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Can natural cleaners actually kill germs?

Using essential oils to clean your home is a great alternative to mainstream cleaners and is becoming more popular as a way to cut household plastic use and toxin exposure. DIY cleaners can eliminate the respiratory and contact risks of harsh chemical-based cleaners. Contrary to these, including the use of essential oils in your home-made sprays are beneficial to inhale and safe to have on your skin.

We all love Eucalyptus. You may have been brought up with it. Your faced shoved in a steaming bowl of Eucalyptus water when you were ill, or you may have used it to remove stickers off your cupboard. As adults you probably continue to use it because it seems to help to clear your stuffy nose and it makes your house smell clean when wiped any surface. You’ll be pleased to know that research is able to back up the efficacy of the traditional uses as well as all the good stuff your mum said about it!

There are about 900 different Eucalyptus species. Yep… 900! But most people would be familiar with Eucalyptus polybractea, which is the one you can get from the supermarket and most likely the one you have in the house. Different types of Eucalyptus have been shown to be more effective than others against certain strains of bacteria, but they all have anti-microbial actions. Polybractea is able to inhibit some popular nasties like Candida albicans and E. Coli.

An active constituent in Eucalyptus that makes this plant anti-microbial is called 1,8 Cineole. 1,8 Cineole is also the substance that keeps coughs and colds at bay. It can prevent mucus production through inhibiting inflammatory processes in the airways, making it helpful for people with Asthma and sinus problems.

Similar research has been conducted on Tea Tree oil which also contains a small amount of Cineole. Tea Tree has additional constituents that may prove to fill in any germ-killing gaps that Eucalyptus might not be as good at. As little as 0.03% concentration of both these essential oils in independent solutions has been shown to kill 2 different streptococcus strains after 30 seconds of exposure. Ideally, we would want to combine as many Eucalyptus types as possible in a single cleaner, but they can be a bit harder to find and more expensive. Rare Earth Oils has a several types available but the high quality and incredible aroma make them more suited to an oil burner.

So based on existing evidence, an effective home-made anti-bacterial cleaner might include:

  • Vinegar – Organic acids kill food-borne bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella.

  • Alcohol – A known effective germ remover and preservative.

  • Essential oils – Eucalyptus & Tea Tree – 50 to 100 drops of each in a 500ml bottle. (If your household is experiencing coughs, colds and congestion, add lavender, lemongrass or peppermint which provide extra anti-bacterial action in the form of vapour!).

  • Lemon juice – shown to be antimicrobial when used with vinegar.

Additional ingredients such as water and emulsifier will make up the rest of the volume.

Happy Cleaning! (and sniffing)

Some really good evidence right here:

Budak, N.H., Aykin, E., Seydim, A. C., Greene, A. K & Guzel-Seydim, Z. B. (2014). Functional Properties of Vinegar. Journal of Food Science, 79(5), R757-R764. Doi:10.1111/1750-3841.12434

Aldoghaim, F. S., Flematti, G. R. & Hammer, K. A. (2018). Antimicrobial Activity of Several Cineole-Rich Western Australian Eucalyptus Essential Oils. Microorganisms, 6(4), 1-11. doi:10.3390/microorganisms6040122

Gilles, M., Zhao, J., An, M. & Agboola, S. (2010). Chemical composition and antimicrobial properties of essential oils of three Australian Eucalyptus species. Food Chemistry, 119(2), 731-737. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2009.07.021

Sadlon, Angela. E. & Lamson, Davis. W. (2010). Immune-modifying and antimicrobial effects of Eucalyptus oil and simple inhalation devices. Alternative Medicine Review, 15(1), 33-42. Retrieved from: EBSCOhost database.

Yadav, N. & Chandra, H. (2017). Suppression of inflammatory and infection responses in lung macrophages by eucalyptus oil and its constituent 1,8-cineole: Role of pattern recognition receptors TREM-1 and NLRP3, the MAP kinase regulator MKP-1, and NFκB. PLOS ONE, 12(11), 1-19). doi:

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