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Essential Oils for Cleaning

Last Updated on: October 12, 2021

Essential oil bottles with lavender

The scents of essential oils can lift your mood and even evoke memories, but did you know that many essential oils are great for cleaning your home due to their antimicrobial properties? Here, we highlight the best essential oils for cleaning and how to use them.

For millennia, many cultures have used plants for medicinal purposes. This includes plant oils. In their pure forms, these oils are called essential oils, though they were once called aromatic oils. Essential oils were first prepared in ancient India, Persia, and Egypt by placing plant parts in fatty oils. Later, scientists in the Golden Age of the Arabic-Islamic culture (from the 8th to the 13th centuries A.D.) produced ethyl alcohol from fermented sugar, which provided a new solvent for the extraction of plant oils. (1, 2)

In Europe, by the year 1500, oils of cedar-wood, rose, rosemary, sage, cinnamon, myrrh, and others were in common use, and by the middle of the 18th century, the number of essential oils in use for medicine and trade bloomed to about 100. In the United States in the mid 1800s, peppermint, sassafras, wormwood, wintergreen, and sweet birch oils were in use, and in the early 1900s, new knowledge of essential oils led to a sharp expansion in their production for medicinal purposes, though some oils were also added to foods. (1)

The use of essential oils has risen due to increased demand from such industries as food and beverage (especially organic), personal care and cosmetics, aromatherapy, pharmaceuticals, and medicine. (3) Driving this demand is not only the appealing scents of essential oils, but also the fact that a number of essential oils have antimicrobial and anti-fungal abilities. Because of this, essential oils for cleaning have become popular. (4)

Essential oil bottle with leaves behind it
Keep essential oils out of the reach of children and animals.

Definitions & Precautions

Before describing the best essential oils for cleaning, it’s important to set the record straight on some terminology and go over a few safety tips.

Definitions

Properties of essential oils:

  • Antibacterial: effective against bacteria, which are round, spiral, or rod-shaped single-celled microorganisms that live in soil, water, organic matter, and the bodies of plants and animals. (5, 6)
  • Antimicrobial: effective against microbes, an umbrella term that includes bacteria, protozoa, fungi, algae, amoebas, and slime molds. (7, 8)
  • Antiseptic: fights agents that cause sepsis, a potentially life-threatening, systemic immune system response resulting from the spread of pathogens and their toxins to the bloodstream from a localized infection. (9)
  • Antiviral: effective against viruses, which are submicroscopic infectious agents usually regarded as nonliving complex molecules capable of growth and multiplication only in living cells. One thing to keep in mind is that the terms “antibacterial” and “antiviral” are not interchangeable. For example, if an essential oil is listed as antiviral only, it will not kill bacteria. (10, 11, 12)
  • Germicidal: kills germs, which are small masses of living substances capable of developing into an organism. (13, 14)

Types of oils:

  • Fragrance oils: also known as aroma oils, aromatic oils, and flavor oils, fragrance oils are blended synthetic aroma compounds or natural essential oils that are diluted with a carrier like propylene glycol, vegetable oil, or mineral oil. (15)
  • Pure essential oils: concentrated, undiluted plant extracts that retain the natural smell and flavor of their source. (16)

Safety Precautions: Read Carefully!

  1. Because the FDA doesn’t regulate the purity of essential oils, it’s important to do your research and talk with a healthcare professional before using them. (17)
  2. Some DIY cleaner recipes call for ammonia or bleach. Never combine ammonia-based cleaners with chlorine bleach or products containing bleach. The fumes they’ll create are extremely dangerous. (18)
  3. Always label bottles of DIY cleaners with the ingredients and their proportions in case a child or animal is exposed to the solution. (18)
  4. Wear gloves when handling essential oils in case of irritation or inflammation. Don’t touch your face, especially your eyes, without making sure to wash off any essential oils off of your hands. (19)
  5. Essential oils are flammable. Keep them away from electricity, sparks, and flames to avoid fires. (19)
  6. Keep essential oils out of the reach of children and animals. Store your oils in a safe place in tightly sealed dark glass bottles (some essential oils degrade plastic). (19)
Happy girl cleaning her counter-top
Essential oils are safe to add to most DIY household cleaners.

Essential Oils for Cleaning

Lemon & Lime

Lemon and lime essential oils come from cold pressing the rind of fresh fruit and are naturally antibacterial and antiviral. Mix into your favorite homemade cleaners to help degrease and remove stains. Add them to your mop water or use with homemade laundry soap to brighten clothes (be sure to do a spot test first). You can also use them to deodorize your fridge and as a natural wood and leather polish (for the polish, combine 10 drops with ½ cup olive oil). (20, 21, 22)

Grapefruit

Grapefruit essential oil also comes from cold pressing the rind, and it’s another potent antibacterial. A benefit of adding grapefruit to DIY vinegar-based cleaners is that the citrus helps balance the sour smell of the vinegar. Add grapefruit essential oil to surface cleaners, mop water, and glass cleaner. (23)

Peppermint

Peppermint essential oil has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. These properties and peppermint essential oil’s crisp, invigorating scent make it a great addition to DIY spray cleaners. As a bonus, peppermint essential oil also repels ants and spiders. (20)

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is also known as melaleuca oil because it comes from the Australian Melaleuca tree. This oil is antibacterial, antiviral, and germicidal, and is especially effective against mold and mildew. It is effective in homemade soaps, sprays, and wipes. Also, like peppermint essential oil, it can be used both inside and outside the home to deter pests. (20, 21)

Orange or Wild Orange

Orange essential oil is the perfect choice for a variety of household uses. It is antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal, so it combats a wide spectrum of undesirable microbes. In addition, orange essential oil is an excellent degreaser, air and linen freshener, and pesticide (it won’t harm your plants!). (24)

Lavender

Many people are familiar with lavender’s calming effect, but it is also useful for its antibacterial properties. It’s effective in sprays as an air and fabric refresher and surface cleaner and as a powder (mixed with baking soda) to deodorize carpets. Lavender oil also repels pests — moths in particular, so it’s good for use in sachets to keep moths away from your clothes and linens. (25)

Eucalyptus

It’s well known that inhaling the vapors of eucalyptus essential oil can help open up your airways, but its antimicrobial and antiseptic abilities make it great for cleaning as well.

In fact, studies have shown that eucalyptus inhibits the growth of the following microbes (26, 27, 28, 29, 30):

  • Staphylococcus aureus (causes a number of diseases)
  • Streptococcus pyogenes (causes such serious diseases as scarlet fever, pneumonia, and necrotizing fasciitis)
  • Salmonella
  • Shigella, which causes an infection called shigellosis
  • E. coli
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa (causes lung and blood infections)

This natural germicide is also a powerful dust mite buster. Use it with baking soda to deep clean your mattress. Also, eucalyptus essential oil’s clean, minty scent is great for deodorizing kitchens and bathrooms. Eucalyptus leaves and essential oil are great in cupboards to deter pests. (21)

Cinnamon

The cinnamon plant is antibacterial and antiseptic, and therefore so is its oil. Bugs don’t like it, so it’s also a great pest repellent. Cinnamon essential oil can irritate the skin, so use caution when spraying it around the house, even if it’s diluted in a solution. Alternatively, rather than spraying it, you can place a few drops (full strength) on a cotton ball and dab it on the area you want to disinfect. (21)

Thyme

Like other essential oils on this list, thyme essential oil is antibacterial and antiseptic. It’s often mentioned for use in the kitchen because it’s especially effective on food-borne bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. Use this oil to sanitize countertops and cutting boards, especially those used to prepare raw meat. Add it to your dishwater for disinfecting as you scrub. (21, 31)

Pine

This distinctive scent from the great outdoors often reminds people of Christmas, which can certainly be a mood booster. The essential oil derived from pine needles, however, is a powerful addition to your cleaning arsenal. This is because its germicidal properties are especially effective against fungi, mold, mildew, yeast spores, and E. coli. (32, 33)

Amber bottle for essential oils
Always label your bottle of DIY cleaner with the ingredients.

How to Start Cleaning With Essential Oils

Basic DIY Cleaner

Here are three basic, cheap, and effective homemade cleaners to which you can add essential oils: (18)

  • Option 1: In a sprayer bottle, mix one part white vinegar to one part water.
  • Option 2: In a 1-quart sprayer bottle, mix 1 quart warm water and 4 tablespoons baking soda.
  • Option 3: Specifically for glass, in a sprayer bottle, mix 2 cups water, ½ cup white or apple cider vinegar, and ¼ cup 70% rubbing alcohol.

Adding Essential Oils

Now that you know about essential oils for cleaning, here are a few recipes that call for the essential oils listed above. Remember to go over the safety precautions first for a problem-free cleaning experience, and enjoy your clean, great-smelling home!

All-Purpose Cleaner

  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon natural dish soap (NOT castile soap*)
  • 30 drops lemon essential oil
  • 20 drops tea tree essential oil

Combine ingredients in a spray bottle. Spray on such surfaces as counters, cabinets, sinks, and toilets. Wipe clean. (34)

Fresh Mint Window & Mirror Cleaner

  • 3 cups distilled water
  • ¼ cup rubbing alcohol or vodka
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • 20 drops peppermint essential oil

Add ingredients to a quart-sized spray bottle and shake to combine. Spray on mirrors, windows, or stainless steel, then wipe off with paper towels. (34)

Simple Citrus Soft Scrub

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • ¼ cup liquid castile soap
  • 10 drops lemon essential oil
  • 10 drops lime essential oil
  • 10 drops wild orange essential oil

Combine all ingredients. They should form a paste (more castile soap can be added for this purpose if needed). Apply to surfaces like stovetops and sinks, then rinse with clean water. (34)

Deep Clean Toilet Scrub

  • ½ cup baking soda
  • ⅓ cup liquid dishwashing soap
  • ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide
  • 30 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • ¾ cup water

Combine ingredients in a squeeze bottle. Squirt cleaner into the toilet and scrub. Let stand 20 minutes and rinse. (34)

Daily Preventive Shower Spray

  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup rubbing alcohol
  • 1 teaspoon natural liquid dish soap (not castile soap)
  • 15 drops lime essential oil
  • 15 drops tea tree essential oil

Add all ingredients to a quart-sized spray bottle and shake to combine. Use daily on the shower door and walls to prevent buildup. (34)

Lemon Carpet Refresher

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 30 drops lemon essential oil

In a small container, add baking soda and oil and mix. Cover tightly and shake to mix completely. Allow the mixture to sit for 6 to 8 hours. To refresh and deodorize your carpet, sprinkle the mixture on the desired area and allow it to sit overnight, then vacuum. (34)

Fresh Linen Spray

  • ¼ cup distilled water
  • 3 tablespoons witch hazel or vodka
  • 20 drops lavender essential oil

Add ingredients to a small spray bottle and shake well. Spray on linens. (34)

Essential oil bottle with lavender branches near by
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts.

Where to Find Essential Oils

Essential oils for cleaning are easily found online and in health-food stores. They usually come in small amber, green, or cobalt-blue bottles. This is important because the colored glass helps shield the oils from ultraviolet light, which causes them to deteriorate more quickly. Make sure to read the labels to ensure that the oils you’re buying are pure and undiluted. If they’re diluted or have additives, they’re not pure essential oils. It’s also wise to look for certified organic brands. (20, 35) If you follow these steps and cautions, you can clean your home without chemicals, and it will smell wonderful to boot.

*Castile soap is a vegetable-based soap that’s free of animal fats and synthetic ingredients. It is natural and nontoxic and comes in bar or liquid form. Traditionally made with olive oil, castile soap was first made in the Castile region of Spain. (34, 36)

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