We have made great progress over the last century with regards to infection. We now know that infections are caused by tiny microbes, invisible to the naked eye. These microbes can be passed from one person to another in a number of ways and the environment plays a huge role in this. Most microbes in the environment are harmless but where there is a chance the environment has been contaminated by human or animal waste, food or through sneezing there is a chance that you could pick up an infection. In the last century we have benefitted from improved hygiene, vaccination against many infectious diseases and implementation of antibiotics to treat infection should we succumb to it. However, things have changed in the last twenty years and many of the bacterial infections we acquire are becoming resistant to antibiotics and this has caused grave concern globally.

The Chief Medical Officer of the UK Government has warned that antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat to modern medicine and society as we know it. We are desperately looking for new antibiotics to cure serious infections such as sepsis but these are not instantly forthcoming. However, new antibiotics are not the only answer and improved hygiene practices should be maximised to prevent the spread and acquisition of infection in man and animals. In addition, alternatives to antibiotics are required to improve this situation and to prolong life and reduce serious infection. It is everyone’s responsibility to reduce the spread of these multi-antibiotic resistant strains that are causing problems in healthcare environments today…but how can we do this when even the scientists are struggling.

We should keep our environment hygienically safe wherever possible: i.e. reduce the numbers of microbes in the environment so they are insufficient to cause disease. The body can usually protect itself from low numbers of microbes. When microbes are present on a surface (the floor, a surface or a toilet) they can either be loosely bound to the surface or be present firmly stuck and encased with dirt and grime. The latter can be difficult to remove but many cleaners rely on chemicals to dislodge the dirt and grime and the rubbing action to remove action.

Essential oils as cleaners

Nature’s antiseptics (Essential oils) may be one alternative that could be used to help decontaminate the environment and prevent the spread of infection.

Essential oils have numerous properties because of their complex nature. Many of the organic aromatic components have a hydrogen and carbon ring (sometimes with oxygen) which can insert itself into the membrane of biological cells, thus destroying them. The essential oil is a hydrophobic (water hating) substance. Depending upon the ratio of the major components, this hydrophobicity can vary.  In addition, certain components act as solvents (for example d-limonene) and help with the removal of organic soil such as grease and grime.

How do cleaners work?

Many cleaners work by the chemical interaction with the soiled area. The ‘soil’ can be different in nature (organic, inorganic and a combination of both) and cleaners have to deal with these differences. Most cleaners depend upon physical loosening and removal of the ‘soil’ due to friction, during the cleaning process helped by surface active agents (surfactants) in the cleaners. Removing grease (organic soil) requires a different process to removing dirt from a surface. Usually organic soils are best removed using alkaline cleaners or solvents.Inorganic soils include rust, sand and clay and usually require a more acidic and abrasive cleaner.

Water makes up a large percentage of most liquid cleaner formulas and is commonly referred to as a universal solvent, adding to the detergent nature of the cleaner and breaking up the soil on the surface. Water and other components of specific essential oils help liquefy grease, dissolve solid soil into very small particles and allow other surfactants to work. This makes certain essential oils and blends excellent cleaners.

This means more natural cleaning products are easily degradable and are safe for the environment. By blending certain essential oils one can create products that are antibacterial and leave the surface hygienically safe and smelling fresh. Overall using these products is a great cleaning experience. These products are very different to many available on the market because there are no harsh chemicals, no bleach, non toxic and environmentally friendly.

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