Tea tree & cloth diapers

Mr. Tisserand,

I am a Real Diaper Circle Leader with the Real Diaper Association (a not-for-profit organization). I lead the Ventura County chapter here locally where I donate my time to teach cloth diapering 101 classes as well as support the local cloth diapering community with monthly meetings which are all free to the public. The cloth diapering community has run into a bit of controversy regarding the use of Tea Tree Oil to kill microbes including bacteria commonly found in feces, yeast, viruses shed in feces and in rare cases, mold (usually related to improper storage).

Many moms have been recommending a few drops of TTO when laundering diapers. This has been disputed, suggesting that such a dilution can cause bacteria resistance and growth of superbacteria.

Picture: Ossi Mauno

I would love your suggestions of dilution ratios (TTO/water) as well as your opinion as to the effectiveness of straight TTO in laundry. I am concerned first with the fact that the oil may not distribute evenly because of oil/water relationship as well as the fact that most parents wash their diapers on a warm or hot setting. I am fairly new to EO use and properties, but I was under the impression that EOs loose their antimicrobial properties when heated.

If you have any suggestions as to how parents may treat their diapers properly and most effectively with essential oils (or grapefruit extract – which is another cloth diaper users favorite tool), I would greatly appreciate your assistance. For example, would it be more effective to soak diapers in a particular dilution of oil/cold water after washing them, followed by another rinse to prevent any skin irritation?

I would love to be able to reference articles to support your suggestions!
Thank you so much for taking the time to assist the cloth diapering community!
Gratefully yours,

Janice Roodsari RN
stay at home mother of twins and Ventura County Real Diaper Circle Leader

Hi Janice,

This an interesting question!

As for resistance, with either tea tree oil (TTO) or other essential oils, it’s a non-issue. There are one or two research papers suggesting that TTO might cause resistance, but the bulk of the evidence shows the opposite, and any resistance is slight and transient.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3264233/?tool=pubmed

But tea tree oil is very effective at both killing (in high concentrations) and preventing virulence (in low concentrations) of MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus).
http://iv.iiarjournals.org/content/21/6/1027.long
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15555788

These properties of essential oils have given rise to their increasing use in food packaging (to prevent bacterial growth) and as “growth-promoters” in farmed animals, instead of antibiotics.

Tea tree in flower: Australian Tea Tree Industry Association

Three or four drops of TTO is enough for a laundry load, added to the soaking cycle. The warm or hot setting is not an issue, so long as the diapers are in an enclosed space. Heating essential oils does not damage them (they are steam distilled at the boiling point of water) nor does it alter their antibacterial properties. The essential oil might evaporate, but it’s just as effective in vapor form as in liquid form.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22133088
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19292822

You are right about dissolution – essential oils mix very poorly with water, but the physical action of a washing machine tends to break up the essential oil into very tiny droplets. During rinsing and drying, the essential oil will be mostly lost (which is a good thing – you don’t want any risk of skin irritation) with only traces remaining. Add TTO where your washer suggests to pour bleach. It will then have at least 2-3 rinses to be removed from your diapers prior to use.

I hope this is helpful!
- Robert

So, for anyone conflicted about using TTO, go for it! It would be a great addition to your laundry routine especially if your little one has experienced any sort of stomach virus, if your diapers aren’t smelling clean (check your detergent amount also) after they are washed, or if you have any reason to suspect that your little one has an infection. Do note that TTO will not fix all rashes and will have no effect on diapers suffering from ammonia buildup or repelling due to excess detergent. Please see your doctor for questions regarding diaper rash so that they may swab the rash and tell you if the rash may be due to a “bug” or not. I hope this brings you as much peace of mind about using TTO as it has brought to me.

Please note that it is important to purchase undiluted TTO to maintain effectiveness

This blog post also appears here.

 

11 comments to Tea tree & cloth diapers

  • This is a great discussion & very timely! Thanks for posting it :)

  • Thank you for your response to this question. It is invaluable knowledge.

  • Very very good information Robert and thank you as we have a lot of Mom’s who use our products and more and more Mom’s who are using cloth diapers. I will post this (can’t believe I’m just now getting back to your blog – it’s been a busy summer!) and make sure it gets passed on to others. One thing I wanted to mention. I’ve come upon a substantial amount of information leading me to believe that a lot of diaper rash is Candida related. I’ve also found that Tea Tree is effective against this yeast – at what percentage I’m not totally for sure, but would think that the dilutions you recommend would work well.

  • Robert,
    As I looked into using Tea Tree Oil or Lavender to remove some of the bad smell from cloth diapers for our baby boy, I ran into two articles about the same study suggesting that these essential oils could be harmful to boys because of their estrogen-like properties. I wondered if you had heard of this and what you thought about it. Here are the articles:

    http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/jan2007/niehs-31.htm
    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa064725

  • Shelley Birnbaum

    Just catching up on your blogs and this particular entry stood out since I will be adding a baby line in a few months. Would Tea Tree well diluted be safe in a diaper cream? Also I have read that Usnea Lichen C02 extract is good for Candida would this be safe for babies?

  • robert

    Yes, sufficiently diluted tea tree oil would be fine in a diaper cream, but neither oakmoss nor treemoss would be safe for a baby product because of the risk of adverse skin reaction.

  • Brandy Randall

    I use gfse and tto for my cloth diaper laundry but being told misinformation. I’m told the amount of gfse and tto would be gallons to disinfect a load of diapers. I’m being told to use a cascade soak (dishwashing powder) and bleach on my diapers. Can you give me some scientific information and links to validate what I’m doing is right. And if the cascade powder and bleach is okay or why its not. Thank you so much~

  • robert

    Hi Brandy,

    I can’t add anything to what I said in my blog post above, except to say that bleach will surely disinfect efficiently!

  • Tara

    You mentioned above that “Heating essential oils does not damage them”, but I’ve always heard different, that many properties were lost when heated. Do you have links or more info I can read on this?

  • robert

    Hi Tara – good point. Heating essential oils for a short period of time does not damage them. What does damage essential oils is prolonged warmth or heat http://roberttisserand.com/2013/07/lemon-on-the-rockskeep-your-essential-oils-cool/

Essential Oil Safety

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