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.
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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%.
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!