Giving homemade cleaner a boost
Recently, a co-worker had a great question about my homemade cleaner. Does this formula disinfect? My answer was that I thought adding tea tree oil would help kill germs, but I wasn’t certain. I typically steer clear of commercial disinfectants for several reasons. The potential for antimicrobial resistance and the effects on humans and animals top my list (see this article from Science Daily). So, I decided to do a little research about how to fight these bugs naturally.
What natural additives can offer disinfectant properties without the side effects of synthetic chemicals?
- Tea Tree Oil
The apparent benefits of tree tree oil are numerous. This essential oil has long been touted as having antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-protozoal, and anti-inflammatory properties. I want to see evidence supporting a medical or scientific claim, and tea tree oil appears to have a bit of research behind it. This article in Clinical Microbiology Review, Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties , outlines the various clinical studies supporting (or refuting) tea tree oil’s health benefits.
The research suggests that tea tree oil does, in fact, have demonstrable antimicrobial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-protozoal effects. Additionally, antimicrobial resistance has not been reported. While I always prefer natural over synthetic products, this does not mean there are not safety concerns. Ingesting large quantities of tea tree oil can be harmful. However, most cases were treated with supportive care and no deaths have been reported. Some people may have sensitivities to skin contact with strong or undiluted forms of tea tree oil.
Additionally, I do not recommend using tea tree oil on pets- there are reported cases of neurologic or gastrointestinal reactions. However, when used appropriately, tea tree oil is a good choice for adding a natural antimicrobial to your homemade cleaner.
- Thyme Oil
Thyme oil is also receiving a lot of attention for it’s disinfecting properties. According to various studies (see Antifungal activity of thyme and Effectiveness of Alternative Antimicrobial Agents ), thyme oil possesses both antimicrobial and anti-fungal benefits. The potential for toxicity or irritation is lower than compared with tea tree oil, although some people may have a respiratory sensitivity. The longer surface contact time (some sources site up to 10 minutes), is a drawback, however.
- Lemongrass Oil
This is typically my go-to essential oil for my homemade cleaner. I love it’s fresh scent- the house just smells cleaner when I use it! Luckily, it also appears to have antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties (Antifungal activity of the lemongrass oil and Antimicrobial activity, cytotoxicity and chemical analysis of lemongrass essential oil) when used as part of a cleaning solution. There is potential for skin irritation with long term exposure.
- Other oils
There are several other oils with germ fighting claims and might be worth trying. These include peppermint, balsam, and cinnamon. If nothing else, the house will smell fabulous!
Natural is safer, but common sense still prevails
Even natural products are chemicals, and while I prefer them over synthetic compounds, I use them with care. I probably don’t have to say this, but be sure to keep essential oils and cleaning products away from kids and pets. Consider wearing gloves when cleaning to prevent prolonged skin exposure. When using a new essential oil on a hard surface, spot test a small area first to be sure there is no reaction.
If you are new to essential oils and want to try a few out, I loved this sampler. The bottles lasted me a year!
Now keep calm and clean on!!