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|personal story

I Used Essential Oils 13 Different Ways At Home & These Were By Far The Best

Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Photo by Nadine Greeff

Confession time: I'm an essential oils hoarder. To the left of my bed, you'll find a shoebox-size collection of vials overflowing with lavender, lemon, sage, and sandalwood. My trusty sensory arsenal has expanded over the years as I keep finding new oils to please my nose, but my purpose for them has plateaued. Sure, I'll make my own blends to diffuse around bedtime and occasionally sniff certain scents for focus, energy, or relaxation, but most of the time my fragrant little friends go untouched.

As an editor at mindbodygreen, I'm always learning about the incredible versatility of essential oils, so last week I set out to put my collection to the test in exciting new ways. For help shaking up my aromatic life, I consulted with some of mbg's experts for their favorite ways to use certain scents and wore down the pages of Valerie Ann Worwood's classic text, The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, which lists over 600 fragrance recipes. I only scratched the surface, but here were the results of the weeklong experiment using essential oils for pretty much everything.

The ones that were OK.

A lavender & sandalwood air freshener

After noticing the air in my apartment felt stale, I filled a glass bottle with two of my favorite scents and some water and sprayed away. While it smelled nice for a few minutes, it faded pretty quickly, and I much prefer diffusing since it's a longer-lasting way to freshen the air. I typically use mine for an hour or two first thing in the morning or at night—I've heard that the oils lose their potency if you leave it on much longer than that.

A lemon cleaning boost

Lemon is thought to have major antiseptic and antimicrobial1 properties, so I added a few drops to my bottle of all-purpose cleaner to see if I noticed a difference. While it certainly made the scrubbing process smell better (the natural cleaner I swear by, Branch Basics, is unscented), it didn't seem to make the residue on my bathroom and kitchen counters come up any easier.

A bergamot and rosemary laundry refresher

Valerie Worwood recommends throwing some refreshing scents like bergamot and rosemary into the washer and dryer to give clothes a slight shadow of smell-goodness without resorting to harsh chemical cleaners, but I didn't notice any real difference when I added two dropperfuls directly to each load of laundry. Next time, I'm going to take a cue from neuroscientist and natural beauty expert Leigh Winters and add 10 drops of scent to a wool or tennis ball and place that in the dryer instead.

The ones that were great.

A peppermint & eucalyptus sore-muscle remedy

The night after a hard workout, I diluted 5 drops of eucalyptus and 5 drops of peppermint in one tablespoon of argan oil and popped the blend into a small bottle (I got mine online, but you can also repurpose old essential oil bottles, too!). The cooling, tingling feeling came a few minutes after I massaged the blend into my sore muscles, and by the next morning, they were back to normal.

A peppermint stomach soother

Peppermint is known for its digestive properties, and I've heard talk that it helps with motion sickness. I typically get nauseous on long car rides, so before setting out on a four-hour journey I rubbed 5 drops (diluted in argan oil, of course—I never put essential oils directly on the skin) on my stomach. I felt good the whole ride, but I'm not sure if it was the oil or the fact that there was no traffic.

A bergamot stress-busting blend

"Bergamot always reminds me of a fancier lime, but I never stop being amazed at its ability to both calm my mood and energize my spirit," Mariza Snyder, D.C., an oil-obsessed functional wellness practitioner, recently told me. She recommended combining the oil with equal parts peppermint and lavender for a synergistic blend and keeping it on my desk to sniff when I was stressed. It definitely calmed me down, at least for a few minutes.

A tea tree kitchen soak

This is another Worwood idea: Fill a large mixing bowl with boiling water and add about 10 drops of tea tree essential oil—a powerful germ buster2. Drop in your dirty dish towels to brighten them and remove pesky stains that might not come out in the wash. It works! So much so that I dropped in some of my other dirty kitchen gadgets in there for good measure: my blender top, fruit bowl, etc.

Photo: Emma Loewe

The ones I'm already adding to my routine.

A eucalyptus dish-washing companion

This one almost made me enjoy washing the dishes. Before starting, I put a few drops of eucalyptus at the base of my sink so that the smell would waft up in the hot water. It made the chore a lot more pleasant—the only downside was that I needed to keep adding more every few minutes because my sink is on the larger side. Now, I keep my bottle of eucalyptus next to the sink to cue myself to use it every time.

A lavender sleep ritual

Every so often I'll struggle through a bout of insomnia. I do NOT do well without sleep, so every time this happens I get majorly stressed out, worried I won't be able to function the next day. Last week, when I felt the sleeplessness coming on, instead of letting my mind race, I grabbed my lavender essential oil and did a quick breathing routine: Close one nostril and slowly breathe in the smell, breathe out, and do the same thing on the other side. Repeat four to five times, all the while visualizing what it would look like if the next day went seamlessly. Visualization always helps me put things into perspective, and combined with the calming properties of lavender3, this bedtime ritual did the trick.

A lavender bug-bite remedy

Sarah Villafranco, M.D., the natural beauty maven behind Osmia Organics, tipped me off to the fact that lavender makes for a great bug-bite soother. Since I already had a bottle next to my bed, I just combined it with argan oil and rubbed it on the itchy mosquito bites on my right foot, using my other foot (also covered in bites) as a kind of control group. The results of my not-at-all-scientific study? My right foot was much happier in shoes than my left one the next day!

A tea tree and lime sneaker deodorizer

I'm a runner, so my sneakers take a serious beating. I usually crumple up some newspaper to freshen and dry them up after long runs, but I've heard that baking soda and essential oils are much better at getting rid of odor. I mixed five drops of eucalyptus and tea tree into about half a cup of baking soda, shook the mixture around in my sneakers, and let it sit overnight. I'm going to start doing this about once a week—it was so easy, and I definitely noticed a difference.

A eucalyptus trash refresher

Another part of my home that smells less than lovely? The trash can. I soaked a cotton ball in eucalyptus oil, dropped it in the empty can, and coated the bottom of the can in baking soda. Again, I let it sit overnight and was pleasantly surprised by the freshness factor the next morning.

An orange dishwasher-cleaning routine

This one is a little more involved than the others—but oh-so worth it. I followed the routine green-cleaning guru Melissa Maker wrote about on mbg earlier this summer: Clean out your filter, soak the dishwasher base in baking soda overnight, fill a glass with white vinegar (this is where I added a few drops of citrus essential oil to up the smell-good factor), and let it run. Voilà! Instant refresher.

Can't decide which essential oils to start with? Here are the most affordable ones.

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.