Antibacterial Essential Oils – What You Need To Know?

We often associate essential oils with their relaxation properties and scented candles. However, essential oils may have some even more powerful qualities beyond this.

Antibacterial Essential Oils - What You Need To Know?

These powerful plant extracts also have natural antifungal, antimicrobial and antibacterial qualities, and some are already used in healthcare to treat ailments such as nausea and migraines. 

Although research into the antibacterial properties of essential oils is still in its infancy, we do know that their properties may give them the power to fight off pathogens and inhibit the growth of certain bacteria.

So, if you’re not already using essential oils in your daily routine, this could be a powerful reason to start today! 

Have we piqued your curiosity? What exactly does the science say about the antibacterial properties of essential oils? Let’s take a closer look below. 

Do Essential Oils Kill Bacteria? 

In short, yes. 

Some essential oils contain both antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which allow them to fight off pathogens. Not all essential oils are both antimicrobial and antibacterial, and it depends on the type. 

There are two compounds that give essential oils these properties: phenols and aldehydes. Not all oils will contain both, but these compounds can act as either disinfectants or antioxidants. Here’s what we know about them. 


Aldehydes are thought to have antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties.

Aldehydes can be used as a disinfectant to sterilise bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Aldehydes may need a long contact time to kill certain microorganisms, but they are effective.


Phenols are a type of compound that acts as an antioxidant. Phenols and phenolic compounds have been proven to contain antimicrobial properties, and they also act as antioxidants. 

The power in these compounds has led many researchers to believe that some essential oils may be capable of preventing bacteria growth, which could also make them a powerful tool in the battle against antibiotic resistance. 

Essential Oils In Antibiotic Resistance 

When germs such as fungi and bacteria develop the power to kill the drugs that are designed to kill them, we end up with something called antimicrobial resistance. 

When bacteria change in response to the use of these medicines, they evolve to become more resistant to the drugs designed to treat them – and this can be just as scary as it sounds. 

The U.S. livestock industry is a fine example of this. It’s thought that livestock in the U.S. consumes approximately 80% of the country’s supply, and this overuse has led to the development of “superbugs” that are becoming resistant to treatment in both humans and animals.

Reports suggest that by 2050, drug-resistant microbes could cause a staggering 10 million deaths. 

Although drugs are sometimes necessary to treat infections in livestock, they’re often used unnecessarily by farmers due to the unsanitary and sometimes unethical conditions their animals live in.

This misuse of antibiotics has led to many warnings about the dangers of antibiotic resistance, and researchers are looking for ways to help manage the crisis. 

There is evidence to suggest that essential oils could be used as an alternative to antibiotics for some livestock.

For example, studies have confirmed that chickens who consumed oregano oil have an almost 60% lower mortality rate from ascites compared to untreated chickens. 

Certain essential oils may even help reduce the salmonella growth in chickens, and limit the spread of salmonella amongst other farm animals, too.

Although researchers are still trying to learn exactly how these essential oils work, there’s no doubt about it – evidence shows that in some cases, they may be able to be used effectively in place of antibiotics, which could make them a powerful tool in the fight against antibiotic resistance. 

What Essential Oils Are Antibacterial? 

Eucalyptus, lemongrass, and tea tree are three of the most powerful antibacterial essential oils out there. Here’s what we know about their antibacterial properties, and how they work. 

Antibacterial Essential Oils - What You Need To Know

Lemongrass Oil 

Lemongrass oil is thought to have some powerful antibacterial properties. 

Lemongrass oil can be mixed into all-purpose cleaners, diffused into air fresheners, or even just inhaled to promote a greater sense of relaxation.

Lemongrass oil can even be applied to the skin if it’s diluted with a carrier oil, and used as an antibacterial treatment. 

Research has discovered that lemongrass essential oil has a bioactive compound that contains powerful antimicrobial properties that demonstrate some efficiency against fungi and pathogenic bacteria.

Throughout the years, it’s also been used as a natural remedy to help treat wounds and prevent infections. 

Tea Tree Oil 

Tea tree oil is another powerful antibacterial essential (see also: 6 Most Powerful Essential Oils And Their Healing Benefits)oil that’s thought to have antiviral, antifungal, and antiseptic properties, too. This is why tea tree oil has become an effective home treatment for a variety of skin conditions such as dandruff and acne. 

The antibacterial properties in tea tree oil may also help fight pathogens such as 

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Enterococcus faecalis 
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis 
  • Escherichia coli (E.coli) 

How you use tea tree oil will depend on what you’re treating. Tea tree oil can be applied topically, diffused, and added to household disinfectants. However, it should never be ingested. 

Some oils such as tea tree can also cause skin irritation. If you’re going to apply it topically, you should dilute it with another carrier oil to reduce the risk of any adverse side effects. 

Eucalyptus Oil 

Eucalyptus oil is sourced from the eucalyptus tree, and it’s thought to help lower stress, reduce inflammation, and even relieve asthma. Researchers have also discovered that eucalyptus contains antimicrobial properties that can fight pathogens such as: 

  • Escherichia coli (E.coli)
  • Shigella spp
  • Salmonella typhi (S.typhi)

Some studies have suggested that it could be used as an effective alternative to antibiotics for several diseases. 

Eucalyptus can be toxic, even when used in small amounts. So, eucalyptus should never be ingested. Instead, you should diffuse your eucalyptus oil by adding it to bathwater, a diffuser, or a cleaner. 

Other powerful antibacterial essential oils include: 

  • Oregano Oil: Oregano oil is thought to demonstrate some powerful antibacterial properties, even against some drug-resistance bacteria. It may reduce cell density, which facilitates antimicrobial activity by disrupting the cells.
  • Thyme Oil: Thyme oil is another powerful antimicrobial. Researchers suggest that it may have particularly great benefits when it’s used as an antimicrobial preservative in food.
  • Cinnamon Oil: Cinnamon oil may be a strong antimicrobial agent, helping to fight off bad bacteria in the body. It was even used in root canal procedures, and researchers discovered that it eliminated bad bacteria growth within two weeks of the procedure. 

The Bottom Line 

The next time you pick up one of these essential oils from the store, just remember: they hold far more power than you realise. Most of us still associate essential oils with relaxation and wellness, and on the whole, we’re still not using them to their full potential.

However, the research shows that these powerful little oils may also be able to fight off bacteria and viruses and keep our bodies healthy, and best of all, they’re all natural! 

So, why not try and add some of your favourite essential oils to an all-purpose cleaner, or use them as a topical treatment on wounds and ailments? The results may surprise you! 

Clare McAfee
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