Many EOs are antibacterial but which ones kick the most bacteria butt in your home? Here are the top 3 essential oils for cleaning your home.

Top 3 Essential Oils for Cleaning Your House 15

Many EOs are antibacterial but which ones kick the most bacteria butt in your home? Here are the top 3 essential oils for cleaning your home.While essential oils have a myriad of health benefits, they can also be a natural alternative for many noxious commercial cleaning products. One of the properties that makes them so effective is that many oils are antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, or a combination of all 3. However, choosing essential oils for cleaning isn’t as easy as choosing the strongest antibacterial oil; you have to consider the types of bacteria/fungi an oil is most effective against in relation to the types of microorganisms likely to be present in the area you’re cleaning. If that sounds like a lot to think about, don’t worry, I’ve done all the thinking for you. Here are the top 3 essential oils for cleaning your house.

The Microorganisms We’re Fighting

There are several essential oils that have among them a wide range of antimicrobial properties. The antimicrobial properties of any specific oil is directly linked to the composition of the oil, and thus since each oil has a unique composition each oil will have a unique anti-microbial profile. In order to choose the oils that will kick the most bacteria butt in our homes, we have to take a look at the type of bacteria and other microorganisms that hang out there.

Most common types of microorganisms in:

  • Kitchen (e. coli, campylobacter jejuni, salmonella, clostridium, candida)
  • Bathroom (e.coli, streptococcus, salmonella, paratuberculosis, campylobacter, fusarium, serratia marcescens)
  • Laundry Room (e. Coli, salmonella, mycobacterium fortuitium, candida, trichophyton rubrum)

Bacteria come in two major categories:

  • Gram Positive (clostridium, streptococcus, paratuberculosis)
  • Gram Negative (e. Coli, campylobacter, salmonella)

Gram staining is a laboratory method that stains bacteria based on the composition of their cell walls. Gram positive bacteria, the ones who take the stain, are generally more fragile and easier to kill because they don’t have the thick cell walls of Gram negative bacteria.

Want to learn more about using essential oils? I’ve curated a library of resources for essential oil users that you can access for free! Just click here to get lifetime access to the library. 

Top 3 Essential Oils for Cleaning

As you can see above, there is a pretty wide variety of bacteria and fungi that hang out in your home. Therefore, below I am presenting you with three oils that would be well-suited to cleaning your home, and not necessarily the most highly antibacteral/antifungal oils that exist


Cinnamon oil (cinnamonum cassia) is a good all-around antibacterial oil. It is active against both Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria, as well as candida (plus it smells delicious!). Below is a list of minimum inhibitory concentrations of cinnamon oil against different bacteria. This means the smallest amount needed to inhibit growth of the bacteria, so the smaller the amount needed, the more deadly the oil is to that particular bacteria.

  • E. coli. 1.12mg/mL
  • Salmonella 0.14mg/mL
  • Streptococcus 0.56 mg/mL
  • Mycobacterium 0.07 mg/mL
  • Listeria 0.56 mg/mL
  • Costridium botulinum 0.2 uL/mL
  • Candida 1.12 mg/mL

Cinnamon oil has also been found to be effective at killing the HSV (herpes simplex virus) at a concentration of 0.008%. 

Related: Top Essential Oils for Cold and Flu Season


Oregano oil (particularly the spanish variety), is even more effective than cinnamon oil against e.coli, listeria, and salmonella (although it’s not the sort of thing you want your house to smell like all the time). To compare, the BA50 (similar to the LD50 for humans) of the two oils is shown below:

  • E. coli- oregano: 0.046% vs cinnamon: 0.11%
  • Listeria – oregano: 0.074% vs cinnamon: 0.19%
  • Salmonella – oregano: 0.049% vs cinnamon: 0.066%

As you can see, while there is a difference, it’s not very major. Oregano is definitely more powerful, but not by a lot. And, as sort of a reference point for you, 0.67% and higher is basically non-effective at killing bacteria.

Oregano also is effective against both the HSV (origanum majorana), and NDV (newcastle disease virus)(origanum vulgare).

And if you’re wondering why these results are presented in different units than the ones above for cinnamon, first of all congrats for noticing, and second of all, it’s honestly one of the most annoying things about science; there are so many ways to report data that everyone chooses what suits them and their data the best. So please bear with me when annoying things like that occur.



Ajowan oil (sometimes called Ajwain, bishops weed, carom, or it’s technical name Tachyspermum copticum) is a highly fungicidal oil. A 2003 study found it to be extremely effective against:


  • Aspergillus niger (black mold, common on fruits and veggies)
  • Penicillium feniculosa (pineapple pathogen)
  • Fusarium solani (commonly found in dirt and plant matter)
  • Trichoderma Viride (a mold that is used to protect produce from other molds during farming)

Ajowan oil has also been found to be effective against Salmonella and Listeria.

(Bonus!) Ginger Root

Ginger root oil is certainly not in the top 5 most lethal oils for most household bacteria, however it holds the number 2 spot (of 96 oils tested) against campylobacter jejuni, a rising cause of foodborne illness in developed countries.


How to Clean with Essential Oils

Now that you’ve made it through the scientific sludge up there, I bet you’re wondering how to most effectively use these essential oils for cleaning your home.

My favorite method is the vinegar and water method. White vinegar by itself is actually a diluted solution of acetic acid, and has been found to have it’s own antibacterial properties.

To make your own vinegar and water cleaner, combine 1 part water with 1 part vinegar in a glass spray bottle (glass won’t interact with your essential oils the way plastic will). Then add 25 drops of essential oil per cup of mixture (so two cups would need 50 drops and so forth).

Keep in mind that this mixture is meant for hard surfaces, and that vinegar and essential oils can damage/stain things like couches and carpet. 

Based on the information above and my own scent preferences, I tend to use a cinnamon/ginger blend for all-purpose cleaning. Oregano is reserved for deep cleaning because I’m not a huge fan of the smell, and ajowan is nice for sterilizing the washing machine and the bathroom from time to time.

Feel free to make your own cleaning blend and to add oils just for a lovely scent mix (because a fresh-smelling house can really lift your spirits). Let me know what you come up with in the comments!

Because I’m curious, I’d also love to know which essential oils for cleaning you’ve been using in your home so far, and why! 

About Rachel

Rachel is a blogger and Biophysics Lab Manager who lives in Clemson, SC (go tigers!). After studying conventional pharmaceuticals and how they target specific ailments, she applied that knowledge to figuring out how essential oils can work to treat the same ailments, and ended up creating the blog The Essential Girl. When she’s not blogging or sciencing the shit out of something in the lab, she likes to swing dance and teach group fitness classes.

  • susan@avintagefarmwife

    Thanks for this info! I love the scientific evidence th as the prove my beloved essential oils work!

  • Vlatka Lončarić

    Thanks for your great cleaning tips. I’ve been using a blend made out of tea tree, lemon and a dash of mint e.o. I keep this spray bottle in my bathroom and spray/wipe it around when expecting guests. It gives a nice clean and fresh scent. Otherwise, I use another cleaning agent so-called citrus/vinegar enzyme which I’ve picked up on Pinterest. It works just perfect all around the house…especially, in bathroom and kitchen.

    • According to my research, Tea tree isn’t super effective against the bacteria commonly found in those areas. The only agreement I see is an effectiveness against Staph. I’m curious about the citrus/vinegar enzyme you’re talking about though. What’s it called?

      • Vlatka Lončarić

        Actually a long time ago I studied of how tea tree oil is a great disinfecting agent and good against the eventual build-up mold. It makes me feel safe using it especially in my bathroom.
        Citrus/vinegar enzyme…I stumbled across it on Pinterest and the recipe goes like this: fill a bottle or jar with citrus peel (only peel without pulp) add white vinegar and preserve for min 2-3 weeks. Strain and use diluted. I’m especially satisfied with using this solution on my stainless steel pots and pans. Immediate perfection without a sweat. Also noticed immediate reaction on tea cups. After spraying a dirty tea cup, the ring stain from tea momentarily disappears.
        Tried to use the leftover peels in a paste form to clean my sink. Peel-paste mixed with baking soda. Results…a mirror-shine sink. Totally satisfied. The citrusy smell is another good thing about it.

        • Ah yes, it is effective against some fungi, it’s just in the gram-negative bacteria that it’s lacking (things like e.coli, salmonella, etc). The recipe you’re describing sounds like a homemade essential oil extract. Certainly cost-effective, but not as concentrated as store-bought most of the time. But if it works, it works!

  • Susan Lazore

    On the other hand, I think the research shows we are oversanitizing our homes and children, and we tend to get accustomed to the microbes we live with in our homes anyway. I’m not looking for antiseptic cleaning, merely wiping away grime and keeping things dry.

    • In that case, vinegar and water alone may be enough to suit your needs. Vinegar will give you a little bit of antibacterial without overdoing it, and it’s also pretty good at cutting through grease on your counters.

      • Susan Lazore

        Hi Rachel, I really like good old dish detergent (a degreaser!) and water for countertops and floors, yes, sometimes vinegar. I do like your investigation on the antibacterial properties of essential oils and would be more interested in that use, say for public restrooms, hospitals, airplane travel. Would you recommend the same oils then, or something even heavy dutier? I don’t think you could whip out oregano on an airplane though. LOL The other thing I wanted to ask you, did you run across a recommended amount of time these oils need to sit on a surface to kill the germs? Some of the “greener” products I have such as the Lysol Hydrogen Peroxide Wipes, and I think 7th Gen Disinfecting Spray using Thyme, require the product to sit for about 10 minutes. You can’t just spray and wipe.

        • Yes, I would recommend the same oils for most public places. However, hospitals are a different story. The bacteria/viruses/fungi/whatever found there can vary wildly from place to place, and in my opinion using a high power commercial sterilizer is your best option because (hopefully) you aren’t entering hospitals very often, and your chances of picking up something awful are so much higher.
          In terms of the time it takes to kill, that can be tricky to find. The most common method for testing the antibacterial effects of something is by putting a paper dot soaked in it on a plate of bacteria and seeing how far around the paper dot the bacteria are killed/can’t grow. This usually takes ~24hrs of the plates being left alone to grow. However, I know I’ve read somewhere that I can’t find again right now that somewhere in the range of 5-10mins is reasonable to expect for oils killing bacteria.

          • Susan Lazore

            Good advice, thanks. 🙂

  • Caroline

    Hi. I also read your post about using essential oils around cats, and I’m wondering which oils you’d recommend to a cat owner for household cleaning. It seems many of the best antimicrobial oils are on the “not safe” list for cats. Thanks!

    • Hi Caroline. This is a good question. Unfortunately, the reason many oils are antibacterial is BECAUSE they contain those monoterpene hydrocarbons that are toxic to cats. However, in my experience, unless you are trying to clean areas where the cats sleep you don’t have to worry about exposing them much. If you want to clean your floor, then you may have to disinfect with the oils then go back with soap to get them off the floor and keep them off the paws of your kitty. In short, as long as you keep your cat away from the surfaces with essential oils, you shouldn’t have to worry.

      • Caroline

        Thank you

  • Kelly

    I am not a big fan of vinegar really just because I hate the way it smells. Can plain distilled water or hydrogen peroxide be mixed with the cinnamon and be as effective?

    • Hydrogen peroxide may be a good substitute. However you will want to make sure the final concentration of it that you work with is around 30% or lower (most of it is sold at this concentration already so if you dilute with water the same as the vinegar it will be even lower in the final solution).