the flask until it is flush with the bottom of the flasks'
Now load your plant material into the bioflask. For 2 and 5 liter
bioflasks it is best to cut the plant material into 1 inch (max) chunks.
This makes it easier to both load and unload through the mouth of the
flask. It's okay to use any type of plant matter in the biomass flask
with the exception of powder or resinous chunks. Powder will clump up
and cause the bottom opening to plug, and steam won't be able to get to
most of it- or it may just fall into the boiling flask. Resins must be
hydrodistilled and simply won't work in this setup.
It is fine to stuff the bioflask full of plant material, although it
will also work fine if it is partially empty (you just won't get as much
oil). Use a plastic or wooden dowel about 1/2" in diameter to help to
pack it (the dowel is also useful for cleaning out the damp plants after
distilling). DONšT use metal or you'll break the flask!
ok to use any consistency of plant matter in the biomass flask with
exception of powder. Powder may clump and cause the bottom opening to plug,
or it may just "fall in" and get into the boiling flask. If you're
distilling rosemary, for example, you'll be able to just cram the flask full
and distill!, because it's big and bushy. But if you're using cut plant
matter or finer consistency material, you might want to insert the little
stainless steel screen tube that we provide into the bottom of the flask, so
the plant material doesn't clog the hole or fall down it. Just fold it a
little at it's top and stick it up in thru the bottom of the flask. In any
case, STUFF THE FLASK FULL with plant material!! The bioflask stuffed with
rosemary is shown at left. Examples of some oils recovered with this unit
are shown below:
Assembling the Backplate/Support
Place support rod into the clamp built into the rear of the hotplate by
squeezing the top and bottom of the clamp together and inserting the rod
thru the holes.
Now Assemble the two clamps to the support rod and placing them both
high up on the rod. Leave the clamp screws snug but not tight.
For 240 volt hotplates only, place the square
wire mesh pad onto the stove, centered on the stove heater-coils,
ceramic side up.
Here's a photo of how the clamps assemble:
The backplate is provided as a
heat-shield to prevent line-of-sight infra-red heat from the hotplate from
heating up the customer's receiver flask as the distillation process continues. Screw the
back plate on to the rear of the hotplate using the two #8 screws provided.
Place support rod into the clamp built into the rear of the hotplate by
squeezing the top and bottom of the clamp together and inserting the rod
thru the holes. Now assemble the two clamps to the support rod and placing
them both high up on the rod. Leave the screws snug but not tight.
Putting the Glassware Together
Ground glass joints will freeze together if not properly lubricated!
Three small packets of silicone joint grease compound have been
provided. Before assembling any of the ground glass joints, please put a
tiny dab of grease on the male end and wipe it into a line using a
toothpick or your finger.
Assemble the joint, twist it gently into its socket, rotating at least
one rotation to spread the grease around. If you have the right amount,
the joint connection will rotate smoothly and become slightly "clear" to
the eye. Too much grease- it will spin with very little friction and
you'll have grease mushing out; too little and the joint will not become
"clear" as you press on it and rotate it, and it will feel sticky. It
actually takes very little grease to do the job. The amount in the tube
may seem small, but it should last at least a month or two with daily
use of the still. .
glass joints will freeze together if not properly lubricated! Three small
packets of Silicone joint grease compound have been provided. Before
assembling any of the ground glass joints, it is recommended that you first
put a tiny dab of grease on the male end and wipe it into a line using a
toothpick or your finger. Then assemble the joint, twist it gently into it's
socket, rotating it at least one rotation to spread the grease around. If
you have the right amount, the joint connection will rotate smoothly and
become slightly "clear" to the eye. Too much grease- it will spin with very
little friction and you'll have grease mushing out everywhere; too little
and the joint will not become "clear" as you press on it and rotate it, and
it will feel sticky. It actually takes very little grease to do the job. The
amount in the vial may seem small, but it should last at least a month or
two with daily use of the still.
Start by filling the boiling flask about 2/3 full with water (a little more is
OK but no more than 2/3 maximum). Since you're distilling the water, tap
water is OK, but you may want to use distilled or purified water so you
don't get things like chlorine vapors coming into your biomass. Grease
the biomass flask joints and assemble the biomass flask to the boiling flask
(pre-loaded with plant material of course). Place the biomass flask on top
of the boiling flask, center the flasks on the burner, and secure the flasks
using the upper clamp, attached to the top neck of the biomass flask. NOW
lightly grease both ends of the steam transfer tube and drop it into the top
of the biomass flask. Clip the condenser to the transfer tube using the
provided red plastic "Keck" clamp. Last, FILL the receiver (preload it) with
distilled water- close the stopcock and pour in enough water to make it come
out the drain tube.
IF YOU DO NOT PRELOAD THE RECEIVER WITH DISTILLED WATER
As the distillation process begins and receiver fills up with condensed
water, the water's level will eventually rise above the bottom level of the
outlet pipe. You will likely have a small quantity of essential oil floating
on the surface in the receiver by then, and you'll notice that a small
"plug" of it gets caught in the receiver's outlet pipe. This oil will be
lost into the hydrosol collection flask and will not be easy to recover. If
you preload the receiver with water before starting the distillation, this
will not happen. SO preload the receiver with water, and now using the green
keck clamp, assemble it to the condenser. You will now use the second clamp
provided to hold it in place to the stand/support rod. If you've done it
correctly it will look like the photos. The backplate should stand between
the heater coils and the receiver, so that heat radiating from the heater
does not have a "line if sight" path to the receiver. (this keeps your
distilled oil cool). Place your own catch flask under the receivers' drip
tip to catch the first hydrosol that comes off during distillation. It's
best to position it so the drips hit the rim of the container, so they don't
splash as they drip into the water. OR if you are not interested in
keeping the hydrosol, you can place the whole still on the edge of your sink
so the hydrosol simply drips into the drain and goes away.
Boiling water and glass clamps
Start by filling the boiling flask about 1/2 full with water (a little
more is okay but no more than 2/3 maximum). Tap water is okay, but you
may prefer to use distilled or purified water so you don't get chlorine
vapors steaming through your biomass. Grease the glass stopper included
and plug the side port with it.
Grease the biomass flask joints and place the biomass flask (pre-loaded
with plant material) on top of the boiling flask, center the flasks on
the burner, and secure the flasks using the upper metal clamp, attached
to the top neck of the boiling flask.
NOW lightly grease both ends of the still head and attach it to the top
of the biomass flask. Clip the condenser to the still head using the
provided red plastic "Keck" clamp.
Next, FILL the receiver (preload it) with distilled water- close the
stopcock and pour in enough water to make it come out the side drain
IF YOU DO NOT PRELOAD THE RECEIVER WITH DISTILLED
WATER... This is what will happen...
As the distillation process begins and the receiver fills up with
condensed water, the water's level will eventually rise above the bottom
level of the outlet pipe. You will likely have a small quantity of
essential oil floating on the surface in the receiver by then, and
you'll notice a small "plug" of it get caught in the receiver's outlet
pipe. This oil will be lost into the hydrosol collection flask and will
not be easy to recover. If you preload the receiver with water before
starting the distillation, this will not happen.
Using the green Keck clamp, clip the preloaded receiver to the
condenser. You will now use the second metal clamp provided to hold the
receiver in place to the stand/support rod. The metal heat-shield plate
mounted to the hoptlate should be between the heater and the receiver,
so that heat radiating from the heater does not have a "line of sight"
path to the receiver. This keeps your distilled oil cool.
Place a drinking glass or bottle (500mL or so in capacity) under the
receiver's side drip tip to catch the first hydrosol that comes off
during distillation. It's best to position it so the drops hit the rim
of the container, so they don't splash as they drip into the water... OR
if you are not interested in keeping the hydrosol, you can place the
whole still on the edge of your sink so the hydrosol simply drains away.
WATER FOR THE CONDENSER
The easiest thing you can do is to use tap water to circulate
water through the condenser. Water goes IN THE BOTTOM and OUT THE TOP
of the condenser. Tap water will work just fine, and you can drain
the exiting water to your garden or the sink drain. Experts say
chilled water is better, and recirculating it with a pump (optional but
not provided with the kit) conserves this precious resource. If you
use the pump, use a bucket of ice water and drop the pump in it
(it's submersible) to circulate chilled water through the condenser
and back to the bucket. In any case, the water only needs to be
a trickle, but IT MUST ALWAYS BE MOVING. Once the distillation
gets underway, you will be able to tell if your flow is enough by
feeling the temperature of the water coming out...if it is cold to luke
warm, your flow is enough. If it's warm or hot, turn up the flow. If
you use the pump instead of tap water, plan on using up at least
three "grocery store" sized bags of ice per distillation. Be sure to
plug the hoses on to the condensers' glass hose-bibs snugly... a hose
popping off in the middle of a distillation is a good way to make a real
mess! The hose may seem difficult to get on to the condenser fittings-
if so, simply warm the end of the hose with hot water or over a lighter
or candle flame (don't burn it!) and it will then stretch easily and
slip on. (You may have to cut it off with a razor blade later.)
BASICALLY THAT'S IT. Turn on the condenser water, Make sure the stopcock
on the receiver is CLOSED, turn the hotplate on FULL HIGH and let it
NOTE: 240 volt hotplates and Proctor Silex hotplates (the white ones):
The hotplate knob on these models can turn "up" more than one turn- be
sure to only turn it up as high as you need by watching the indicator
light- if it goes off during the distillation, turn it up a bit and
watch it- again if needed until it stays on all the time.
The easiest way to cool your condenser is to use tap water coming in to
and through the condenser, then going out of the condenser and down the
drain or into your garden. Water goes IN THE BOTTOM and OUT THE TOP of
the condenser. The water only needs to be a trickle, but IT MUST ALWAYS
BE MOVING. Once the distillation gets underway, you will be able to tell
if your flow is enough by feeling the temperature of the water coming
out...if it is cold to luke warm, your flow is enough. If it's warm or
hot, turn up the flow.
Chilled water is also an option- recirculating it in a bucket full of
ice water with a submersible pump (optional- available from our website)
conserves water over the tap/drain method BUT it requires LOTS OF ICE.
If you use a pump, use a 5 gallon bucket of ice water and drop the pump
in it to circulate chilled water through the condenser and back to the
bucket. When using this method of cooling, plan on using at least three
"grocery store" sized bags of ice, or one block of ice per distillation.
Also the bucket of ice water must be at the same table height as the
distiller, or the pump might not be able to provide enough flow.
Be sure to plug the hoses onto the condensers' glass hose-bibs snugly...
a hose popping off in the middle of a distillation can make a real mess!
The hose may seem difficult to get on to the condenser fittings- if so,
simply warm the end of the hose with hot water or over a lighter or
candle flame (don't burn it!) and it will then stretch easily and slip
on. (You may have to cut it off with a razor blade later, once it's on,
the hose material likes to stay there!).
We've provided a rubber faucet adapter (shown in the drawing above) that
may make it easier to hook the hose to most sink or garden faucets. You
may have to cut the inlet hole a little bigger with a sharp knife or
small scissors to get it to slip over larger faucets.
THE DISTILLATION PROCESS
As the water heats up and starts to boil, you'll see steam starting to
finally come out the top as the biomass flask heats up.
This takes about half an hour. (The distiller head is shown at left below.)
Eventually you'll finally see that first drip make it's way down the
condenser and into the receiver (shown at center and right below). Then
you'll see a layer of oil starting to form -- there it is!! You will likely
find that with many plants, the bulk of the oil comes off in the first 10-20
minutes, and the remainder takes 2-4 hours.
As the water heats up and starts to boil, you'll see steam starting to
come out the top of the biomass flask into the still head. This takes
about half an hour. Eventually you'll finally see that first drip make
its way down the condenser and into the receiver. Soon you'll see a
layer of oil starting to form... there it is!!
You will likely find that with many plants, the bulk of the oil comes
off in the first 10-20 minutes, and the remainder takes 1-3 hours.
As the process continues, you may notice that the boiling water becomes
colored- sometimes dramatically, sometimes not depending on the plant.
This is due to water soluble components of the plant dripping down into
the boiling flask. Don't worry, there is no oil getting down there- just
The oil will ALL end up in the receiver, and the layer there will grow
as time goes on.
You can tell when the distillation is done primarily by noticing that
the oil layer has not grown substantially in the last 30 minutes, or that
the hydrosol coming out no longer smells like much.
I like to mark the oil level in the receiver with a sharpie line drawn
directly on the glass, and then come back 30 minutes later to see if the
layer has grown. If not, you're done! The plant material will also look
dull and spent when the distillation is finished- but recognizing this
part may take a bit of practice.
When you finally decide it's done you simply turn everything off and let
it cool down, remove the receiver, carefully drain off all the hydrosol
left in the receiver by slowly opening the stopcock, and when the water
is gone and the oil layer has just barely hit the bottom, quickly close
I personally like to clamp the receiver to the support rod and let it
hang there for an hour or so, to allow any oil stuck on the inside to
make it's way down and join the big puddle, especially if the plant is
not a big oil producer. If there's lots of oil, that step is
unnecessary. Either way, I finally open the stopcock and carefully drain
the oil into a clean bottle.
If you wrap your bioflask with a bath towel held in place by
clothespins, it will insulate the flask somewhat and this will help keep
it at steam temperature. The result will be less steam condensing in the
bioflask and returning to the boiling pot as water, which means more of
the steam will get through the bioflask and into the condenser. Your
distillation will go faster and you'll create more hydrosol. It's an
option with the 2 liter flask, a good idea with a 5 liter, and mandatory
on a 10 liter system.
Please be sure to keep the towel away from the hot part of the electric
burner- I've caught mine on fire more than once by not paying
attention!!!. Also be sure you have adequate indoor ventilation or do
your distilling outside. Oils are potent!
Note: You may notice that when you're finished, your oil and/or hydrosol
smells like it's a bit "burned". This is a natural occurrance with any
steam distillation system and it's not actually "burn" that you're
smelling- it's stinky phenols and/or related compounds from the plant
that have been distilled along with the oil. By simply leaving the oil
and hydrosol bottles uncapped and open to air for a time ranging from a
day to a week depending on the oil, this stinky note will disappear.
Smell the oil daily and when one day it smells "yummy", it's time to cap
it up for use or storage.
Brown glass bottles are best to use for storage because they keep light
out, and refrigeration at this point will make your oils last longer.
As the process continues, the
oil layer will grow, and when it's all done, you simply turn everything off
and let it cool down, remove the receiver, carefully drain off all the water
you can by slowly opening the stopcock, and when the water's gone and the
oil layer has just barely hit the bottom, quickly close the stopcock. Then
clamp the receiver to the support rod and let it hang there for 10 minutes
or so, to allow any oil stuck on the sides to make it's way down and join
the big puddle. Then finally, open the stopcock and drain the oil into a
BOILING and SOLVENTS
Not that you need this information, but in case you have any questions
about boiling and what it actually is, why you are supposed to use
boiling chips with solvents other than water, or perhaps you want to
know the boiling temperatures of many common solvents,
Just swirl a lot of soapy water around in the parts, and use a
bristle brush to clean everything. It's all pyrex, so it can also be put
in a dishwasher. It's a good idea to first wipe as much of the joint
grease out as you can with a paper towel or tissue. My wife will
sometimes rinse the parts first with a swirl of vodka to dissolve and
remove any oils from the flasks and parts prior to washing them with
soapy water. Rinse very well to remove all the soap residues. BE CAREFUL
to not clunk the glass against the sink... those plastic liners are nice
for safety... most glassware is broken during cleaning! If the flasks
bump into a hard object they may develop little tiny "star" cracks.
These are dangerous- they can be repaired, but if left unattended, they
can easily cause a flask to crack or break apart at the most
inconvenient time, like when it's full of boiling water...BE CAREFUL
WITH THE GLASSWARE!!
I've found that using a 3/8" diameter dowel or plastic rod is helpful
for quickly poking plant matter and stems out of the biomass flask.
Don't be tempted to use metal or you'll break your flask. Shaking the
bioflask over a plastic trashcan also works well to remove the bulk of
the plant material.
Guck in the boiling flask that builds up from the mineral deposits of
your tap water can quickly be removed with an overnight soak in vinegar,
or if you're in a hurry, a swirl of muriatic acid (pool acid) or dilute
hydrochloric acid. I haven't tried it but a good soak with Lime-away
will probably work just as well. BE CAREFUL with these chemicals; they
are dangerous. If using anything other than vinegar, use safety glasses
and good rubber gloves!! Be sure to rinse everything very well before
your next distillation.
I usually do not remove the water hoses from the condenser- I've found
that for the most part, simply pouring a little soapy water inside the
center tube, plugging the ends with my fingers, and giving it a good
shake is enough to clean the inner condenser tube, but the water jacket
should never need cleaning. It's a lot easier to just leave the hoses on
for storage than risk breaking things trying to get them off each time
you use the system. If you do have to remove them and they are stubborn,
use a sharp knife and slit the hose at its base, and it will come off
easily. The only problem with doing this is that your hoses magically
get shorter and shorter....
Many people find it very helpful to make notes after each distillation
so they can repeat great results. Time of year, variety of plant, and
stage of the plant's growth cycle can all make a huge difference in
A 5 liter bioflask is available for $90 if purchased with the distiller
instead of the 2 liter bioflask. The unit is $125 if purchased in addition
to the 2 liter bioflask. This larger flask allows you to make a lot more oil
per distillation run.
Nothing else is needed to turn your 2 liter kit into a 5 liter system! A
The TEN liter system can be special ordered for $699 plus shipping.
The boiling flask is 2 liters as usual but it has a larger connecting
joint (34/45) and the bioflask's top is also a larger joint (60/50).Incuded with the 10 liter system are three flask clamps, a longer
support rod, and an insulating blanket with drawstrings that covers the bioflask
to keep the heat in where it belongs.
Note that the 10 liter system's boiling flask, bioflask, and stillhead
compatible with the 2 and 5 liter systems because of the larger joint
learn about other things you can do with this kit, and optional
Adapter Kit Add-On for 2 and 5 liter systems:
This kit, $75, enables you to set 2 and 5 liter distillers up for many
different kinds of operations ranging
from hydrodistillation to solvent recovery and tincture concentration.
The ground glass thermometer adapter well is only available on the distiller
head, if you order the Adapter Kit at the time you place your original order
for the distiller. It is not present on the standard model and MUST BE
ORDERED WITH THE ORIGINAL DISTILLER ORDER.
Here are a few different ways
to set it up with the adapter kit:
you wish to do a "Hydrodistillation" instead of a steam distillation (the
biomass is simply stuck right in there with the boiling water instead of in
a separate flask), use the long hydrodistillation adapter from the option
kit in place of the biomass flask, and then set the still up the same as you
would for steam distillation. You might want to wrap a towel around the tube
as an insulating jacket, to help the steam to go all the way up to the top
Mix your biomass in with the water in the boiling flask
and proceed as normal. The collector flask shown in these photos is supplied
by the customer. You may use any convenient flask, bottle, or beaker for
this purpose. The wire heating pad shown in these photos is not necessary on
this kind of heater, but can be used if desired (customer supplied).
Other "Classic" Distillations
traditional laboratory distillations, such as solvent recovery, sometimes
require the use of a thermometer in the process, and a slightly different
setup using other of the optional kit's components (see
Adapter Kit). In this case, put the
solvent to be recovered into the bio flask which has been capped with the
little cap from the kit, and put the thermometer from the kit into the top
of the stillhead with the thermometer adapter option. NOT SHOWN in the photo
-- you then need to submerge the
lower half of the bioflask in a pot of water that you then heat with the
hotplate, and this will then boil your solvent and cause it to distill and
purify. The purified solvent can be recovered in a beaker, bottle, or flask. The
thermometer will allow you to monitor the progress of the distillation as it