Tea tree oil is one of the most extensively researched essential oils, and one of the most backed by the findings and conclusions discovered from the studies done on it. It is produced from a shrub like tree by the name of Melaleuca alternifolia, which is found along streams and in swampy areas in its native land of Australia. In the 1920’s a chemist by the name of Arthur Penfold was busy exploring the properties of native volatile oils, isolating their properties, exploring their molecular structure, and contributing to the chemical understanding of variations within plant species. During his studies in phytochemistry, he found that tea tree oil appeared extremely promising due to its powerful antiseptic properties. But well before Mr. Penfold kick started the commercial tea tree oil industry, native aboriginals were using and benefitting from tea tree oil, and passing their knowledge down throughout generations. Tea tree oil uses are endless, with a long and rich history which continues to this day.
Safety Concerns: Essential oils are powerful, and tea tree oil is no exception. The greatest concern when it comes to using tea tree oil is chiefly skin irritation. Some people, especially those with sensitive skin, may experience a reaction when they come into direct contact with the oil. If this is a concern for you, always dilute the tea tree oil in a liquid neutral oil such as olive oil, grapeseed oil, almond oil, etc. etc. Mixing with water does no good-it’s an oil, and will therefore separate-so you must give it another fat to grab onto. There isn’t a whole lot known about ingesting tea tree oil, so internal usage/consumption is not mentioned in this list.
1. Clear up A Sore Throat
Tea tree oil can help with some inflammation of the mucous membranes, which contributes to the pain of a sore throat, but most importantly it can help fight off an infection. If caught in time, it can also possibly prevent it from really taking hold in the first place.
Put 1 drop of tea tree oil into a glass of warm water, swish it around and gargle with it at least once a day. Don’t panic if you swallow a little bit, but try to spit out most of it. You can also add 2 teaspoons of salt which, thanks to osmosis, will draw excess water out of the mucous membranes that can create pressure and add to discomfort.
2. Fight that Head Cold
When you have a cold that develops into a sinus infection, the resulting pressure and discomfort can be miserable. The sinuses, air filled cavities in the front of the skull, are lined with mucous membranes, and when an infection sets in, an excess of mucous in the cavities creates painful pressure. In addition to this, inflammation of the membranes makes it difficult for said mucous to drain. The anti-bacterial action of tea tree oil can be airborne, which means it can be effective via steam bath. I know I mention this remedy a lot, but it really is the bee’s knees. To clear up a sinus infection, add roughly 5-8 drops of tea tree oil (you can adjust the amount to suit your preferences, but it is powerful stuff) to a bowl of freshly boiled water. Lean over the bowl, being mindful of the steam, and cover your head and the bowl with a towel. Breathe the steam for a good ten minutes at least twice daily to wipe out that nasty bacteria. Keep tissues on hand.
3. Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer
You’re out to a nice dinner and as you settle into the booth your mother-in-law whips out a little bottle of hand sanitizer. “Would you like some?” she asks-but you know it’s not a question. Obligingly you hold out your hand and try not to cringe as she squeezes out a giant dollop that floods your palm. That situation-or some take on it-has happened to many of us at some point or another. Now, thanks to the antimicrobial properties of tea tree oil, you can make your own (much more pleasant) hand sanitizer. Click here for the simple recipe.
4. Fight the Fungus
Nail fungus is an unpleasant condition that can cause both physical and psychological discomfort. You can use tea tree oil mixed simply with water, or you can mix it with coconut oil. Coconut oil also has fungus fighting properties that complement the tea tree oil. Melt down a tablespoon of coconut oil and then mix in 4-5 drops of tea tree oil. Store in an airtight glass container out of direct sunlight, and apply faithfully to the affected area once in the morning and once at night every day. You don’t need to use much-you don’t want greasy toes after all-and be sure to wash your hands between applications to avoid spreading the fungus.
5. Clean Minor Cuts and Abrasions
Minor cuts and abrasions can benefit from the antimicrobial action of tea tree oil, which cleanses the area and wards off infection. Clean the area thoroughly with plain soap and water, and rinse any soap off, making sure there is no dirt or debris left over. Mix a drop of tea tree oil with 1 teaspoon of coconut oil and apply a small dab directly to the cut. Rinse clean and reapply 1-2 times daily as needed. You can also smear a bit of the tea tree/coconut oil mixture on the inside of a regular adhesive bandage and place it over the cut.
6. Repel Pests
The smell of tea tree oil is often times enough to deter pests. In nature, the essential oil in the plant may play a role in warding off potential creatures that would otherwise enjoy it as a tasty snack, so why wouldn’t it work as a bottled essential oil? Add 20 drops or so to a spray bottle and fill with water. Shake and spray around cracks, doorways, and any other potential pest entrances.
7. Fight Bad Breath
Your mouth is home to a host of bacteria, most of it good, but some of it that’s not so welcome. A common cause of bad breath is an overgrowth of unwanted bacteria. Tea tree oil, being so effective at wiping out bacteria, can be hugely helpful in preventing bad breath at the source. It’s not a cure, but it is a helpful tool to have for your care regime. Much like you’d do for a sore throat, mix a drop with a cup of warm water and swish around your mouth, through your teeth, and gargle. Gargling is important, as bacteria likes to reside at the back of the throat. Repeat 1-2 times daily.
8. DIY Deodorant
If it can deodorize your garbage can, it can deodorize you. There are two types of sweat glands on our body-apocrine and eccrine. Eccrine sweat glands cover most of the body, and really, the vast majority of sweat doesn’t smell at all (truly, the next time you find yourself with a sweaty leg or palm, sniff it. You won’t smell anything.) Apocrine sweat glands, on the other hand, lurk in culprit areas around the armpits and genitals. They are inactive until puberty and then they decide to make that awkward time of your life even more awkward. The sweat secreted by these glands is thicker than typical sweat, and feeds the bacteria on our skin. It is the bacteria breaking down and decomposing the sweat that releases the odor. See where this connects to tea tree oil? Since tea tree oil fights bacteria…the less bacteria breaking down sweat…the less odor you have to contend with. The Everyday Roots Book has a great recipe for a DIY stick deodorant featuring tea tree oil that works wonderfully.
9. Deodorize Garbage/Diaper Pail
If you dread opening the trash (or a diaper pail, if you happen to use one) a dash of tea tree oil might be just the thing to solve the problem. It also helps prevent bacteria from growing. I make a scented baking soda for extra odor killing power. Add roughly ¼-1/2 teaspoon of tea tree oil to a half or one cup of baking soda and mix the lumps out with a fork. Simply re-cycle a shaker (such as one used for parmesan) and shake into the bottom of a fresh bag to help keep the odor down.
10. Banish Mildew
Mildew is made up of little fungal filaments and tends to look white (sometimes black), “powdery”, or fuzzy. It likes to grow on surfaces (particularly organic ones such as wood) that are damp and warm. Luckily, most cases are superficial, and can be wiped away easily. In addition to avoiding conditions that encourage mildew (e.g. opening the windows after a shower to avoid dampness and humidity), mix 5-10 drops of tea tree oil with 1 cup of water in a spray bottle. Shake well before each application. Spray directly onto the mildew and allow it to sit for 3-5 minutes before wiping it clean with a damp cloth. Wipe the spot dry when everything is spick and span. The tea tree oil should inhibit the growth of future bacteria, as long as the conditions are well managed.
11. Ease Itchy Bug Bites
I am from Minnesota-I can handle hordes of Jurassic mosquitos without batting an eye. But when I recently left my frigid northern climate to enjoy some time in warmth and sun, I was taken down by sand fleas. The nasty buggers just ripped my ankles and lower legs to shreds and I have never felt so tormented in my life. Normally I am prepared with some sort of remedy on hand, but for some reason I failed this trip. I attempted to use a bottle of that roll on anti-itch stuff, which burned with the fire of ten thousand suns, and then didn’t work at all. I needed my tea tree oil (which of course I didn’t have on this time.)
Early studies have shown that tea tree oil can play a role in decreasing the severity of what is known as the wheal and flare reaction. When an allergen or irritant comes in contact with the skin-such as the substance secreted by mosquitos-, the body releases histamine-a neurotransmitter that causes reactions such as itchiness, redness, and swelling. The reaction on the skin will take place in two parts. First, a raised, red or flesh colored lump, will raise. This is the wheal part of the reaction. Following this is the flare, which is a ring of red, irritated skin that surrounds the wheal. Tea tree oil doesn’t appear to have much effect on the flare, however it did significantly reduce the volume of the wheal. So, it has some effect on taming histamine induced skin irritation. This means that dabbing a bit of tea tree oil (diluted in coconut oil) onto a bug bite can reduce the severity of the initial reaction and soothe the burning itching sensation that is so torturous.
12. Ease Psoriasis
Psoriasis is characterized by “plaques”, or areas of red, scaly sometimes inflamed skin. These areas develop when skin production is faster than the body’s ability to shed it. There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are things you can do to ease the discomfort and possibly speed the healing of the effective area. Thanks to tea tree oil’s anti-inflammatory properties, it is precisely what some people need to find relief. Mixed with coconut oil-which acts as a carrier for the oil and provides moisture to the skin-it can make a healing salve. Mix 10 drops of tea tree oil with 2 tablespoons of melted coconut oil. Apply just enough to cover the affected area. Repeat 2-3 times daily as needed.
13. All-Purpose Surface Cleaner
It’s a bit counterproductive to try and make your counter tops more food-friendly by wiping them down with caustic chemicals. For a gentle and effective all-purpose cleaner, mix 20-25 drops of tea tree oil with ¼ cup of water and a ½ cup of distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. Shake well, spray directly onto surfaces, and wipe down with a clean cloth. Remember the oil won’t mix with the water or vinegar, hence the shaking. Also be aware that it will not be diluted in water or vinegar, so avoid spraying directly onto your skin. While plenty of people are fine-and it has never personally bothered me- some people are irritated by the oil in its “neat” form.
14. Make a Stuffy Nose Salve
When you find yourself with a terribly stuffed up nose, doing the tea tree oil steam bath is a great way to clear out the blockage. But for the times when it’s not convenient to put a towel over your head and lean over a bowl of steaming water, try making a handy little salve to dab under your nostrils to ease the stuffiness. Simply mix 3 drops of tea tree oil with 2 drops of peppermint and 2 drops of eucalyptus oil with 2 tablespoons of melted coconut oil. Pour into a lip balm tin and allow it to cool. Apply sparingly under nose when needed.
15. Make Mouthwash
Bacteria in the mouth-it can be a good thing and a bad thing. Mostly it’s a good thing, but when there’s an overabundance, it can lead to halitosis, or chronic bad breath. By now I probably don’t even need to say it, but I’ll say it anyways-tea tree oil with its antibacterial properties can help kill off excess bacteria that is leading to bad breath. Mix 2 drops of tea tree oil with 1 drop of peppermint oil in 1 cup of fresh water. Swish, gargle, and make sure to spit it out!
16. More Ways to Freshen Up
There are many uses for tea tree oil when it comes to freshening up. In addition to making a great ingredient in homemade deodorant, when added to bath water, tea tree oil can help freshen you up. Unlike many soaps and washes, it keeps you truly clean, rather than simply covering up odor. Add 15 drops to 2 tablespoons of liquid oil. When the tub is halfway full, add the oil. As you bathe swish it around to break it up. While the oil won’t mix with the water, you want it as a carrier. Soak for 20 minutes and then dry off with a clean fluffy towel.
17. Cleanse the Washing Machine
I am ashamed to admit that I used to use those disgusting packets of chemical powder to deodorize my washing machine. I just liked the smell of a fresh machine so much, and it felt so great to wash clothes in it that I was a bit…blinded. Given the dog blankets and saddle pads that go through my machine, it was also kind of necessary to freshen it up in some way. Needless to say, that phase is well behind me. If you want to freshen up your washing machine, add 10-15 drops of tea tree oil to the empty drum and run it on the hot cycle to get rid of any bacteria and odor.
18. Fight Acne
Our skin is a thriving environment full of living microbes. Like the mouth, certain bacteria on the surface of the skin is necessary. On the other hand, some bacteria, such propiobacterium acnes (P. acnes)*can cause breakouts that aren’t so welcome. More so than fighting bacteria (which is only minor cause of acne) tea tree oil’s terpenes penetrate your pores, loosening up blocked oil and dirt that cause whiteheads, blackheads, and those painful red breakouts. Mix a drop or 2 with a smidge of coconut oil and use a cotton swab to apply. Avoid using your fingertips, which just introduces more dirt. Coconut oil may seem counterintuitive, but most people don’t have a problem with it on their skin.
19. Athletes Foot (anti-fungal) Powder
Arrowroot powder is obtained from the rhizome of several tropical plants, and it is useful in quelling odor as well as providing a moisture absorbing base for this anti-fungal powder. The moisture absorbing part is important, as the fungus that causes athletes foot loves damp, moist places-aka sweaty shoes! The baking soda will also help with odor, sweating, and soothe any itchiness. Tea tree oil is of course the star here, doing battle with the actual fungus itself, and inhibiting its ability to replicate. Rustle up a shaker (you can buy plain ones, or re-purpose one of those parmesan shaker containers) and add ¼ cup of arrowroot powder, and ¼ cup of baking soda. Add 20 drops of tea tree oil to the powder, spreading the droplets out as best you can. Use a fork to mash in the little lumps and then add it to your container. Rinse your feet and pat them dry, then apply powder afterwards. Repeat twice daily. It is easiest to do this in the bathtub or show because it can make a bit of a mess! Use (clean) hands to evenly spread the powder. Shake well before each use, and store in a cool dark place.
20. Sore Muscle Soak
As it seems to help with inflammation, it makes sense that tea tree oil would provide welcome relief from sore, tight, inflamed, muscles. As someone who suffers from tension headaches rather frequently, anything that helps release tension in my muscles is a friend. Epsom salts, thought to help relax muscles because of its magnesium content (magnesium plays a vital role in the contraction and relaxation of muscles) makes the perfect carrier for the tea tree oil. First dilute 10 drops of tea tree oil in any neutral oil, and mix into the Epsom salt. Fill the tub halfway with warm water, add the salt, and top off the tub. Relax, enjoy, and unwind.
21. Freshen Dryer Loads
Tea tree oil works in more than just the washing machine. If your clothes have a damp mildew smell to them, add several drops to wool dryer balls to freshen up the clothes if you don’t have time (or don’t want to) re-wash them. If you don’t have wool dryer balls, you can simply recycle a clean cotton t-shirt. Cut it into 5 inch squares, and add 5 drops of tea tree oil to it. Toss it in the dryer with your clothes as you would any other dryer sheet. When you find the scent starts to lose its potency, simply refresh with a few more drops. I like to wash these every few weeks before re-scenting them-it’s not necessary, but does ensure everything feels extra clean all the time.
22. Fight Foot Odor
As bacteria and/or fungus is often times the culprit behind foot odor, a little soak with tea tree oil can help freshen up your feet. Bring several cups of water to a boil and pour into a basin. Steep several sprigs of rosemary for 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, add 15 drops of tea tree oil to 2 1/2 tablespoons of liquid oil (grapeseed, almond, jojoba, olive, etc.) When the rosemary has finished steeping add the tea tree oil mixture to the water. Yes, it will separate-oil and water tend to do that. Simply swish the water around with your feet now and again. Soak for 15 minutes twice daily and pat your feet dry.
23. Draw Out A Splinter
A little splinter seems harmless enough, until the skin around it gets hot, swollen, and too tender to touch, making it difficult to work the splinter out. To ward off bacteria and potential infection, add 3 drops of tea tree oil to a teaspoon or so of liquid neutral oil. Add this plus 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt to a bowl of warm water. Soak your finger for 5-10 minutes to soften up the skin and loosen the splinter, and then work it out by applying pressure just below it. Use a tweezers to grab it when it protrudes, but be sure to get the whole thing and not just break off a piece of it!
24. Keep Your Garden Mildew-Free
A more specific use for tea tree oil and our fight against mildew. Over the summer I was tending to a friend’s magnificent garden while they were out of town, and noticed some powdery mildew that was taking over. If tea tree oil can fight mildew in the home, why not in the garden? Use the same formula as above and spray lightly on plants with mildew. Reapply daily as needed, but test it on a few leaves first. Most plants are fine, but don’t go dousing them-there’s always too much of a good thing.
25. Toothbrush/Retainer Cleaner
Where does bacteria love to congregate? Moist surfaces. What tends to be moist and then locked into cupboards or plastic cases? Toothbrushes and retainers. Mix 10 drops of tea tree oil with 1 cup of water. Once a week for your toothbrush, or every other day for your retainer, swish it around in the water to kill bacteria, then rinse with plain water and allow it to dry before locking it back up.
The Low Down on Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil (TTO) is typically extracted from the leaves via steam distillation, and maintains its potency for roughly 1 year from the date of distillation when properly stored in a dark glass bottle and out of direct sunlight. Tea tree oil is noted for its anti-microbial properties, fighting bacteria, inhibiting the growth of fungi, and potentially wiping out certain viruses. Research has determined that it derives its benefits from terpene hydrocarbons. While there are numerous terpenes (approximately 100) that make up tea tree oil, terpinen-4-ol is largely responsible for its antibacterial properties. A standard for TTO is maintained that requires all commercially available oil to have a minimum amount of terpinen-4-ol, with no upper limit, to maximize its broad spectrum antimicrobial activity.
TTO works in several different ways to fight microbes. When studying the mechanism of its actions on E. coli, S. aureus (bacterium that can lead to staph infections) and C. albicans (a yeast) it was found that it mainly affected two things-cellular respiration, leading to decreased oxygen intake, and increased cell permeability. The decreased oxygen harms the cells as it is a vital component in the electron transport chain that makes up the process of cellular respiration. Without this process, there is no way to create usable energy, and no way for the cell to continue functioning. When cell permeability is increased, foreign substances can penetrate the cell membrane more easily, and the cell can “leak” vital components. There is some tentative research into how tea tree oil has anti-viral properties, particularly when it comes to the herpes-simplex virus. And while it’s true that there really isn’t much to be done once the virus takes a hold of your body, when outside floating around in the environment, some can be rendered ineffective by tea tree oil. In short-tea tree oil is an awesome tool with a powerful array of anti-microbial properties at its disposal. It’s not an almighty cure-all, but it is pretty dang handy.
By Claire GoodallClaire is a lover of life, the natural world, and wild blueberries. On the weekend you can find her fiddling in the garden, playing with her dogs, and enjoying the great outdoors with her horse. Claire is very open-minded, ask her anything :) Meet Claire
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