By Mark Piatt
Updated on June 3, 2021
Does science support the fact that essential oils can be used to clean, disinfect, and purify our homes? Science has shown that some essential oils can be used to clean, disinfect, and purify our spaces.
After aromatherapy, using essential oils to clean may be the next most popular use of essential oils. Especially if you are looking for an eco-friendly alternative to harsh cleaning products.
Information provided in this description is for educational purposes only. For possible treatments of physical or mental diseases, please seek a trained and licensed health professional. Enchanted Aromatics is not responsible for any adverse side effects resulting from the use of any suggestions, products, preparations, or procedures mentioned or from following historical uses of essential oils.
You will find plenty of blogs and guides that have recipe after recipe for using essential oils to clean and disinfect your home. Many of these articles will talk about the natural antibacterial and antiseptic properties of essential oils.
But are they just repeating what they read on another blog or do essential oils have antimicrobial properties? Or are essential oils adding nothing more than a nice smell?
Without the science to confirm that essential oils can disinfect your surfaces, how do you know your homemade solution is killing the microorganisms? Because someone on a blog says it does?
Also, many blogs and articles say you can use essential oils as a safe, non-toxic way to clean your home. Unfortunately, this is not true. Yes, essential oils are natural, but many have ingredients that are toxic to our environment, ourselves, and our pets.
In this article, we are going to examine 36 studies to back up the claims of the 11 most popular essential oils listed that have disinfecting abilities. We will summarize the results of these essential oil research articles and include references so you can read the studies for yourselves. There are many more studies to support the antimicrobial properties of essential oils. Also, keep in mind many more essential oils claim to have similar properties.
11 of the most common essential oils used in cleaning recipes.
|#||Essential Oil||Claimed Cleaning Properties|
|1||Cinnamon||Use to clean hard surfaces. Antimicrobial, antiseptic, deodorizer.|
|2||Eucalyptus||Disinfectant, deodorizer and cleans without leaving streaks - antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal.|
|3||Lemon||Terrific cleaning agent due to its acidity. Stain remover - Deodorizer, antibacterial, antiseptic.|
|4||Lavender||Powerful cleaning properties. Gentle all purpose cleaner. Disinfectant and deodorizer.|
|5||Orange||Natural solvent can cut through grease & dirt. Deodorizer, antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal.|
|6||Oregano||Degreaser. Powerful antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal. Some may not like the smell if used alone.|
|7||Peppermint||Natural deodorizer. Many bugs do not like the smell. Antifungal, antibacterial.|
|8||Pine||Great at cleaning non-porous surfaces, concrete and tile. Antibacterial, EPA approved disinfectant.|
|9||Rosemary||Long history in cleaning. Antifungal, Antibacterial, antiseptic, deodorizer.|
|10||Tea Tree||Powerful antibacterial, antifungal, deodorizer.|
|11||Thyme||Excellent sanitizer. One of the best disinfectants. Great deodorizer.|
A few things to keep in mind about cleaning with essential oils.
A disinfectant should be fast-acting. It should not be harmful to the user. A disinfectant should leave an antimicrobial film on the surface. A disinfectant Should kill at least 99.99% of what it is targeting, and it must prevent those microorganisms from returning. For a much more detailed summary of recommendations, please check out this article from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention.
Most of the studies we will examine will show how these essential oils had positive results against various bacteria, fungi, or viruses. These studies typically do not show if the essential oil had a 99.99% effective rate at killing or preventing these microorganisms from coming back.
Most of these studies do not show the effectiveness of using essential oil as a cleaner or disinfectant. They only show the potential of the essential oil being used against certain microorganisms under a set of test conditions.
None of these studies look at the ability of these essential oils to be used as a general cleaner to disinfect surfaces.
Although many essential oils have antimicrobial properties, these properties are generally not as good as commercially made products.
You will sometimes find essential oils in various cleaning products. The essential oil is added to enhance the capabilities of the primary disinfectant while offering a pleasant smell. The essential oil is never the main disinfectant.
Now let us look at the scientific evidence of each essential oil.
Scientific claims of each essential oil used in cleaning recipes.
Scientific Studies On Cinnamon Essential Oil
Thanks to two constituents called cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic acid, under certain conditions, cinnamon can kill some bacteria, viruses, and some drug-resistant fungi by inhibiting their cell membranes. Cinnamon can destroy biofilms that form on some surfaces. But in case you are wondering, despite its ability to kill bacteria, cinnamon alone would not make a good medicinal antibiotic without substantial improvements.
This is an in-depth review of the literature over the last 5 years from various sources regarding the antibacterial effects of cinnamon.
This is a summary of a study that was conducted in 2018 on the feasibility of using cinnamon as a potential new source of an antibiotic.
This review describes the antibacterial effects of cinnamon and its constituents, such as cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic acid, against pathogenic gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria.
In this 2016 study, when cinnamon was used in combination with a multipurpose contact lens disinfectant, they succeeded to eradicate all tested microorganisms at all tested concentrations within 2–3 h contact time.
- Optimization of essential oil-based natural disinfectants against Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli biofilms formed on polypropylene surfaces
This 2018 study looked at the ability of cinnamon, marjoram, and thyme at killing both mature and immature biofilms of Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes formed on polypropylene surfaces.
The biofilms were successfully eliminated, and these essential oils were found to be equivalent to industrial sanitizers.
- Antibacterial activity and mechanism of cinnamon essential oil against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus
This 2016 study found that cinnamon essential oil is effective at causing the cell metabolic activity to become irregular in Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Both these bacteria are leading causes of foodborne spoilage.
Cinnamon also changed the membrane permeability and membrane activity of these bacteria.
These and other studies conclude cinnamon does have antimicrobial properties. Although none of these studies focused on the ability of cinnamon to be used as a disinfectant in a cleaner, the evidence suggests it would have good antimicrobial qualities when used as a cleaner.
Scientific Studies On Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Studies have shown that Eucalyptus essential oil has “broad-spectrum” antimicrobial properties. This is mainly thanks to a compound called Eucalyptol or 1,8-cineole, which can make up between 70% – 90% of the contents of eucalyptus essential oil.
Eucalyptus essential oil is particularly effective against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus
Because of these properties, eucalyptus is often used as an antiseptic. It can be found in various medications that relieve symptoms of various infections including coughs, colds, and sore throats.
- Antibacterial activity of essential oils from Eucalyptus and of selected components against multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogens
In this 2011 study, Eucalyptus globulus showed positive results against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Eucalyptus showed very little activity against MDR Gram-negative bacteria.
- Antibacterial activity of the essential oils from the leaves of Eucalyptus globulus against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus
In vitro testing showed the leaves of eucalyptus globulus had antimicrobial activity against gram-negative bacteria Escherichia coli and gram-positive bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.
26 species of eucalyptus were examined in this 2004 study. Extracts of Eucalyptus globulus, E. maculata, and E. viminalis significantly inhibited the growth of six Gram-positive bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, Bacillus cereus, Enterococcus faecalis, Alicyclobacillus acidoterrestris, Propionibacterium acnes), and of a fungus (Trichophyton mentagrophytes).
This study concludes that some of the eucalyptus extracts studied were found to be effective against micro-organisms that cause food poisoning, acne, and athlete’s foot.
- Antibacterial effects of Eucalyptus globulus leaf extract on pathogenic bacteria isolated from specimens of patients with respiratory tract disorders
This 2006 study found that eucalyptus had the potential of being used to treat a variety of respiratory pathogens including Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae. This early study concluded that further studies are warranted to clarify the role of Eucalyptus globulus in treating various respiratory infections.
- Evaluation of Antimicrobial Activity of Eucalyptus camaldulensis Essential Oil Against the Growth of Drug-Resistant Bacteria
In a laboratory setting, this 2016 study found that Eucalyptus camaldulensis from Iran may be useful as an alternative antibacterial agent for a variety of bacteria.
Laboratory settings have found that different species of eucalyptus are effective against a variety of microorganisms.
Scientific Studies On Lemon Essential Oil
Of all the essential oils used for cleaning, lemon essential oil is at the top of most people’s lists. Lemons have a naturally refreshing, clean smell. No wonder it is used in so many cleaning products.
Lemon does an excellent job when cleaning shiny faucets and can help remove water stains.
Limonene is the main chemical component responsible for its antimicrobial properties.
- Antibacterial activity of Lemon (Citrus lemon L), Mandarin (Citrus reticulata L), Grapefruit (Citrus Paradisi L), and Orange (Citrus sinensis L) essential oils
In this 2008 study, of the four essential oils studied, lemon showed the highest inhibition effect on a variety of bacteria including Staphylococcus carnosus, Enterobacter gergoviae, and Enterobacter amnigenus.
This study found that using Lemon essential oil as a natural antimicrobial will be suitable under certain circumstances in the food industry.
- Citrus lemon essential oil: chemical composition, antioxidant and antimicrobial activities with its preservative effect against Listeria monocytogenes inoculated in minced beef meat
In 2017, this study looked at the antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of lemon essential oil in preserving meat against Listeria. They found that the two dominant components found in lemon essential oil known as limonene and β-Pinene provided a 50% inhibition of listeria.
The study concluded that lemon may be a new potential source as a natural antimicrobial and antioxidant in the food and pharmaceutical industries.
- The effect of lemon, orange, and bergamot essential oils and their components on the survival of Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, Bacillus cereus, and Staphylococcus aureus in vitro and in food systems
This study looked at how effective the vapors were in these essential oils against the specific micro-organisms listed in the title. The study demonstrated these essential oils had positive results against these micro-organisms. They concluded these essential oils, particularly bergamot, may be a natural way of inhibiting the growth of bacteria that lead to food poisoning.
Lemon has great potential as an antioxidant and an antimicrobial inhibitor.
Scientific Studies On Lavender Essential Oil
Although there have been many studies done on the use of lavender, there are not enough high-quality studies done on its effectiveness as a cleaner and disinfectant.
But before people knew about its disinfectant properties, lavender has long been used as a cleaning agent. It derives its name from lavare, which means “to wash.”
This study from 2021 looked at the antimicrobial ability of lavender and immortelle against 9 strains of bacteria and fungi. Lavender was effective against all bacteria and fungi that were tested. More studies need to be done as to the actual effectiveness of lavender against these and other micro-organisms.
- Antimicrobial Activity of New Materials Based on Lavender and Basil Essential Oils and Hydroxyapatite
This study from 2018 found that lavender showed very positive activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.
This 2021 study looked at the wide spectrum of biological activity reported for lavender. This included its antiseptic, analgesic, and anticancer effects. This study looked at what compounds were most responsible for these actions. More studies need to be followed up.
Although more studies need to be conducted, the data shows there does seem to be both scientific and clinical data that support the traditional beliefs about lavender being a good disinfectant.
Scientific Studies On Orange Essential Oil
Orange is an excellent solvent. You will find this ingredient in many cleaning products because of this ability. Studies have also determined that orange essential oil can be effective against 22 bacterial strains.
About 90% of orange essential oil is made up of d-limonene. This component is known to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi, and certain parasites.
- Essential oils of peppermint, orange, or lemongrass kill most strains of fungal and bacterial infections
This 1998 study found that orange can inhibit the growth of over 12 fungi and was effective against 22 bacterial strains.
- Inactivation of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in fruit juices by combined treatments of citrus fruit essential oils and heat
Fruit juices typically go through a heat treatment during production to kill bacteria such as E. coli. By combining the heat treatment of apple juice with orange essential oil, scientists were able to reduce both the temperature and time needed to kill the bacteria. The scientists were able to reduce the temperature by 4.5 degrees Celsius and reduce the amount of time required by 5.7 times.
This 2006 study looked at the ability of d-limonene to inhibit Porphyromonas gingivalis in vitro. Researchers found that when d-limonene is combined with MgCi(2), the combination suggests that this could be used as a natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent.
It has been well known that orange essential oil has the potential of inhibiting some bacteria. But now studies appear to indicate that orange essential oil has the potential of being used against many different forms of bacteria and fungi.
Scientific Studies On Oregano Essential Oil
Oregano has two components that contribute to its antimicrobial and antioxidant characteristics: carvacrol and thymol. Carvacrol makes up between 60% – 85% of oregano and is responsible for most of its characteristics while thymol makes up about 5%. Studies have also shown that carvacrol displays anticarcinogenic activity. Overall, early studies have shown that oregano may rival antibiotics in treating or preventing various bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.
- The antibacterial activity of oregano essential oil (Origanum heracleoticum L.) against clinical strains of Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa
The positive outcome of this 2012 study shows that additional studies are warranty to fully understand the effectiveness of using oregano essential oil to enhance the healing process in bacterial infections, including the prevention of antibiotic-resistant strain development.
Studies have shown that carvacrol has a significant impact on the structural and functional properties of cytoplasmatic membranes on a variety of microorganisms.
Several patents have now been opened to use carvacrol with a few other products for formulations in biomedical and food packaging applications. Further in vitro studies and safety investigations still need to be carried out.
- Essential Oil Composition and Antibacterial Activity of Origanum vulgare subsp. glandulosum Desf. at Different Phenological Stages
In this study from 2013, Oregano essential oil derived from different growth stages was tested against a variety of gram-positive bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, and gram-negative bacteria including Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
The study concluded that oregano showed strong antibacterial activity on all bacteria studied.
The evidence from these early studies appears to show that oregano has great potential of being used on a variety of bacteria and other micro-organisms, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Scientific Studies On Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint essential oil has a bright, colorful scent that is excellent for removing lingering odors. Plus, you will find peppermint in many commercial and natural cleaning products because of its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Here are a few studies to back up these claims.
- Physical and Antibacterial Properties of Peppermint Essential Oil Loaded Poly (ε-caprolactone) (PCL) Electrospun Fiber Mats for Wound Healing
This study from 2019 looked at using various concentrations of peppermint essential oil on fiber mats for various healing applications. The study specifically targeted S. Aureus and E. Coli. The study concluded that in this application, peppermint essential oil led to high antibacterial activity and this treatment may have a potential for applications in antibiotic-free bacterial infection treatment.
- Anti-bacterial activity of peppermint (Mentha piperita) extracts against some emerging multi-drug resistant human bacterial pathogens
This study from 2017 looked at using peppermint against 10 multidrug-resistant pathogenic bacterial clinical isolates. The results indicate that peppermint essential oil has strong inhibitory effects on all 10 pathogens tested.
Further in vitro and in vivo studies are needed to understand the full effect.
This 2018 study was conducted to see what effect that peppermint essential oil has on Staphylococcus aureus. Researchers concluded that peppermint essential oil can damage the cell membranes and inhibit biofilm formation and remove biofilm formations of S. aureus.
These and many more studies all indicate that peppermint can reduce or kill a variety of bacteria.
Scientific Studies On Pine Essential Oil
Pine is known for having a clean, refreshing, and invigorating smell that is strong, dry, and woodsy. It is used as a natural disinfectant. Because of these qualities, it is often used in household cleaning products and air fresheners. Keep in mind that there are 111 species of pine. Although they all have similar characteristics, there are also many differences. Studies published on the internet about pine essential oil as an antibacterial are limited. Here are two that we found.
- The Cytotoxic and Antimicrobial Properties of Pine Essential Oils: A Characterization and Comparison
In 2016, two pine species – Pinus taeda (loblolly pine tree) and Pinus echinate (shortleaf pine tree) were investigated against 4 bacterial species – Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella enterica.
Researchers concluded these two species of pine had varying degrees of effectiveness against these bacteria. Since the waste residue of the loblolly pine was used, it shows especially good potential as a natural antibiotic.
This study looked at the antimicrobial activity of 12 essential oils, including pine. Of the 12 tested, thyme and pine had the highest activity against the following bacteria: Escherichia coli, Salmonella paratyphi A, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Yersinia enterocolitica, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Aeromonas hydrophila, Campylobacter jejuni, Enterococcus faecalis, Staphylococcus aureus.
Chen WQ, Xu B, Mao JW, et al. Inhibitory effects of α-pinene on hepatoma carcinoma cell proliferation. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2014;15(7):3293-3297.24815485
Feng S, Zeng W, Luo F, Zhao J, Yang Z, Sun Q. Antibacterial activity of organic acids in aqueous extracts from Pine Needles (Pinus massoniana Lamb.). Food Sci Biotechnol. 2010;19(1):35-41.
Pine is often used in products that rid the home of bacteria, fungi, pathogens, and yeast. It does a great job of killing odors and purifying the air.
Scientific Studies On Rosemary Essential Oil
This essential oil has a clean, herbal scent. It is known to have high antioxidant properties. Many sites claim you can take rosemary essential oil to help fight the cold and flu. We have been unable to find any scientific evidence to validate this claim.
The two main constituents of rosemary essential oil are 1,8 Cineole (about 26%) and α-Pinene (20.14%). Both compounds are known to have antimicrobial properties.
In this 2007 study, rosemary showed significant antimicrobial effects against Staphylococcus epidermidis, Escherichia coli, and Candida albicans. The study also indicated Rosemary had positive anti-fungal properties against 2 fungi that were tested.
- Investigation of antibacterial activity of rosemary essential oil against Propionibacterium acnes with atomic force microscopy
In this 2007 study, significant changes in the morphology of the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes were observed with atomic force microscopy. Increased concentrations of rosemary essential oil resulted in the bodies of the bacteria being severely damaged.
This 2013 study looked at the effectiveness of using basil and rosemary against multi-drug resistant Escherichia coli. The study indicated both oils were active against all clinical strains of Escherichia coli.
These studies show that rosemary essential oil has a great potential for being used as a surface disinfectant. Like all essential oils, more studies need to be conducted.
Scientific Studies On Tea Tree Essential Oil
This essential oil is often used in homemade recipes for its anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. Recent studies have shown that tea tree oil is an effective topical antimicrobial agent against a variety of organisms. Tea Tree essential oil also makes an excellent room deodorizer.
This study used Isolates of MRSA, GRE, and multidrug-resistant Klebsiella species, from outbreaks of hospital infections. The bacteria were exposed to two types of tea tree oil between 0 and 120 minutes.
Tea tree showed greater activity against methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA) versus MRSA. But both were killed within 10- 30 minutes, depending on the oil used. All other enterococci were killed within 60 minutes.
This 2009 study looked at the effectiveness as a preservative of these three essential oils against Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 6538, Pseudomonas aeruginosa ATCC 9027, Candida sp. ŁOCK 0008 and Aspergillus niger ATCC 16404.
The study concluded all three essential oils were able to increase the preservative properties against these bacteria by 8.5 times.
- Activity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil on Influenza virus A/PR/8: study on the mechanism of action
Previous studies found that tea tree oil could be effective against influenzas. This 2010 study was to investigate the mechanism of tea tree oil against Influenza A/PR/8 virus subtype H1N1 in MDCK cells.
They found that tea tree oil “could inhibit viral uncoating by an interference with acidification of intralysosomal compartment.”
Besides having a clean medicine type of smell, studies have shown that tea tree essential oil has a good potential of being used against micro-organisms. And at least in a specific test setting, can also kill influenza. Many more studies need to be conducted.
Scientific Studies On Thyme Essential Oil
You will sometimes find this essential oil in mouthwashes, and as a preservative in foods, cosmetics, and toiletries because of its antimicrobial properties. Thyme is also one of the strongest antioxidants known. These properties are mainly the result of three constituents, linalool, carvacrol, and thymol. All have known antibacterial and antifungal properties.
This 2011 study examined thyme and lavender against 120 strains of bacteria isolated from patients suffering from various infections. Thyme had good efficacy against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
This 2006 study wanted to see if clove and thyme grown in different geological regions possessed the same antimicrobial actions. The study concluded that all essential oils studied exhibited antimicrobial activity against all bacteria and yeast that were tested. Researchers concluded that the geological location of where the plants were grown did not affect their effectiveness against bacteria or yeast.
This 2014 study looked at the antimicrobial ability of thyme against 7 common food-related bacteria and fungi. The researchers determined that thyme had strong antimicrobial properties and may represent a new source of natural antiseptic applications.
This and other research indicate that thyme can be effective against Clostridium botulinum, Escherichia coli, listeria, salmonella, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, amongst many other forms of microorganisms.
All these essential oils have specific antimicrobial abilities when tested under specific conditions. None of These studies show that essential oils have good all-purpose antimicrobial properties. They only show they can kill specific bacteria.
YOU CAN NOT ASSUME THAT IF AN ESSENTIAL OIL CAN KILL MICROORGANISMS UNDER STRICT TEST CONDITIONS, IT WILL ALSO MAKE A GOOD SURFACE DISINFECTANT.
This does not mean they will not kill bacteria on surfaces. It just means that there have not been any published studies that show these essential oils have all-purpose antimicrobial properties when cleaning surfaces.
When you are in a setting, such as a health setting, when you must kill bacteria, essential oils are currently not a good choice. But for general cleaning around the home, using a natural cleaner that utilizes essential oils may be a good way to go as long as you know your cleaning may not be as good as a commercial disinfectant.
So, keep all this in mind when creating your natural cleaners with essential oils. Although I love my essential oils and I will keep using sprays on surfaces that smell great, I will continue to use my commercial disinfectants. My life and the life of my family are too important to trust a blog that told me my essential oils can disinfect my surfaces.