Essential Oils Can Be Great for Laundry — Here Are 7 That Experts Recommend

published Aug 16, 2023
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I love the smell of a nice, fresh load of laundry. But I also have pretty sensitive skin, and artificial scents can wreak havoc on me. I can break out or get lightheaded from the strong chemicals. Luckily for me and others like me, there’s a good solution: essential oils. Using them in your laundry is an all-natural way to get a pleasant scent that won’t bother your senses (if they’re used properly, of course).

Quick Overview

How to Use Essential Oils for Laundry

Essential oils can be great for laundry, providing a fresh smell without harsh chemicals. Here’s how to use them:

  • Select an essential oil that doesn’t stain and works in your home environment.
  • Patch test the oil on a hidden piece of fabric.
  • Dilute the oil with white vinegar or unscented laundry detergent.
  • Add your oil mixture to your laundry.
  • Do an extra rinse.

Can You Use Essential Oils for Laundry?

You absolutely can use essential oils in your laundry! “The biggest benefit of using essential oils in your laundry is you are getting a fresh smell on your clothes without using harsh chemicals that are often associated with most scented laundry products,” says Laurie Fulford, a laundry pro at Poplin laundry service. “Also, the packaging for essential oils is very minimal. So you are cutting down on a lot of plastic waste that most laundry products are packaged in.”

The oils you use generally come down to personal preference, but there are some that laundry experts typically suggest — and some to avoid.

Essentials Oils You Can Use in Your Laundry

The cleaning experts interviewed for this story recommend using these essential oils in your laundry:

  • Lavender: Calming, promotes relaxation and better sleep
  • Lemon: Refreshing and uplifting, can remove stains and brighten whites, antibacterial
  • Bergamot: Uplifting and antibacterial
  • Peppermint: Energizing
  • Tea Tree: Antifungal and antimicrobial
  • Eucalyptus: Invigorating and antimicrobial
  • Grapefruit (and other citrus oils like orange): Uplifting and fresh

That being said, it’s important to note that essential oils can stain your clothes if you’re not careful. Some of them have a naturally occurring dark or yellow color that can leave spots. Clell Fowles, senior manager of health sciences and product safety with Young Living Essential Oils, recommends avoiding oils with a natural dark color like blue tansy, jasmine, and German chamomile, and oils with a natural yellow color like patchouli, vetiver, myrrh, and tangerine. The yellowish color will fade, Fowles says, but you’ll still want to skip using them on whites just in case.

You’ll also want to consider your pets when selecting essential oils, as some can be toxic to them. You might want to avoid having them around the home or using them for their items when washing.

How to Use Essentials Oils for Laundry

Adding essential oils to your laundry is a pretty simple process. Here’s what to do.

Step 1: Choose Your Oil

Pick an oil that smells pleasant to you, won’t stain your clothing, and doesn’t irritate your skin.

Step 2: Patch Test Your Oil

Find a hidden patch of fabric on a piece of clothing and put on a single drop of oil. Let it sit for a minute and then rinse it out. If there’s a stain or discoloration left behind, don’t use that oil. You’ll also want to put a drop of the oil on your skin to see if it causes any irritation, and stay away from any that too.

Step 3: Dilute Your Oil

You don’t want to put essential oils directly into your laundry without diluting them first. “Mix 10 to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil with half a cup of white vinegar or unscented laundry detergent,” says Maria Mooney, Truly Free‘s brand director and cleaning expert. Other experts suggest using only a few drops — remember that a little can go a long way with essential oils. You can also add a few drops to the unscented fabric softener.

Step 4: Add Your Oil

If you’ve added your oils to a larger container of detergent or softener, just use it like normal and the oils will disperse throughout the laundry load. If you only want the oils for one load, then add a couple of drops right into the water once your washer has filled up. You can also add them during the rinse cycle.

Step 5: Do an Extra Rinse

You’ll want to be sure that all the oil is rinsed out of your clothes before putting them in the dryer, so do an extra rinse cycle. Then finish your laundry as you normally would!

Can Essential Oils Catch on Fire in the Laundry?

Essential oils are flammable, but if you use them properly, you don’t have to worry about them catching fire in your laundry. In the washer, you won’t have any issues because the water dilutes the oils. Plus, it’s hard to start a fire in something full of water. Having said that, you definitely don’t want to put them in the dryer. 

“Essential oils can cause fires in dryers if they aren’t completely washed out,” says Lisa Sharp, cleaning expert and owner of Retro Housewife Goes Green. “Washing your clothes in hot water and using very small amounts of essential oils can reduce the risk, but the best option is to line dry clothes that you use essential oils with.” Once you’re done with your laundry, you’ll have an invigorating, extra-clean, and wonderful-smelling batch of clothes to wear. And you’ll have done it all in a way that’s better for the environment than typical laundry methods. Nice job!