Got Superbugs? Try Essential Oils—They Work Better Than Standard Antiseptics

Monday Jan 6 | BY |
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Tea Tree

In a recent study, natural essential oils—including tea tree oil (from the tree shown here)—were more effective at killing super bugs than standard disinfectants.

In March 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that a family of “nightmare” superbugs is spreading throughout U.S. hospitals.

“These are nightmare bacteria that present a triple threat,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. “They’re resistant to nearly all antibiotics. They have high mortality rates, killing half of people with serious infections. And they can spread their resistance to other bacteria.”

While scientists struggle to come up with new antibiotics that will work against these dangerous germs, new research finds hope in natural alternatives, including tea tree oil.

What the Study Found

Researchers from Australia’s Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital tested a number of plant extracts, including tea tree, lemongrass, and eucalyptus, against several of the most deadly antibiotic-resistant superbugs. These included:

  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
  • VRE (vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus)
  • multi-drug resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • ESBL-producing Escherichia coli

They also tested these strains against two common antiseptics often used in hospitals— chlorhexidine and ethanol, commonly termed rubbing alcohol. They then looked at the “zone of inhibition,” which is the distance the substance will repel the bug, preventing infection. A larger zone meant the substance was a stronger antiseptic.

Results showed:

  • Rubbing alcohol had “notably lower or no efficacy in regard to growth inhibition of strains.”
  • Lemongrass, eucalyptus, and tea tree oils had large zones of inhibition—significantly greater than the rubbing alcohol.
  • Lemongrass oil significantly inhibited gram-positive bacteria, while tea tree significantly inhibited gram-negative bacteria. Klebsiella pneumoniae, enterococcus and pseudomonas aeruginosa are all gram-negative bacteria while staphylococcus aureus is a gram-positive bacterium.

The researchers noted, “As proven in vitro, plant-derived antiseptic oils may represent a promising and affordable topical agent to support surgical treatment against multi-resistant and hospital-acquired infections.”

Tips for Using Natural Antiseptics At Home

Though hospitals may find themselves eventually turning to natural solutions to help beat back superbugs, these studies show that natural antibacterial essential oils can be effective in any situation where germs are a concern.

That means when you’re cleaning off countertops or bathroom surfaces or toilet seats or any other germ-filled area, a homemade cleanser with these three oils will be just as effective if not more so in killing off germs than would be standard cleaning products.

To take advantage of what researchers found in this study, try these tips:

  • Get rid of the triclosan: It’s in a number of antibacterial soaps and cleaners, yet it’s been linked to the increase in superbugs. It also contaminates the environment, polluting rivers and lakes.
  • Try homemade cleaners: See our previous post for suggestions on homemade cleaners, then feel free to add these three oils to any of them for extra germ-fighting power.
  • Make your own hand sanitizer: Add one or more of these oils to water in a sprayer or other small bottle, shake, and apply to clean hands between washings.
  • Spray down surfaces: Take a bottle with the oil/water mixture and spray down surfaces in the hospital room that are likely to have germs, like television remotes and telephones.

Do you use natural oils to disinfect? Please share your tips.

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Liz Szabo, “CDC sounds alarm on deadly, untreatable super bugs,” USA Today, March 6, 2013,

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.

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