By Amber LaBorde
Most of us don’t take much enjoyment in cleaning house. (Lucky you if you do – and can you head over to our places?!) It’s a chore that needs done and we usually try to get through it as fast as possible. That’s why many of us find ourselves in the cleaning products aisle, looking for that miracle product that will clean for us while we take a nap or drink a nice glass of organic wine on the porch.
Unfortunately, there’s no such miracle product. And some of those products that make your place sparkle are doing a number on your body! It’s frightening how little regulation exists for cleaning products and how much research exists on the toxicity of many cleaning products out there! This is not intended to be a scary so we won’t dwell on this too much. But don’t take our word for it. Check out resources like Metro Portland, Environmental Working Group. Oh, and not only are manufacturers not required to list these nasty ingredients on the label, they usually don’t. So label reading will not necessary help you here! Bah humbug!
But don’t panic! You don’t need to be a chemist to clean green. Just a bit of baking soda, castile soap, vinegar, and some essential oils, along with a little elbow grease, is all it takes! So read on and enjoy your cleaning this spring, knowing not only are you protecting your health, you’re saving money, the planet, and you’re getting an aromatherapy treatment at the same time! How’s that for multi-tasking!
While the amount of essential oils used in cleaning are usually low and diluted, it is always important to think about safety before we get started. When used properly, essential oils are generally safer than their chemical counterparts. However, remember that essential oils are highly concentrated and must be kept out of reach of children. Use a bottle with an orifice reducer to reduce loss by spills or otherwise. Always check a reliable source for cautions and contraindications for each essential oil if you have specific health concerns. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should use caution before using essential oils. For example, even our favorite essential oil of rose should not be used in the first trimester! Do not use undiluted essential oils on household surfaces without a spot check – some essential oils, including citrus oils and eucalyptus, will strip varnish off furniture. Do not use essential oils with a low flash point near heat such as in the dryer.
Storing Essential Oils
Making essential oils is a very time-consuming and slow process, and can be extremely expensive. Always ensure that your essential oils are stored carefully, so they don’t evaporate, oxidize, thicken and resinify.
All essential oils should be stored very carefully in well-filled, tightly closed containers, at a cool temperature, and protected from light. Contact with air will cause both evaporation and deterioration.
Exposure to oxygen causes essential oils to oxidize. This is very undesirable. Citrus essential oils oxidize most quickly. Once an essential oil has oxidized, it should not be used therapeutically. However, some oxidized oils may be used for cleaning rather than throwing them away.
Spring Cleaning with Essential Oils
Spring cleaning with essential oils is a wonderful way to sweep away the winter doldrums and to freshen your home!
Have you tried using a few drops of Eucalyptus radiata on a wet towel on the kitchen and bathroom counters? Or taken a damp cloth with a few drops of essential oil (of your choosing) and put it in the dryer with your laundry? It refreshes, smells better than costly drier sheets, which are frequently laden with chemicals, and is a green way to spruce up the laundry.
There are a number of cleaning methods you can enhance with essential oils for a green clean that avoids harsh chemicals.
How To Use Essential Oils in Your Home
While you may want to avoid using your precious essential oils, such as Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara) and Rose attar (Rosa damascene), for cleaning and household purposes, you can incorporate essential oils into your everyday life by using them whenever you would use a commercial cleaner or air freshener. You can use essential oils in every room in your house: kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom, and laundry…
Although diffusers or other aromatherapy equipment can be quick and easy ways to disperse essential oils into the air, you do not need to invest in specialized equipment to add essential oils to your spring cleaning routine. The following suggestions do not require any special equipment:
• Use two or three drops on the filter pad of your vacuum cleaner to leave a refreshing aroma around your home as you do the housework.
• Add two or three drops to the edge of the toilet roll before placing on the toilet roll holder.
*Sprinkle a few drops of essential oil in and around drains, into the trash bin, compost bucket, toilet bowl, and in the dishwasher.
• Place a few drops of essential oils or an essential oil blend on cotton balls that are distributed in drawers, armoires, closets, and cupboards. Not only will lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) keep moths and insects out of linens when tucked into pillowcases, you’ll also enhance your sleep!
• Use as a room freshener. Pour a few drops of essential oils or an essential oil blend directly on cotton balls and leave in a room. This is particularly good for freshening up a room that is stale with cigarette smoke or pet odors, or just from being shut up over winter.
• Sprinkle a few drops of essential oils or an essential oil blend on potpourri to revive the original fragrance.
• Add a few drops of essential oils or an essential oil blend to the washing machine or dryer when doing laundry. For dryers, add the oil to a damp cloth and place it into the dryer along with the wet laundry. Note: Do not use essential oils with a low flash point in the dryer and do not drop essential oils directly onto rubber or the washer/dryer. Essential oils are concentrated and can damage surfaces when applied directly.
• Add a drop of lavender Lavandula angustifolia to the water that you add to your steam iron or use lavender hydrosol as the water. Remember that hydrosols or hydrolats are the distillate left over after the essential oil has floated to the top (or in a few cases the bottom) after distillation. They smell divine but are much less potent and cheaper than essential oils so make wonderful linen waters or try them as a facial toner or spray.
• You can even use essential oils in the gardens or on your garden paths for mosquito and insect control. Basil Ocimum basilicum essential oil is an especially good choice for insect control. A 2013 study showed the essential oil was very effective against late third-stage larvae of the mosquitos Cx. tritaeniorhynchus, Ae. albopictus, and An. subpictus5.
Here are a few of our favorites. You can add your choice of essential oils to the basic recipe.
Spray Surface Cleaner
2 cups white vinegar
5 drops of essential oil or essential oil blend, such as Lavender, Bergamot, or Sweet orange
Add white vinegar to a clean spray bottle and add essential oil. Shake well before each use. This cleaner will last indefinitely.
Paste Surface Cleaner
½-cup baking soda
Sufficient water to form a paste
8 drops of essential oil
Mix baking soda with water in a small bowl. Add essential oils. Make fresh for each use.
Natural Carpet Cleaner
½-cup baking soda
8 drops of essential oil
Add the essential oil to the baking soda and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle on carpet. Wait 10 minutes, and then vacuum thoroughly. Make fresh for each use. Do not apply to wet patches on the carpet!
Since many dishwashing liquids are scented with chemicals and contain phthalates, we prefer to make our own!
1 bottle organic phosphate and fragrance free dishwashing liquid
8 drops of your favorite essential oil
Add essential oil to the dishwashing liquid. Shake before each use. This dishwashing liquid will last indefinitely.
Aromatic Room Spray
10 drops essential oil or essential oil blend
2-T alcohol (vodka or EverClear is best)
2-oz distilled water or hydrosol of your choice Spray bottle (PET)
You can either use single essential oils to prepare a room spray, or use a blend that you’ve created first. The first step is to prepare your aroma concentrate by adding 10 drops of your essential oil or essential oil blend to 2 teaspoons of alcohol, Everclear6, or vodka. Blend together in a bottle and shake.
To Make a 2 oz. Room Spray
Mix your aroma concentrate with 2 ounces of distilled water or witch hazel hydrosol. You can choose another complementary hydrosol if you prefer. Shake well. Spray upward into the air and walk underneath. If the aroma is not strong enough, add more concentrate in 5-drop increments and test again. This formula is ideal for freshening potpourri, or diffusing throughout your home.
Our Favorite Essential Oils for Spring Cleaning
Bergamot (Citrus aurantium var. bergamia):
• Bathroom cleaner, room spray, or surface cleaner: Use 2-3 drops undiluted on a damp cleaning cloth to wipe surfaces; add 5 drops to 2 cups of white vinegar to make a surface cleaner; or make a paste with ½-cup of baking soda, add enough water to form a paste then add 8 drops of bergamot and use to clean bathroom surfaces.
• Carpet cleaner: Add 8 drops of oil to ½-cup baking soda. Sprinkle on carpet. Wait 10 minutes, and then vacuum thoroughly.
• Clothes dryer: Add 2 drops to a small cloth and add to dryer. Avoid highly flammable essential oils, including citrus.
• Washing machine: Add 2-5 drops with softener or in the final rinse.
• Refrigerator: Put 1-drop on a wet cloth, and then wipe down the interior surfaces to deodorize your refrigerator.
• Dishwashing liquid: Because it is an antibacterial (also called a bactericide), bergamot (Citrus aurantium var. bergamia) is useful added to dishwashing liquid. Add 8 drops to a bottle of dishwashing liquid and shake before use.
Eucalyptus radiata or E. smithii
• Dishcloth disinfectant: Soak cloths in a bowl with 2 drops of eucalyptus and warm water.
• Cleaner: Use undiluted to dissolve the sticky remnants of tape on furniture, floors, and appliances. It can, however, lift the varnish and finish from wooden furniture, so use with care.
• Sanitizer: Fumigate rooms or make a spray and use to sterilize toilet and bathing areas.
• Floor cleaner: Add 3 teaspoons to a bucket of boiling water when scrubbing floors.
• Spot and stain remover: After carrying out a test on a hidden piece of the fabric, apply directly to oil based stains. Leave a few minutes then wash carefully as usual.
• Toilet deodorizer: Place 2 drops in the inner cardboard roll of toilet roll. Or use 2 drops of eucalyptus on a light bulb ring in the bathroom.
• Shoe deodorizer: Impregnate blotting paper and leave in sports shoes overnight.
• Trashcans: Add 1 drop directly in trashcan or add 3 drops to hot water and use the mixture to wash out the trashcan.
Geranium China or Rose (Geranium Pelargonium graveolens)
• Drawer liner: Impregnate drawer liners with strips of blotting paper or perfume testing strips soaked in the oil.
• Room cleaning: Use in a diffuser or light bulb ring, and add five drops to the water when wiping down wood, metal or plastic venetian blinds.
Lavandin Super or grosso (Lavandin Lavandula intermedia)
• To repel insects: The aroma of camphor repels moths and other insects, so lavandin (which, unlike true lavender Lavandula angustifolia, is high in camphor) is great in pillows and sachets to store in linen cupboards and chests of drawers.
• In your closet: Soak perfume blotter strips or cotton balls in lavandin and place on the shelves.
• To clean carpets: Add 8 drops of lavandin oil to ½-cup baking soda. Sprinkle over the carpet, wait a few minutes, and then vacuum.
• To repel ants: Lavandin oil can be sprayed from an atomizer or left in a saucer to help keep away ants.
• Washing dishes: Purchase a fragrance free natural dishwashing liquid and add a few drops of lavandin for washing dishes and countertops.
• Ironing: Lavandin hydrosol is ideal to fill your steam iron. This adds a wonderful, fresh aroma as you iron your linens. (More multi-tasking – ironing and an aromatherapy treatment!)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
• Lavender pillows and sachets impart a fresh aroma in linen cupboards and chests of drawers.
• For your closet: Soak perfume testing strips in lavender and place on the shelves.
• To clean carpets: Add 8 drops of lavender oil to ½-cup baking soda. Sprinkle over the carpet, wait a few minutes, and then vacuum.
• For a fresh scent for ironing: Put 4 drops directly into the steamer of your iron with the water or use lavender hydrosol.
Lemon (Citrus limonum)
• To clean silver jewelry: Rub jewelry with a slice of lemon, rinse in warm water, and dry with a soft cloth.
• Energy clearing: Sliced lemons on a plate sprinkled with salt are said to correct negative energy in a house. Diffusing organic lemon essential oil can also be used.
• Floor cleaning: Add 6 drops to your steam cleaner to wash the kitchen floor.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
• Memory enhancement: Rosemary is very effective at improving aroma and deodorizing the air in your home. Leave a saucer with a few drops of rosemary oil near a source of warmth and the evaporating oil will deodorize and fragrance the room.
• Kitchen cleaning: Use a few drops of rosemary on a wet cloth to wipe down counters. It deodorizes and imparts a fresh aroma.
Tea Tree Australia (Melaleuca alternifolia) and Tea Tree New Zealand (Leptospermum scoparium)
• Household disinfectant. For an antiseptic action in the laundry, add ½ teaspoon of oil to each wash load. It is also great for diapers.
Tea Tree Essential Oil Helps Clean Mold from Your Home. Mold not only looks unsightly, is can pose several potential health risks, including triggering allergic reactions and asthma attacks.
Australian Tea tree Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil is attributed with antibacterial and antiviral properties, and is a good alternative to more traditional cleaning products, like bleach. Plus, a little bit of the essential oil used in water goes a long way. You may, however, want to wear gloves while cleaning with tea tree essential oil. It can cause skin irritation in those who are sensitive. Although we’ve never met anyone personally who had this reaction, we recommend using a skin patch test before cleaning your home if you don’t want to use gloves.
Tea Tree Essential Oil Cleaning Spray
2 cups water
1-T alcohol (to dissolve the essential oil)
10-20 drops of tea tree essential oil Melaleuca alternifolia
Directions: Add the alcohol to your spray bottle then add the essential oil. Shake to combine then add the water. Shake the bottle thoroughly before spraying. Then saturate the moldy area with the spray and allow it to sit overnight; wipe down the area the next day.
Amber M. LaBorde is a Clinical Aromatherapist & Co-Founder at the Wholistic Aromatics Institute. Visit www.wholisticaromaticsinstitute.com for more information.