If the average person hears the words “essential oils,” it’s quite likely that the first association they’ll make has something to do with the perfume industry, soap, or flaky aromatherapy practitioners. Yes, essential oils (which may be referred to as EOs) are indeed used to perfume various personal care products, but they have many uses other than enhancing one’s mood or making one’s underarms slightly less offensive.
The 10 essential oils listed below have a number of different benefits that range from health care to home and garden maintenance, and many other uses in between. Many other oils out there also have numerous uses, but if you only plan to have a few in the house at any given time, these may be your best bet.
1. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, aka Lavandula officinalis)
If you only plan to have one essential oil in the house, make it this one. Lavender has been used for medicinal and home care purposes for thousands of years, and is one of the most versatile EOs you can get. When it comes to therapeutic uses, lavender can be applied topically to alleviate:
- Skin rashes
- Insect bites
- Minor burns
It’s also an effective disinfectant for cuts and scrapes.
A few drops of lavender oil in a bath can help to soothe frayed nerves and help you get a good night’s sleep, and rubbing the oil into your temples and forehead can relieve headaches. Add a drop or two to a paste of baking soda and water for an effective underarm deodorant, and those same few drops can help to alleviate sinus issues and respiratory infections when added to a steam inhale.
In the home, sachets of dried lavender with some extra oils dribbled in can keep moths away (just tuck the sachets into your closet or chest of drawers), and adding a few drops to your laundry’s rinse cycle can eliminate odors from stinky socks and sweaty gym clothes. Add lavender oil to the water you use to wash the floor to freshen up your living space, and a drop or two placed inside fresh toilet paper rolls will release their scent whenever someone tugs a few sheets free.
2. Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
This is one of the most beneficial and useful essential oils to have on hand, and with good cause: it’s often been called “a medicine cabinet in a bottle,” as it can be used to treat almost any common ailment. Although you’d never consume tea tree oil, you can use it topically to treat the following:
- Athlete’s foot
- Cold sores
- Nail fungus
- Insect bites
…just to name a few. You can add a few drops of it to unscented shampoo to alleviate dandruff and psoriasis, and a few more drops in that same shampoo will treat head lice as well.
For use around the home, you can add a teaspoon of tea tree oil to the water in a misting bottle to create a disinfectant spray for counter tops, door handles, etc., and a few drops of undiluted oil around your pet’s bed basket will keep fleas at bay.
3. Lemon (Citrus limonum)
This is one of the best essential oils for home use, as it has more applications than most other oils will ever dream of. A few drops of lemon EO added to olive oil makes a gorgeous furniture polish, and we add the EO to dish detergent, homemade laundry soap, floor cleaners, and spray cleaners. You can add a drop or two to a mixture of coarse salt and baking soda and then use that as an antibacterial scour for wooden cutting boards and butcher blocks.
Lemon essential oil also has therapeutic uses:
- Add a couple of drops to a glass of water and gargle with it to relieve bad breath.
- A few drops added to shampoo can alleviate dandruff.
- Lemon oil added to a bath or diffuser can alleviate anxiety.
- Blended with aloe gel, it acts as an anti-microbial hand sanitizer.
One thing to keep in mind is that lemon essential oil can make your skin photosensitive, so don’t slather it on and then go sunbathing: wait 12 hours before exposing lemon-daubed skin to sunshine.
4. Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Most people have probably taken a cup of peppermint tea to alleviate nausea or an upset stomach, but you can also massage your abdomen with a carrier oil that has a few drops of peppermint essential oil added to it to relieve stomach cramps and queasiness.
If you or your pet has a tick under your skin, a drop or two of pure, undiluted peppermint EO will draw the insect out so it can be eliminated. Blended with pine and eucalyptus and added to a carrier oil, peppermint is great for applying to the chest and throat to calm coughing fits and help relieve bronchial congestion, and a drop or two added to cool water can make a great foot soak to soothe tired, overheated feet.
Around the home, you can spray diluted peppermint oil into stinky shoes and boots to eliminate odors, and add a teaspoon of the EO to floor-washing water to add fresh scent, as well as antibacterial properties. Placing a few drops of peppermint oil around cracks in walls will also deter rodents and spiders: they can’t stand the scent of it.
5. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
Hailing from Australia, this essential oil can be recognized easily by scent.
As mentioned above, eucalyptus EO is great for alleviating chest congestion (either blended with other oils or alone), and a salve made with it can also ease asthma attacks when spread on the throat and chest. That same salve may help to alleviate the pain of fibromyalgia if rubbed into the affected area a few times a day. A few drops added to a compress and placed on skin affected by shingles can ease the pain associated with that condition, and may speed the healing process.
Eucalyptus’ disinfectant properties make it ideal to use in a spray for your kitchen and bathroom, or diffuse the oil in your bathroom to eliminate germs and odors.
6. Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
Clove oil has been used for dental issues for centuries, and is one of the best treatments available for toothaches, gum disease, cold sores, and canker sores. It should always be diluted (as it’s very strong), and shouldn’t be used by those with super-sensitive skin.
You can also use the diluted oil for:
- Athlete’s foot
- Prickly heat rash
- Wounds and cuts
- Fungal infections
- Insect bites or stings
- Ear aches (poured on a cotton swab and tucked just inside the ear canal)
For home use, diffuse the oil in bedrooms to repel mosquitoes, and add a few drops to baking soda to sprinkle over carpets before vacuuming to get rid of fleas. You can also tuck cloves into an orange to make a pomander and hang that in a closet to repel moths, or in the kitchen to keep flies away.
7. Chamomile (Arthemis nobilis)
Gentle and soothing, chamomile has been used as a calming herb since the Roman era, and a cup of chamomile tea can work wonders to quieten frayed nerves. Used topically, chamomile essential oil can be used either diluted or neat (full strength) for:
- Dry skin
- Bee and wasp stings
You can also diffuse it to alleviate insomnia, stress and anxiety, depression, and irritability, especially when associated with PMS or menopause. Around the house, you can diffuse the oil to calm children who may be hyperactive or argumentative, and it can be dribbled near open doorways to repel mites and fleas.
*Just a note: people who are allergic to ragweed may have adverse reactions to chamomile as well.
8. Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
Considering that oil of frankincense was found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb, it’s safe to say that this fabulous substance has been valued for quite a while.
Topically, you can use this EO to improve the following issues:
- Cuts and scrapes (it’s a great disinfectant)
- Scar tissue
- Insect bites
This oil can be diffused to alleviate stress, and some people find that it helps to reduce migraine headache pain as well.
For home use, diffuse the oil to repel mosquitoes and flies. The scent may also help to alleviate stress, anxiety or panic attacks, depression, and insomnia.
9. Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)
Bright and cheery, grapefruit essential oil is uplifting and multi-purpose.
You can use it topically for:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Oily skin and hair
- Migraines or tension headaches (massage into temples and forehead)
- Deodorant (add a drop to a mixture of baking soda and water, then apply to underarms with a cotton ball)
*Note: like lemon, grapefruit can make your skin photosensitive, so stay out of the sunshine for 12–24 hours after applying it.
In the home, you can sprinkle a few drops around your dog’s bed to repel fleas (but keep the oil away from cats), and use it in the same way as lemon for anti-bacterial cleaning sprays. You can even sprinkle an old sock or handkerchief with grapefruit EO and then toss it in the dryer with your laundry to give it a fresh citrus scent without the use of any harmful chemicals.
10. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
With its anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, anti-microbial, and antiseptic properties, oregano essential oil is as great to use around the house as it is on the body. It should never be used undiluted, however, and pregnant or nursing women should avoid using it.
Oregano EO can aid with:
- Fungal infections
- Athlete’s foot
- Arthritis pain
Diluted in water, it makes a fantastic anti-bacterial spray for counter tops and high-traffic areas in your house, and you can use the undiluted oil around your bed to repel bed bugs, mites, lice, and fleas. The undiluted oil can cause skin irritation, so wear gloves if you’re going to use it full strength for home cleaning purposes.
Keep in mind that the quality of oil you get will determine efficacy as well. If you plan to use these oils mostly for health care, first aid and such, it’s worth investing a few extra dollars on high quality, organic essential oils. If you’d prefer to use these in cleaning products and the like, the standard EOs that you can find in pharmacies and health food stores should be just fine.
Before using any essential oils, please do your research on it to educate yourself thoroughly on their uses and possible toxicity (i.e. lemon essential oil should be kept away from cats), and employ common sense when using them.