Household cleaning with essential oils
This week I have been talking a lot to people about clove oil. It's a popular topic after the floods, as it has a well-deserved reputation as a mould destroyer. Mostly I am asked how to use the clove oil.
Firstly it is essential (no pun intended) to use a clove oil that is 100% strength. Most commercial brands are 25% in a carrier oil base, which is unsuitable to make your cleaning product. The 25% blend is used because the other traditional use of clove oil is for treating toothache. The 25% strength is suitable for applying directly to the gums. The clove works by anaesthetising the nerve, thereby reducing the pain of the toothache. It won't cure the cause of the toothache, but relieves pain until the problem can be fixed by a dentist.
For cleaning, the 100% clove oil should be diluted in water at anywhere between 2 and 5 percent strength. The best way to do this is to add equal parts of clove oil and a 'solubiliser' and then add water. This is because oils and water generally do not mix, and droplets of pure essential oil are so concentrated they can damage the surface of things being cleaned, and also can burn the skin while you are applying the cleaner. I use a solubiliser called polysorbate 20 which is non-irritating and effectively enables the clove oil to dissolve in water.
A sample recipe would be: 10ml clove oil mixed with 10ml solubiliser, and then add enough water to make up 500ml. Apply with a household sponge which has been dampened with warm water and detergent. This can be used to wipe down walls, skirting boards, furniture (funny how mould likes to accumulate at the base of chair and table legs), and even leather coats and shoes. There is no need to wipe off or rinse afterwards. As the clove oil actually kills mould, the area you clean will be less likely to grow more mould in the next wet season. I cleaned some door surrounds and skirting boards with clove oil cleaner in my house several years ago, and a quick check shows there is no mould despite the flood rains of the recent Australia Day weekend.
I make a commercial version of this cleaner recipe, but it is simple and economical to make your own. The same recipe can also be used with other essential oils to make cleaning products. A diluted eucalyptus oil cleaner is a good general-purpose cleaner, and particularly effective for removing oily or sticky stains. I have been known to use undiluted eucalyptus oil on extremely stubborn 'goo', and then wash off afterwards with detergent and hot water. This method should be carefully checked on a test patch where it is not visible (for example under the desk you are cleaning) as a delicate surface may be damaged. Orange essential oil can be used in the same way, and is remarkably effective at dissolving oily stains. It must be diluted according to the above recipe, or it can be very harsh. I once made the mistake of cleaning urethane-coated timber shelves in my shop with undiluted orange oil as they had sticky oil stains from the dispensary. Amazingly the urethane started to dissolve and I have used it diluted ever since.
There are several benefits from using essential oils in the house. You are avoiding chemical cleaners which can leave toxic residues, and particularly volatile fumes which you and other family members would otherwise be breathing. This is important if anyone in the house suffers from allergies or chemical sensitivities. The other benefit is that the house is left with a pleasant aroma.
Trish Clough has been a practising herbalist for more than 30 years. You can follow her blog at traditionalmedicinalslismore