Monday, March 21, 2011

Cleaning without chemicals - Part Two: Essential Oil Properties

Though I'll admit I do not like the work involved in cleaning, one thing I do love is the way the house smells after I've just spend the day washing the floors, wiping the counters and polishing the wood. A fresh mix of orange and lavender, with just some underlying hints of tea-tree please the senses.

Yet using essential oils for cleaning is fairly new to me. And as I become more comfortable with making my own cleaners, I want to become more adventurous with the scents combinations I use.

Though for scent alone essential oils are wonderful, they also have many tested benefits for health as well as cleaning. I promised last post that I would cover some of the ingredients that I use in my cleaners, but on second thought was afraid I would insult my reader's intelligence if I started listing what common household items like vinegar and baking soda were good for. So instead, I'll focus on the essential oils and their properties.

I am not going to list all the available oils or even perhaps the most popular, but the ones that I personally like the scents of and that I have used before (or the ones I would like to try!).

Lavender - In lab tests this oil has proven to have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. It is important to remember though that the lab tests were most likely performed un-diluted, so when making your cleaners do not expect them to be 100% disinfecting. Lavender has also been thought to have many health benefits; from relieving pain and depression, to helping with headaches. I have also read that putting a small sachet of dried lavender under your pillow helps aid sleep, though I've never tried it. I use this oil in all my bathroom and kitchen cleaners, particularly near the kitchen garbage. I also use it in my air-freshening spray/soft surface deodorizer. Though this has a very pleasant scent, I find it can become overpowering, and usually use half the amount as I do the other oils. This oil blends very well with clary sage, orange, and patchouli.

Orange - This is by far my favourite scent, though I must warn you to only ever use sweet orange, as opposed to orange blossom or other orange variations. Sweet orange has the true "orange" scent, while orange blossom comes off as "perfume-y" if that makes any sense. I find the scent of orange so bright and fresh without the unpleasant after-scent that citruses like lemon can have once they start to fade. Like other citruses orange is great as a de-greaser, and I use it to boost my dish washing liquid and to clean my kitchen counters. And because we have so much wood and laminate in the house, I also use this as a floor cleaner: it brightens and polishes the wood beautifully. Yet even if this had no cleaning properties whatsoever, I would still use it as I just love the smell! Blends well with lavender, clary sage, patchouli, and sandalwood.

Tea Tree - This oil is one of the strongest antiseptics, and also has the benefit of being non-allergenic. I remember as a child whenever there was a note sent home from school that there had been a case of head lice, my mother would put small dabs of tea tree oil along my scalp to act as a deterrent. It certainly seemed to work! This also works to kill mould and mildew if diluted with water and then sprayed on the source, though I have not yet tried it. Apparently it will permanently take away the mildew smell too. From everything I've read, the recommended type to use for cleaning is the Australian tea tree oil. This blends well with lavender and clary sage.

Patchouli - Before I had any other essential oils, this was what I used to boost all my commercial cleaning products. I purchased it originally as a personal fragrance, yet I like the smell enough to use in cleaning, too. Use this sparingly though as it is quite strong and if used in too great a dose, I find can cause a headache. This is commonly used as an antiseptic and anti-fungal cleaner, and when used in small amounts, is known to boost your mood. This works well with orange and sandalwood.

Peppermint - Peppermint has been used to repel pests such as rodents (mice and rats), but also for bathroom cleaners because of it's disinfecting properties. I used to purchase a "natural'' cleaner that's main base was peppermint but I did find that when used in large quantities the scent became a little overpowering. So when making my own mixes, I would dilute it with some complimentary oils. Such oils would be lemon, lime, thyme, or bergamot. Lemon or lime I am not too crazy about, and I have not tried the others. Thyme I do know is also supposed to be a great bathroom cleaner and I am curious as to what the two scents would be like blended. Perhaps that will be the next combination I try.

Clary Sage - Many of the recipes I have come across online have called for clary sage. Because of the warm relaxing, yet uplifting scent, it is highly recommended for women, and has been used to help relieve PMS symptoms and anxiety, as well as those for pre-menopause. Though I could not find much information on the cleaning properties of Clary Sage, I suppose because of the many health benefits (particularly for females) it is often used simply for it's scent in cleaning products. This is one oil I am very excited to try! In addition to using it on its own, it also blends well with lavender, orange, tea tree, and sandalwood.

Sandalwood - One of my earliest memories of this scent is of soap my mother used to buy in Chinatown. The soap had a wonderful warm, earthy smell, and I used to love using it to bathe. As an essential oil I have not tried it, but I plan to in the near future. Because the scent is an undertone, it lasts longer yet is not as powerful as the other scents I have written about. This makes it a great addition to recipes with blended essential oils, and one that I would love to try. This blends especially well with patchouli, though I plan on trying it with all the essential oils listed above in small quantities to make the scents last longer.

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