4 Essential Oils for a Green Home

Essential oils keep your home smelling naturally fresh.
Essential oils keep your home smelling naturally fresh.
­iStockphoto.com/Igor Dutina

Many essential oils, including lavender, ylang-ylang, patchouli, clove, vanilla, and peppermint may already be found in any ordinary garden or in your kitchen cabinets. You may have also seen them on the labels of many cleaning products, especially those that feature the buzzwords "all-natural," "hypoallergenic," and "organic." A word of caution, though: Just because something is natural, it isn't necessarily hypoallergenic. Some people are allergic to even all-natural products.

Essential oils are quite versatile. They are mostly plant-derived, with the exception of musk, which is taken from the musk glands of a large mammal -- usually the musk ox. The plant-based essential oils are extracted from the leaves, stems, or stalks of the plant through a process of cold- or hot-pressing. For centuries, plants have been used for their different effects on the human body. As more and more people look for greener alternatives for their lifestyles, the many uses of essential oils -- everything from aromatherapy to cleaning and pest control -- have had a resurgence in popularity. Much like the Fantastic Four ingredients of green cleaning (vinegar, salt, lemon juice and baking soda), there is the fabulous core group of essential oils: eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, and citrus.

Essential oils can be suspended in another inert oil, such as mineral oil or another plant-based oil like carrot or apricot seed oil. They can also be combined in a solution with rubbing alcohol and witch hazel. They can't be used with water, since, as you might remember from high school chemistry class, oil and water do not mix. Essential oils can also be used with the Fantastic Four in various household tasks or added to lotions and salves -- just don't apply them directly to laundry or they'll stain. In some cases (though not for people who are allergic, are in early pregnancy, or are nursing), oils are safe to inhale or ingest. Of course, make sure to research the safety of an oil first and use where appropriate.

Now, let's take a closer look at these four oils.

4. Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus oil has antibacterial and disinfecting powers -- a few drops added to your mop water can make your floors smell and look better. Eucalyptus oil also works well as an effective insect repellent. However, it does yield a stronger scent than, say, lavender oil. When using it as an air freshener, first dilute it with water.

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3. Lavender Oil

Lavender oil is often used in homemade sprays and sachets. It not only freshens rooms and closets, it keeps away mosquitoes, flies, gnats, and other biting insects. It is also bothersome to moths; when combined with cedar chips or slivers, lavender oil makes a powerful moth repellent. Sprays or lotions made with lavender oil can be used directly on the skin as chemical-free insect repellent. However, be sure to reapply often; depending on the suspension medium (alcohol versus lotion), it may evaporate faster than typical commercial bug repellents. Lavender oil in soy candles, placed around the home or garden, has a bug-repelling effect th­at is more powerful than citronella -- and it smells nicer, too. For maximum effect, combine lavender oil with eucalyptus and clove oils. Lavender is also a highly effective disinfectant with antibacterial properties and can be used in garbage and diaper pails. It can be used in a solution to refresh and disinfect nonporous surfaces like countertops and porous surfaces like draperies, upholstery, and bedding.

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2. Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil smells nice and fresh, but it also can be used to stave away vermin such as ants, roaches, and mice. Using the oil in its undiluted form and placing it in your home at entrances and around the perimeters of a room (particularly a room that has an exterior wall) will keep the vermin from crossing into your home. Lik­e the other oils, a few drops of peppermint oil can be placed in a pot of water set to simmer to help quickly rid the home of bothersome odors.

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1. Citrus Oils

Citrus oils such as lemon, lime, and grapefruit oils, as well as our fantastic friend lemon juice, can be used in a variety of applications, even as polish for wood floors and wood furniture. Depending upon how severely dry the wood is, citrus oils can be either applied directly or suspended in another inert oil medium. Do not use citrus oils on cooking utensils, however. Citrus oils are also good for removing stickers and other gooey items -- just add a couple of drops of the oil to the sticker and rub w­ith a damp cloth until the adhesive is gone.

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