3 Antibacterial Essential Oils For Green Cleaning

by Fernando Martinez

In the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, health and cleanliness has been in the forefront of many people's minds who are looking to protect themselves from pathogens or diseases causing microbes.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) strongly suggest hand washing as the best way to protect against COVID-19. 

What about cleaning surfaces? Could essential oils provide cleaning properties effective enough to protect against COVID-19? 

The usage of essential oils as antimicrobial agents is gaining attention when it comes to disinfecting surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a List N which compiles a list of disinfectants approved to kill COVID-19 when used according to the label directions.

Interestingly, the EPA listed the active ingredient "Thymol", a naturally occurring chemical in thyme plants, as an approved antiviral disinfectant. 

EPA list Thymol as active ingredient on their List N Tool for COVID-19 disinfectants

Let's examine other plant essential oils that could potentially offer antimicrobial properties such as thymol. 

Antimicrobial Essential Oils To Consider For Cleaning 



One of the first antibacterial herbs that comes to mind for disinfecting is thyme (Thymus vulgaris), since many alternative cleaners have replaced chlorine with thymol.

The main components in thyme oil are p‐cymene (36.5%), thymol (33.0%) and 1,8‐cineole (11.3%). 

Chemical structure of Thymol

A 2014 article published by the Journal of Medicine and Life, examined the antimicrobial properties of thyme oil. The results demonstrate that the thyme essential oil tested possesses strong antimicrobial properties, and may in the future represent a new source of natural antiseptics with applications in the pharmaceutical and food industry.

Another 2006 study, noted thyme essential oil as having a wide range spectrum of fungicidal activity. The vaporous phase of the oil exhibited long‐lasting suppressive activity on molds from damp dwellings.

Researchers suggest that the essential oil of thyme and thymol could be used for disinfection of moldy walls in the dwellings in low concentration.



Lemongrass stalk upright

There are approximately 55 different types of lemongrass species—a perennial grass that thrives in tropical climates. Two of the species used in essential oils are Cymbopogon citratus (West Indian grass) and Cymbopogon flexuosus (East Indian grass). Cymbopogon flexuosus is the type used in MOXE's Lemongrass Oil Multi-Surface Cleaning Spray.

Lemongrass scent is described as fresh, lemony, grassy, earthy, and sweet. Most people find the aroma attractive.

If you’re wondering, “What is lemongrass oil good for?”, you’ll be glad to know that the oil’s benefits are numerous and wide-ranging.

Numerous studies have reported Lemongrass to have good antibacterial properties. 

Lemongrass contains 70-80 percent citral, the chemical compound that gives lemongrass its antibacterial properties. A 2014 study, examined antibacterial potential of four lemongrass essential oils (EOs) and their major oil constituent, citral in single form and in combination of honey which were evaluated against multi-drug resistant bacteria.

The study revealed the combination of citral and honey showed significantly lower antibacterial activity in the test. 

Lemongrass oil has also been examined for its antimicrobial activity against Salmonella, one of the leading pathogens causing foodborne illness in the United States. This study demonstrated that lemongrass essential oil has the potential to be used as an antimicrobial treatment against Salm. Newport on organic leafy greens.


close up of ruby red grapefruit sliced

Grapefruit seed extract contains potent compounds that can kill more than 60 types of bacteria and yeasts. When grapefruit oil comes in contact with yeast, It kills yeast cells by causing apoptosis, a process in which cells self-destruct.

Citricidal, the chemical compound extracted from Grapefruit-seed extract has been reported to be successful in combating a variety of common infectious agents.

A study from the University of Texas, noted that drops of concentrated grapefruit-seed extract were tested for antibacterial properties against a number of gram-positive and gram-negative organisms.


Wrap Up

While more research is needed to confirm essential oil antibacterial properties, preliminary findings suggest that Thyme, Lemongrass and Grapefruit essential oils exhibit strong antibacterial activity and could be used for household cleaning when commercial cleaners are not available or allergies are a concern. 

If you are looking for a natural plant-based surface cleaner then check out MOXE's Multi-Surface Cleaner. 


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