Essential oils are not only useful for their enticing scents, many of them also can be used as natural alternatives to chemical disinfectants. Some common culinary herbs have constituents that are anti-bacterial or anti-fungal. Using essential oils to clean your home or disinfect wounds is usually safer for your family and the environment.
The Strongest Oils
A study published in 2006 in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that some essential oils were able to inhibit bacteria such as staph, pneumonia and E. coli. The most effective oils studied included cinnamon oil, clove oil and rosemary oil. A study published in 2001 in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found that cinnamon oil and thyme oil vapors were effective against E.coli, staph, strep and influenza bacteria.
Cinnamon oil is derived from the bark of the cinnamon tree, which is native to Sri Lanka and tropical regions of India. The oil is derived from a steam distillation process. Undiluted, it is much too strong to swallow or use on skin. Diluted cinnamon oil on food not only adds flavor, it can help destroy food-borne pathogens that make you sick. You can use cinnamon oil to clean minor wounds and scrapes. It also works as a household disinfectant for cleaning bathroom and kitchen surfaces.
Most commonly known as a spice and home remedy for toothaches, clove oil is a powerful disinfectant. Clove oil is steam distilled from the buds of the evergreen clove tree, native to Asia. You can use clove oil to clean minor cuts and soothe insect bites. As an anti-fungal, it can be used on topical infections like athlete's foot and scabies. Like most essential oils, clove oil should be diluted before applying it to skin.
Rosemary oil is another culinary herb that can inhibit food-borne pathogens on food, in addition to adding flavor. The essential oil is steam distilled from the leaves of the plant, which is native to the Mediterranean and now grown all over the world. Although you shouldn't use undiluted rosemary essential oil directly on your skin, you can mix a couple drops with a vegetable oil such as olive oil and use it to clean minor wounds. You can add rosemary oil to a hot tub or sauna stones to disinfect the water, and rosemary oil works as a household cleanser to disinfect surfaces and freshen the air.
Thyme has been used for centuries as a traditional method of warding off germs. Also native to the Mediterranean, the essential oil is steam distilled from the leaves. According to the Washington Post, thyme oil is the active ingredient in Benefect, one of the few eco-friendly disinfectants and household cleaners available as of 2010. Because it's also effective against food-borne pathogens like salmonella, you can add thyme oil to your washing water when you clean cutting boards and kitchen utensils that have come into contact with raw eggs and meat.
- BioMed Central Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: In Vitro Antibacterial Activity of Some Plant Essential Oils
- Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy: Antibacterial Activity of Essential Oils and Their Major Constituents Against Respiratory Tract Pathogens by Gaseous Contact
- Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management: Antimicrobial Effects of Spices and Herbs
- Organic Facts: Health Benefits of Cinnamon Oil
- Organic Facts: Health Benefits of Clove Oil