Essential oils are volatile substances which are extracted from the roots, stems, leaves, bark, flowers, or seeds of a plant. They give plants their unique aroma and they play a protective role, protecting the plant from predators and disease.
The oils are extracted from the plants by a process of steam distillation. The steam passes through the plant material and oil sacs in the plant rupture. The oil becomes a vapour when exposed to the steam, and when the vapour cools down, the oil and water separate, and the oil floats to the top.
The resulting oils are not only beneficial to plants, they contain properties that are beneficial to us. Here are the compounds that exist in the oils and their benefits:
Monoterpenes: antibacterial and antifungal
Sesquiterpenes: anti-inflammatory and anti-viral
Aldehydes: disinfectant and anti-inflammatory
Esters: antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory
Ethers: antimicrobial and antispasmodic
Phenols: antimicrobial and immune boosting
These compounds can deteriorate if oils are stored incorrectly, so try to store oils in dark glass bottles where possible, away from direct sunlight.
The History of Essential Oils
Essential oils have been used throughout history by different cultures, in perfumes, cosmetics, personal care products, healing rituals, and medicines.
The ancient Egyptians often exchange oils like Frankincense, sandalwood, myrrh, and cinnamon for gold, they were that prized. From there, the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Indians also began using oils for many health and practical reasons.
Fast forward to the middle ages and essential oils were used to treat diseases, and their use was even recorded during the plague to treat victims.
In the early 1900’s, a French chemist discovered the healing power of essential oils when he used lavender oil on his hand after suffering a burn in his lab. This then led to him and some of his contemporaries researching the benefits of oils further. Oils were used to treat the wounds of soldiers during the war.
There has been an increasing interest in essential oils in recent years, as people look for more natural ways to treat health complaints. Conventional drugs can produce undesirable side effects, and they can be expensive. Not only this, they only treat symptoms, rather than treating the reasons why the body is out of balance in the first place.
A Growing Body of Research
Essential oils are made up of tiny molecules that can easily penetrate the skin and cross the blood-brain barrier. This is how they are able to provide their specific local and systemic effects. Studies into essential oils have been quite limited, and many are only carried out on animals, which has led to a lack of acceptance of oils as a treatment among those in the medical profession. But this might be set to change. Here are some of the potentially game-changing studies that hold promise for the future:
- Frankincense was shown in one study to be better than chemotherapy at killing ovarian cancer cells in advanced cases of cancer.
- Lavender has consistently been shown to be effective at reducing premenstrual mood disturbance.
- Essential oils have been shown in some studies to be better at treating ear infections than antibiotics.
- Lavender oil has been found to effective in treating migraines and candida infections.
- Cinnamon bark was the most effective oil for fighting antibiotic resistant infections.
How to Use Essential Oils
When you inhale an essential oil, the vapour is carried to the limbic system of the brain that is directly linked to memory and emotion. That is why smells can remind you of things, and this is why essential oils are very effective at altering the mood. Some oils can uplift you and some can calm and relax you. Some oils have even been shown to be effective for depression. You can use oils in a diffuser, so the scent will disperse throughout a room, or you can inhale them from your hands, from a handkerchief, from the bottle, or from your pillow. You can also mix oils with water in a spray bottle to make a spray for your linen, carpets, or just for a room. They can freshen laundry, and make very effective household cleaners.
Topical use is a very effective method of essential oil use because the small oil molecules easily penetrate the skin and are carried to the tissues where they can have their beneficial effects. They are often used in massage and the act of massaging boosts the circulation which helps the oil to absorb even better. Massage can reduce stress, combat muscle aches, treat PMS, headaches, and more.
Because oils are so concentrated, they are likely to cause a skin reaction if they are not diluted with a carrier oil first. Start off by using a small amount of oil if you are new to using oils, then build up to reduce your risk of a reaction. You can always test a small amount of oil on your upper arm, and leave it for 24 hours to see if any reaction occurs. If It does, discontinue use of the oil. Refrain from applying oils to the eyes, ears, genitals, and any areas of broken and sensitive. To use oils topically, you can also add some oil to your bath, add oils to a hot or cold compress to treat joint pain, headaches, and cramps, or add some to your favourite body lotions for extra benefits.
But essential oils are not only great for plants and us, their beneficial properties extend into our homes too. Many essential oils have antibacterial and disinfectant properties which make them great for keeping our homes fresh and clean. But why might people want to use oils to clean their homes instead of conventional products? Here’s the lowdown on some commonly used household products and the safety issues associated with them.
Carpet Cleaning Products
Liquid or foam carpet cleaners tend to be quite safe if used correctly, though products designed to remove heavy stains can be a little more toxic. Always store products in their original containers, and keep them away from children and pets. Many carpet cleaners can cause skin irritation, so you should always use gloves when using them. Remember that products will soak through to the underlay under the carpet, so make sure that you ventilate the room when you use cleaning products, especially if you or others living in your home has asthma or any other respiratory conditions.
General Household Cleaning Products
Multi purpose household cleaners are available in wipes, sprays, foams, and liquids. Disinfectants are one of the most commonly used household products, and these can often contain ammonia and other chemicals that can be irritating to the eyes, lungs, and skin. Inhaling the vapour from these products and allowing them to come into contact with the skin are the most common issues people experience. Avoid breathing in the vapour and always wear gloves when using these products. If you use these in wipe form, it tends to help you avoid the problem of vapour inhalation.
Always read the label, as some products can leave a residue behind, so anywhere you have used them may need additional rinsing.
Many people use bleach around the house, and while it’s an effective cleaner, it can be very toxic. It can cause burns to your skin and damage to your lungs. It’s always sensible to dilute bleach appropriately, but never mix it with other products as it can produce toxic gases.
The bathroom is one of the rooms in the home that tends to get exposed to the most germs and bacteria, so it stands to reason that these products tend to contain some of the strongest ingredients. Always follow the instructions with these products, wear gloves, and always keep the room well-ventilated. As many bathroom products contain bleach or ammonia, be sure not to mix them as they can produce harmful gases.
Bathroom products are usually very fragranced too, and some people can be sensitive to these synthetic fragrances, especially people with asthma or other allergies.
Car cleaning products contain many different chemicals. These products must be stored properly and kept away from children and pets. You should always wear gloves to avoid irritation and use the products outside, not in a poorly-ventilated garage.
So what are the alternatives?
There is plenty of information and evidence that chemical cleaning products can cause us more harm than good, and most contain ingredients that are irritating to the skin and respiratory system. We might have been using these products for years without a thought, but the growing awareness of how many toxins we are surrounded by each day, in the products we use, the air around us, and in the food we eat, has led many people to try to live a more natural lifestyle. We all want a clean and germ-free home, but do we really have to poison ourselves and harm the environment to get it? Well, the answer is no. Essential oils have been used therapeutically for thousands of years, and for good reason. They have natural antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal and disinfectant properties, not to mention usually gorgeous scents, which makes them perfectly placed to replace our toxic household cleaners. Here are some of the best essential oils for cleaning your home:
As well as promoting relaxation and restful sleep, its antiseptic, antiviral, bactericidal, and fungicidal properties make it very effective for cleaning. The relaxing scent will spread throughout your home and take away the stresses of the day.
Lemon essential oil is a potent antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antibacterial and it’s also been proven to be a mood booster. It’s an excellent oil for getting rid of grime, and its fresh scent will leave your house smelling as good as it looks.
Peppermint is a good energy boosting oil and it’s a fantastic house cleaner because of its antiseptic properties. A 2008 study carried out by neuroscientists found that the oil boosts alertness and even work performance, so use it to pep you up if you have a lot of cleaning to do!
This oil is uplifting and has a pleasant refreshing scent. As well as this, it has antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial properties, which makes it a brilliant all-around cleaner. A 2011 study in a food science journal found that sweet orange essential oil was able to inhibit the growth of E. Coli and Salmonella. This makes sweet orange oil a great choice for cleaning kitchen surfaces.
This is one of the most powerful essential oils for cleaning. It has a very strong scent and works well combined with other oils like lavender, or orange oil. It has antimicrobial, antifungal, antiseptic, bactericidal, and insecticidal properties, so its cleaning prowess is hard to dispute, especially when used in hard to clean areas of the home like showers and toilets.
Essential Oils for Carpet Cleaning
Essential oils can be used to get rid of pet smells, and other smells such as strong cooking odours. There are many essential oils that are perfect for cleaning carpets, such as lavender, tea tree, peppermint, and lemon oil. Tea tree, in particular, is great for killing bacteria and any unpleasant odours that can get trapped in the fibers of your carpets.
Most essential oils are natural antibacterial agents, so they make excellent cleaning products, especially for stubborn grime. Here are the oils you will most likely see in DIY cleaning products:
- Tea Tree
These oils can be used alone or blended together, try a few oils and create your own formula.
The benefits that cleaning with essential oils can bring:
- They are naturally antibacterial and antiviral
- They are natural antiseptics
- They naturally make everything smell fresh because of their unique scents.
- Try these recipes for homemade carpet cleaners
- Baking Soda and Lavender oil
- Mix 2 cups of baking soda with 30 drops of lavender oil.
Baking soda absorbs moisture and neutralises unpleasant odours. Let the baking soda reach the deepest fibres and it will remove any stubborn grime and eliminate any unpleasant odours. The lavender is a natural deodoriser and antibacterial. Lavender also works well with other natural cleaners like vinegar. You can try mixing lavender with vinegar in a spray bottle for an effective spray for the dishwasher and heavily soiled laundry.
You can also mix the baking soda and lavender in a glass jar, and mix them well. Sift the mixture onto your carpet, leave it for an hour or so and then vacuum the carpet. It will look and smell like new.
Other carpet cleaning combinations you can try with essential oils for an effective deep clean:
- Jasmine and Orange
- Peppermint and Tea Tree
- Mint and Orange
- Rosemary and Lavender
- Pine and Tea Tree
Wondering how to make the sifter we mentioned above to spread the mixture on your carpet? Well, here’s how:
What you will need:
- A Jar
- A piece of card
- A hole punch
- Your mixture
How to make it:
Take the glass jar, remove the lid and block the opening with a hole punched card. Put your mixture in the jar and voila, you’re all ready for sifting the mixture all over your carpet to clean and freshen your home.
Vinegar and Essential Oil Carpet Cleaning Spray
- 4 Ounce spray bottle
- 2 Tablespoons of white distilled vinegar
- 30 drops of your chosen essential oil
How to make it:
Mix all of the ingredients together, shake them well and spray the mixture on the carpet where the problem stain or odour is.
How to Use Essential Oils to Clean Your Carpet
Sprinkle some baking soda on the carpet you intend to vacuum. Take a cotton wool ball and put 10-20 drops of your chosen oil on it and put it in your vacuum cleaner bag. If your vacuum doesn’t have a bag, mix the oil with baking soda then sprinkle it on your carpet. Don’t use too much baking soda as this can clog your vacuum, and be careful if you are using oils where pets are. Mix the oils and baking soda very well as they can stain your carpet. Lemon oil is especially good for carpets, its scent is very pleasant and fresh, and it can eliminate any odour from your carpet and your home in general.
Other Ways You Can Keep Your Carpets Fresh
To keep your carpets smelling fresh, sprinkle baking soda on them 15 minutes before vacuuming. Add a little baking soda to your vacuum bag too.
Carpets and rugs can soon pick up an unpleasant odour if you have pets in the house. Sprinkle baking soda on carpets and leave overnight if possible. Vacuum the carpet in the morning and you should find that the odour is gone. Carpets that have been exposed to damp or mildew will benefit from this too.
Deep clean your carpet regularly, whether you invest in, or hire a carpet cleaner, or get the professionals in.
Vacuum your home around 3 times per week to keep carpets free of trodden in grime that causes bad smells.