I had such a great time talking with attendees at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, this past weekend about how to make green cleaners. As always, I learned a new trick or two, and I promised everyone I’d recap our conversation here for easy access. Today let’s talk about using essential oils to give your homemade cleaning solutions a little more power and (of course) heavenly scent.
The noxious smells emitted by most chemical cleaners make housekeeping an unwelcome task. It’s hard to give your all to scrubbing the shower when you’re about to pass out from the fumes, and that’s not the worst of it. Breathing in those chemicals could damage your health. The Environmental Protection Agency cites artificial fragrances in cleaning products as an indoor irritant and pollutant. A single fragrance can include as many as 600 petrochemicals—all within that one innocuous-sounding word “fragrance” on the label. You don’t have to put yourself through this.
“Often referred to as nature's living energy, essential oils have so much to offer,” Jane Chitty writes in “Herbal Lessons: How to Use Essential Oils” in the Herb Companion. Used for healing since ancient times, these oils defend plants against insects, environmental conditions and disease, and help them grow, live and evolve. Extracted by steam distillation, each oil has a different property, including antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiseptic and more, Chitty writes.
Citrus scents such as lemon, orange or grapefruit act as degreasers, while cinnamon, eucalyptus, ginger, tea tree and thyme are antibacterials. Lavender, rosemary and sweet basil all contain camphor, which is effective in repelling moths and insects. Because I adore the smell of lavender, which has antiseptic and disinfectant properties, I add a few drops to all my cleaning solutions. A quick swipe with lavender-scented vinegar water (about half vinegar, half water) gets rid of garbage pail odors and cleans any surface. The vinegar evaporates quickly, leaving only the fresh clean lavender smell. I also add it to baking soda before I sprinkle it on carpets to freshen and deodorize. Aromatherapists say lavender’s scent helps fight depression and ease stress—a welcome fringe benefit to my cleaning day.
In his excellent Herb Companion post, “It’s Absolutely Essential That You Read This Blog,” Taylor Miller suggests putting a few drops of peppermint essential oil on a napkin and rubbing it over a tungsten lightbulb (this won’t work with cooler compact fluorescents) and putting a few drops on new furnace filters to circulate scent throughout the house (refresh every few weeks or so). Using a disinfecting oil such as lavender, tea tree or eucalyptus will also help fight germs and dust mites. To make an air freshener, mix 10 parts vodka with 1 part of your favorite essential oil in a spray bottle. Taylor also adds a couple drops of peppermint oil to his dishwasher with the detergent, so the aroma warms his home as the dishes heat.
When I’m done with my housekeeping, I like to incorporate a few of these finishing touches as well—a sort of garnish on my cleaning feast. I place a cotton ball with a few drops of lavender oil in an open window in spring and summer, or simmer some essential oil-infused water on the stove in winter (cinnamon and clove are great at this time of year).
One final note: Beware of substitutes. In her informative Natural Home & Garden article, “Pure and Simple: Clean Naturally with Plant Essential Oils,” Nancy Christie warns that anything labeled “fragrance oil,” “nature-identical oil” or “perfume oil” is not 100 percent pure essential oil and likely contains chemicals. Avoid oils in plastic bottles or with rubber eyedropper bulbs in the top, she warns, as these can degrade and contaminate the oil. Look for small (4-ounce or less) dark or opaque glass bottles.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about cleaning with food. You’d be amazed at what you can do with ketchup and mayonnaise.
I add a few drops of lavender essential oils to all my cleaning solutions. iStock photo