No green cleaning kit or natural medicine cabinet is complete without tea tree oil. Made from the leaves of the Australian tea tree, the essential oil has been used for hundreds of years to treat cuts and wounds and to prevent infection. The oil has powerful antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties that make it a fantastic natural remedy and safe cleaner.
However, before you get started, take some precautions to make sure you’re using this powerful oil safely: Tea tree oil is toxic when swallowed, and it can be dangerous for children and pets, in particular. Do not use tea tree oil on broken skin or burns, and The National Capital Poison Center recommends not using it anywhere in or around your mouth. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also be cautious and potentially avoid tea tree oil since little is known about how it may affect them or infants. (Plus, read about the 6 times you should never use essential oils.)
Also, some people are allergic to tea tree; if you do react to it, it’s best not to use it anywhere around your home, especially on your body or in sprays that aerosolize the essential oil. While it’s always important to dilute tea tree oil in a carrier oil before using it on your body, people with sensitive skin should dilute the oil even more or choose a product that is pre-diluted for sensitive skin.
Clean your kitchen sink
Your kitchen is a treasure trove of grime, bacteria, mold, and fungus. While you may think your bathroom is the dirtiest room in the house, a kitchen sink alone typically has more than 100,000 times the bacteria than the average toilet. Not exactly an appetizing thought.
Clean your toothbrush or retainer
Your toothbrush can harbor bacteria, especially if it’s stored wet in a dark cabinet. Christine Allmer of Desert Essence, which makes essential oil-based personal care products, recommends placing a single drop of tea tree oil on the bristles when you are done brushing your teeth each night to help control the growth of bacteria on your toothbrush. You can also give your toothbrush and your retainer a tea tree oil soak once a week. Simply add a drop of tea tree oil per ounce of water in a jar and let the toothbrush sit in the liquid for 10-15 minutes before rinsing thoroughly and air-drying.
Nourish your scalp
“The best use of tea tree oil is really all about the scalp,” said Allmer. You don’t have to buy a specially formulated shampoo to get the benefits (though if you do, we like this one). Allmer recommends adding a few drops to your shampoo before working it into your scalp because it breaks up the product buildup on your scalp—and a healthy scalp leads to shiny, healthy hair.
Plus, tea tree oil also helps to nix the itching and flaking associated with dandruff by limiting the growth of the yeast, Pityrosporum ovale, that’s responsible for dandruff.
Tea tree oil may be best known for its acne-fighting capabilities. It helps to clear out the bacteria that is causing the pimple and reduces inflammation. Even better, you don’t have to worry about it bleaching your sheets, towels, or clothes. People with sensitive skin may need to dilute the oil with more water and only spot treat to prevent irritation. If you don’t want to bother with proper dilution, you can use a tea tree oil acne cleanser like this one instead.
Deter household pests
Stop ants, spiders, and other creepy crawlers at the door by filling a spray bottle with water and a couple drops of tea tree oil. Shake the bottle before spraying along your door and window frames. You can also add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to a wet rag and wipe down the frames for a more concentrated application. Tea tree oil is a natural deterrent and toxin for many insects including ants and spiders.
Clean your washing machine
Get rid of the musty smell and mildew that’s growing inside of your washer. Clean out your machine by adding two teaspoons of tea tree oil before running it on an empty self-cleaning or hot cycle. Leave the door open to allow the washer to dry completely when you’re done and at the end of every load to help prevent mold and mildew growth.
DIY hand sanitizer
With antibacterial and antiviral capabilities, tea tree oil makes a great natural hand sanitizer. Look for hand sanitizers that list tea tree oil as an active ingredient (like this one) or make your own.
Banish nail fungus and athlete’s foot
Nothing ruins a good manicure or pedicure like a nail infection. Treat a pre- existing fungal infection or keep one from developing by mixing a drop or two of tea tree oil into coconut oil or water and applying it to your nail and cuticle or between your toes for athlete’s foot. Added bonus? Tea tree oil can also help get rid of foot odor.
Freshen up your garbage can or diaper pail
Instead of letting the smell linger or holding your nose and blindly dumping baking soda into it, thoroughly clean your garbage can with tea tree oil. Mix up a multipurpose cleaning spray with tea tree and wipe down the entire inside of the pail. Once you have all of the debris out, spray down the can and allow it air-dry completely each time you take out the trash.