Antibacterial vs. Antiviral- which essential oils should I use?

Ever wondered what antimicrobial, antiviral, antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal actually mean? Are they all the same thing? Surely they can they be used interchangeably? Well, not quite. They are all actions which fall under the term antimicrobial, but each do different things. They all treat pathogens (aka. microbes that can cause disease) differently because of the structure of their compounds.

So where does that leave the properties of essential oils? Well, for starters all essential oils are antimicrobial to a greater or lesser extent. However, the antimicrobial effectiveness of an essential oil will vary depending on the kind of microbe it is working to treat. This means one specific oil might be more effective at treating one pathogen compared to another oil. There are also a number of oils that have multiple actions. For example, clove essential oil has both antibiotic and antiviral properties (making it particularly good for preventing & removing mould).

As you can see, it’s super important to actually get to know the properties of the essential oils you’re using. Let’s have a further look at the antiviral and antibacterial actions of some essential oils to help you choose which ones will be the most beneficial for your specific needs.


 Antiviral Essential Oils

An antiviral is defined as ‘a substance which inhibits the growth of a virus’. Viruses are teeny-tiny (even smaller than bacteria!) parasites which require access to a host in order to survive, reproduce and thrive because they can only live for a short period of time outside of the host. For example, a virus could live for a few hours on a surface which had been contaminated. They are most commonly spread through physical contact which highlights the importance of hygiene – things like washing your hands with soap and using hand sanitizer.

The use of essential oils with antibacterial properties will not be successful in treating viral infections as they simply cannot remove viruses. However, essential oils with antiviral actions will work to varying degrees of effectiveness to kill viruses and can be used to prevent the growth of viruses. Essential oils can be used in addition with other methods such as sanitisation with alcohol to inhibit the growth of viruses more effectively.

Here are our top picks for essential oils with antiviral actions to help overcome certain viral infections:


Antibacterial Essential Oils

The world is covered in unseen bacteria. It can be found everywhere- all over and inside our bodies, animals, plants, foods, water, snow, dirt, the earth’s crust and even the air. Bacteria can reproduce quite quickly under the right conditions with many types preferring warm, moist environments which is why food safety is so important.

As we know, there are good and bad bacteria. A balance of both are absolutely essential, whilst a disbalance of bad bacteria can cause disease and infection. So how can essential oils help? The overgrowth of bad bacteria can sometimes be eliminated, and in some cases be prevented by using certain essential oils. For example, some essential oils can be used to kill airborne bacteria and help improve air quality.

Our favourite bacteria fighting essential oils are below- just remember they don’t discriminate against good or bad bacteria and will eliminate both, so don’t overdo it.


Antimicrobial Blends

If the all the virus and bacteria talk is not your thing but you're looking for a simple and effective solution to keep the bugs at bay, we've selected our top blends for the job.


Cold & Flu Relief



In Essence ie : Breathe is an iconic blend of 100% pure Mint, Eucalyptus and Pine essential oils traditionally used in aromatherapy to relieve symptoms of cold and flu including sinusitis, mild respiratory infection, mucous congestion and headache.

Winter Defence

Immune Essential Oil Blend

In Essence ie : Immune is a powerful combination of Eucalyptus, Lemon, Marjoram and Sandalwood pure essential oils which have been traditionally used in aromatherapy to support healthy immune system function and enhance immune defence.


Gentle Relief for Baby

 Oil Garden Baby Protect Essential Oil Blend

Oil Garden's Baby Protect relieves cold and flu symptoms for baby with a refreshing 100% pure essential oil blend of Lemon, Eucalyptus and Myrtle.


Germ- free home


Springfields Tea Tree & Lavender combination combines the soothing benefits of Lavender oil and the antiseptic benefits of Tea Tree oil for a synergistic effect.


 Before you get started…

Remember that it is vital that you match the oil you’re using with the problem you want to address. Make sure you’re picking oils that will actually work for your specific needs by having a quick look at its key properties to determine its best uses. Don’t forget to become familiar with the safety data of that oil as well as not all are created equal and can be used safely in all applications (pregnancy, pets, phototoxicity).

It’s great to use your essential oils in conjunction with other methods of antiviral and antibacterial protection to help prevent the spread and growth of unwanted microorganisms. And remember, always follow the recommended applications of essential oils, personally, diffusing is our favourite for antibacterial and antiviral uses!

We've collated all of our antiviral and antibacterial essential oils and blend in one place. Browse them all in our Winter Essentials Collection.



Brazier, Y 2019, What are bacteria and what do they do?, Medical News Today, <>.

Brochot, A, Guilbot, A, Haddioui, L, & Roques, C 2017, ‘Antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effects of three essential oil blends’, MicrobiologyOpen, vol. 6, no,

Gelderblom, HR 1996, Medical Microbiology, 4th edn, Galveston (TX), <>.

Lawless, J 2013, The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Conari Press, San Francisco.

Swamy, M. K., Akhtar, M. S., & Sinniah, U. R. 2016, ‘Antimicrobial Properties of Plant Essential Oils against Human Pathogens and Their Mode of Action: An Updated Review’, Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine,

Wińska, K, Mączka, W, Łyczko, J, Grabarczyk, M, Czubaszek, A, & Szumny, A 2019, ‘Essential Oils as Antimicrobial Agents-Myth or Real Alternative?’, Molecules, vol. 24, no. 11,

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