Native to Australian and used by some indigenous Australian peoples for thousands of years, tea tree has many uses. Here are 14 ways to use this essential oil.
One of the great Australian home remedies, Tea tree oil has many uses in the frugal home, from cleaning to repelling insects to medicinal remedies.
You can find this essential oil fairly cheaply in the supermarket in the first aid section or at the chemist. This inexpensive tea-tree oil is great for cleaning. For personal use, look for high-quality essential oil.
Thousands of Years of Healing
The indigenous Bundjalung people of eastern Australia are believed to have used tea tree leaves as traditional medicine for thousands of years to treat coughs, colds and wounds [source and more details].
The tea tree oil that we buy today is distilled from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia tree, which is native to the northeast coast of New South Wales and the southeast coast of Queensland, Australia. It gets its common name because early settlers used the leaves to make a tea substitute [source].
Scientific studies are beginning to support what the indigenous Australian peoples have known for thousands of years – that tea tree oil has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, possible anti-protozoal properties and possible anti-inflammatory properties, depending on how it’s formulated.
(This PDF paper by the Australian Government summarises the science done on tea tree oil up to 2005.)
It is now used in commercial preparations to treat: acne, athlete’s foot, dandruff, thrush, boils, lice, eczema, psoriasis, oral bacteria and as an antiseptic.
Note: This information is intended for educational purposes and not meant to be a substitute for professional care. Before using natural remedies or self-treating, you should seek advice from your doctor.
Tea Tree Oil Safety Precautions
Tea tree oil is widely used and considered safe, however as with many natural essential oils, you will need to take precautions when using essential oils.
- NEVER swallow tea tree oil. It is classed as a Schedule 6 poison in Australia which means it has a ‘moderate potential for causing harm.’
- Unless stated, don’t use undiluted directly on the skin. Always dilute it in a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.
- Don’t use tea tree oil on pets (it is particularly dangerous for cats as they tend to lick it), small children or during pregnancy. Store it out of reach of children.
- While not common, it is possible to have an allergic reaction, so it’s important to dilute and patch test before use to determine allergic reaction and seek medical advice if one occurs.
- There is also some evidence that tea tree oil and lavender oil may alter hormone levels in susceptible people but that these side effects are temporary once they have discontinued use. Discontinue use if you have any adverse reaction.
- Ensure you get 100% pure oil from a reputable source*, preferably organic and steam distilled. A little goes a long way, so a small bottle will last you for quite some time.
14 Ways to Use Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is useful around the home as a disinfectant as well as for personal use.
A study published in the Journal of American Acadamy of Dermatology found tea tree oil to be an effective treatment for dandruff at 5% dilution [source]. Participants in the study showed a 41% improvement in dandruff over four weeks compared to 11% in the placebo group without any adverse effects.
To use, add a couple of drops to a handful of your regular shampoo to help reduce dandruff.
2. Minor Wounds
While there has yet to be extensive trials done using tea tree oil on wounds, small-scale studies have shown promising results.
This study used tea tree oil on wound dressings which resulted in decreased healing time. So adding a drop or two to a wound dressing may help minor cuts and wounds heal faster.
To use, clean the wound well with water and then add one or two drops of tea tree oil to a band-aid or other dressing. Allow the oil to soak into the dressing before applying to the wound.
For anything beyond basic first aid, seek medical advice instead.
Tea tree oil may ease the symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis, according to a study published in the Archives of Dermatological Research. The study found tea tree oil to be more effective than oxide and clobetasone butyrate.
You should seek medical advice before self-treating dermatitis.
To use tea tree oil topically, dilute it in a carrier oil at 1% (1 drop of tea tree oil per teaspoon of carrier oil) and apply to the skin as you would a skin lotion.
4. Fungal Infections
Can tea tree oil cure athlete’s foot?
A clinical trial published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology found that 64% of participants using tea tree oil at a 50% dilution rate had a mycological cure.
In other studies, the oil at a lower dilution (10%) did not cure athlete’s foot although it did alleviate symptoms.
To use tea tree oil for athletes foot, mix with a carrier oil at 25% to 50% and apply twice a day. As a small number of people have allergic reactions, always patch test first.
When it comes to fungal nail infections, this study found that the oil (as part of a cream preparation with other ingredients) may help treat fungal nail infections. While this study found some success with using the oil (56% of participants using tea tree oil reported continual improvement or resolution three months after the trial) although the results were similar to standard treatment.
To use tea tree for nail fungus, apply a couple of drops directly to the nail twice a day. Expect to repeat the treatment daily for at least six months.
5. Head Lice
Head lice are an itchy pain and it can be expensive to buy all the stuff to treat them.
For more information, check out this article about how to treat head lice.
The study found that a 5% tea tree oil gel was as effective reducing the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions as the 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion although the tea tree oil took a little longer. However, there were fewer side effects in participants who used tea tree oil.
According to an article in Women’s Health Mag, you can try adding a drop of tea tree oil to your regular moisturiser to help treat acne.
7. Insect Repellent and Bite First Aid
DEET is the current gold-standard when it comes to deterring mosquitoes and other insects. And while using DEET is much better than getting something like Dengue fever or malaria, reports of toxicity due to misuse or long-term use [source] has lead scientists to research the efficacy of more natural alternatives like tea tree oil.
This study found tea tree oil (among other essential oils) to be effective at repelling insects but it didn’t give as long-lasting protection as DEET. The study concluded that ‘a blend of essential oils holds may offer commercial potential as a short-period repellent or under conditions of low mosquito abundance. However, it is important that public health messages continue to emphasize the greater effectiveness of deet-based repellents in areas with risks of mosquito-borne disease.’
On the other hand, while the above study that found limited protection using a 5% v/v formulation of tea tree oil, this study found that a 50% tea tree oil formulation was comparable to 7% DEET and were equally effective in repelling mosquitos for 7 hours.
Because mosquito-borne illness is deadly, it’s important to know you are properly protected. So this study looked at ways to formulate insect repellent using essential oils so that they provided more long-lasting protection. More research is needed.
For short-term protection where there isn’t a high risk of mosquito-borne illness, essential oil-based insect repellent can be effective. You can make your own repellent or you can purchase a commercially prepared natural insect spray instead.
8. Cold Sores
Anecdotally speaking, I find tea tree oil to be effective at treating cold sores, but what does real science say?
For information on how to use tea tree oil on cold sores check out the article Two Effective Natural Treatments for Cold Sores.
9. Head Colds and Congestion
Steam can help clear a congested nose but can adding a few drops of tea tree oil help also?
While there is not a lot of research to confirm, it is possible tea tree oil can help with congestion. Because tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory properties and because sinuses can become inflamed when congested, inhaling tea tree oil may reduce inflammation. A study done on mice found that ‘sessions of TTO [tea tree oil] inhalation exert a strong anti-inflammatory influence on the immune system’ under some but not all conditions.
To use tea tree oil for congestion, add a few drops to a bowl of hot water, and place your head over the bowl with a towel covering your heat and inhale the steam for a couple of minutes. Make sure to keep your eyes closed to avoid irritating your eyes.
Alternatively, add a few drops to a vaporiser or diffuser, a few drops to a warm bath or on the base of the shower before having a warm shower or put a drop on a hankie to inhale when needed.
10. Foot Odour
Foot odour is caused by sweat mixing with bacteria and fungus on the feet. Because tea tree oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties, it can help reduce the amount of bacteria and fungus, reducing the odour.
This study uses tea tree oil to effectively reduce aerobic foot bacteria and fungus however, because they use several ingredients, it’s hard to judge the exclusive efficacy of tea tree oil alone.
To reduce foot odour, apply a drop of tea tree oil to 1 teaspoon of carrier oil and rub all over your feet.
Instead, you can also combine a couple of drops with bicarb soda (which also absorbs odours) or arrowroot powder. Dust on your feet before putting on socks. This will help absorb sweat as well as reduce bacteria.
This mixture can also be sprinkled into shoes to reduce shoe odour.
11. Household Cleaner
Because tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties, it can be useful as a household cleaner.
This study found tea tree oil performed better at killing bacteria compared to bleach and a commercial cleaner, however, the study admits that it is flawed and needs further investigation.
This study looked at a DIY cleaner similar to one I use and found it to be effective against some but not all strains of bacteria but adequate for most household purposes. The study found that the DIY cleaner should be made fresh each day.
If you would like to see the DIY cleaner I make, you can find the recipe here.
You can also freshen toilets, drains and garbage bins with a few drops of tea tree oil.
12. Freshen Laundry
I don’t have a study to link to with this one, but if you have funky smelling towels or smelly socks and sports gear, a few drops of tea tree oil added to the wash cycle can help freshen and deodorise your laundry.
Add a few drops during the soak or rinse cycle of your washing for best results.
13. Air Freshener
Just as tea tree oil can freshen laundry it can also freshen a room.
You can make your own air freshener or use 4-6 drops in a diffuser.
If you want to blend essential oils for a different scent, it blends well with Eucalyptus, rosemary, citrus, Cyprus, lavender, thyme and peppermint oils.
The anti-fungal properties of this oil mean that is can help kill and remove mould in the home.
For information on how to use, check out this article on removing mould and mildew in the bathroom.
Tea tree has been used for thousands of years and the distilled oil is a great natural remedy to have in the home.
*Nourished Life and Eco Modern Essentials are affiliates of Frugal and Thriving. I receive a small commission from any purchases made through this link. They are both Australian companies and EME NOT an MLM like many essential oil brands.