Feel like you just want to wind down after a hard day rather than scrub that sink or tub? Or maybe you need an energy boost to get in the cleaning mood? Perhaps you'd really rather be somewhere else – like meandering through a lavender field. No, I'm not suggesting you get a massage, grab an energy drink, or well, book a flight to Provence. But you can do all those things with some essential oils added to your cleaning regimen.
Used in aromatherapy, essential oils are a great addition to... non-scented, green cleaning products and homemade, natural cleaning recipes, such as this one for an aromatherapy cleanser. They are all natural and biodegradable because they come directly from plants. And with their powerful antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, they get cleaning jobs done!
Not only do essential oils get things clean, studies show they can help you in other ways – from lifting your mood to boosting your immune system. Below are some of the most common essential oils found in green cleaning products and often the most economical and easy to find, so they are great ones to start with in stocking your green cleaning kit.
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Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Need to unwind? Lavender, shown to have a relaxing effect on the nervous system and to help with deeper, more restful sleep according to a 2005 scientific study, would be great to use for some evening cleaning or after a particularly stressful day. Its antiseptic, antiviral, bactericidal, and fungicidal actions make it particularly effective for cleaning.
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Lemon (Citrus limon)
Feeling a little down? Lemon essential oil is not only antiseptic, antimicrobial, and bactericidal, but has also been shown to actually improve people’s moods according to a 2008 study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, so try using some lemon to see the brighter side of things. Lemon is also great at cutting through grease and grime. Creative, culinary green cleaning types might enjoy combining lemon with herbaceous essential oils such as basil or thyme, which also possess properties great for cleaning.
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Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Need to perk up? Revitalizing and stimulating, peppermint is the way to go if you need to get some cleaning done or want to pull an all-nighter! Peppermint has been shown to increase alertness and even enhance work performance according to a 2008 study published in the International Journal of Neurosciences and a 2003 study published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, respectively. Its cleaning power is due to its antiseptic properties.
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Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)
Need a lift? Uplifting and refreshing, sweet orange essential oil, also simply called orange essential oil, is antiseptic and has been shown to exhibit antifungal and antibacterial properties. It is also a great degreaser. A 2011 study in the Journal of Food Science showed how Valencia orange essential oil (Valencia is a type of sweet orange) inhibited E. Coli and Salmonella during the refrigeration process of beef. So, orange essential oil would definitely be good for cleaning cutting boards and countertops where raw meat has been. In aromatherapy, it is often used to help alleviate anxiety, depression, nervousness, and insomnia, so it is particularly potent when combined with lavender essential oil, which has similar properties.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Want a powerful essential oil for cleaning? Then tea tree is your answer. Sometimes considered to be a strong smell on its own, it is often combined with other essential oils, such as lavender or orange in green cleaning recipes. As an antimicrobial, antifungal, antiseptic, bactericidal, and insecticidal, it is a hard one to skip over when it comes to cleaning the bathroom or kitchen. Scientific studies have been done showing its antibacterial actions and its promise in inhibiting certain flu viruses, combating Staph infections, and even treating the herpes simplex virus. In aromatherapy, tea tree is recommended for stimulating the immune system and in the treatment of respiratory conditions, such as asthma, coughing, sinusitis, and whooping cough. So if you feel like you’re coming down with something and must clean anyway, grab the tea tree!
Caution! Don’t store your tea tree oil in clear bottles, high heat, or direct sunlight as it can cause the chemical constituents of the essential oil to change, resulting in sensitivity in some individuals.
Caution! It is important that you use essential oils safely. If you get essential oils in your eyes, flush with water for 10-15 minutes. Consult a doctor if irritation persists. If you get essential oils on your skin, wash with soapy warm water. One exception: Lavender doesn't harm the skin; in fact, it is often used directly on the skin to treat burns, insect bites, etc.
Sources: Battaglia, S. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. (2003). 2nd ed. Brisbane, Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.
Keville, K. (1995). Aromatherapy for Dummies. New York: Wiley Publishing.