Numerous natural cleaning solution recipes call for the use of essential oils. What exactly are essential oils? You may ask. This document answers that question and explores some specific oils.
An oil is a hydrophobic liquid. “Hydro” relates to water. “Phobic” means a fear or dislike of. Thus, oils do not dissolve in water – as is illustrated by the common expression “oil and water do not mix.” The “essential” part of “essential oils” mean that they are derived directly from the plant and carry the scent of the plant.
Many essential oils are extracted from plants by distillation, in a process not unlike how crude oil is separated into its various parts (or how alcohol is made: the prohibition-era “still” was short for “distill”). Plant materials are heated, usually with steam. As the steam contacts the plant materials, it heats them so much that the oil in the plants turn into vapor and rise. This steam and gaseous oil mixture is then channeled through coils, where it cools cannabis oil. As the oil vapor cools, it returns to its liquid state and gets collected. This is the essential oil. A minuscule amount of the oil remains in the steam; when the steam liquefies, the result is water that has tiny oil droplets suspended in it. This liquid is called an “herbal distillate,” a hydrosol, or a plant water essence. Rose water and orange blossom water are 2 common herbal distillates that are commercially available.
Oil of thyme, once extracted, if further processed to derive a chemical compound called Thymol. Because of its antiseptic properties, it is used as an ingredient in some disinfectants, such as those made by Seventh Generation. Thymol was used by some Native American tribes to treat skin infections; it was also used by the Ancient Egyptians to preserve mummies.
Tea tree oil is another essential oil with antiseptic properties. In a 2004 study conducted by Matthew Dryden and others at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital [ J Hosp Infect. 2004 Apr; 56(4):283-6.], tea tree oil was as effective as some traditional drug therapies in treating MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infections. The oil also treats dandruff and head lice. Caution: If you choose to add tea tree oil to homemade cleaners, you must take care not to ingest it, because it is toxic.
Pine oil is also used as a disinfectant. It can be found in many commonly available cleaning products.
Lavender and lemon oils are also used in natural cleaning solutions because of their disinfectant properties.
It is paradoxical that essential oils are newly being “discovered” for their uses in cleaning products. Though the term “essential oil” may not come up in everyday conversation, almost everyone living in a developed country makes use of them on a daily basis:
Perfumes are mixtures of essential oils.
Cannabis flower oil is used to flavor candy and beverages.
Caraway oil is used to flavor toothpaste and mouthwash.
Star anise oil is used in the manufacturing of the influenza drug, Tamiflu.
Spearmint oil is used in mouthwash and gum.
Parsley oil is used in soaps and detergents
In summary, we have discussed what an essential oil is, and how it is derived. We have identified several that can be used in cleaning products. We have also identified instances where essential oils are routinely encountered in daily life.
Finally, this article must conclude with a note of caution: Essential oils are highly concentrated, and you should investigate them thoroughly prior to using them in your cleaning regimen.
Some essential oils are toxic. Some are skin irritants. In all cases, keep essential oils away from children and pregnant women until you have discussed their use with your doctor.