The Truth about Tea Tree Oil and Cloth Diapers

This information is not going to be popular. I know how the cloth diapering community loves its tea tree oil. If only I had a nickel for every time I read the phrase, “Just add a couple of drops of TTO to the wash…”

When I was a child, we were fairly pediatrician dependent. There was a prescription for every ailment. These days, my belief is that Mother Nature provided us with a natural remedy for every possible ailment we could encounter. When you mix my upbringing with my new natural persona, what you have is a “SCM” or a Skeptical Crunchy Mom. I believe in the potential of natural remedies, but I don’t automatically accept them just because another mom claims something to be true on Diaper Pin. When I hear of a new method, I research the crap out of it from every angle. I read the hippie sites, the crunchy sites, the manufacturer’s information, customer reviews, but also I search medical journals and try to learn the science behind it, which also includes the critics’ evaluation.

Let me explain to you the science behind tea tree oil as an antiseptic. TTO will kill most normal bacteria at even 1 percent dilution. However, thanks to western medicine, most bacteria is no longer “normal bacteria.” These days our every day run of the mill bacteria is the super strong and resistant to nearly everything.  Unfortunately, tea tree kills most staph it touches, but not all of the staph that it touches when it’s diluted. This is the same recipe for disaster that antibiotics have caused. If a weapon against bacteria touches it, but only maims it, that bacterium rebuilds itself and then goes and tells all its bacteria friends how to defeat that weapon. (If anyone watches Star Trek, bacteria is like The Borg.)

So, when you add a couple of drops of TTO to your wash of diapers, you are using far less than even 1% dilution. With that, you’re not even killing the weak bacteria. So you’re creating super strong staph in those diapers and in your home. If you could get a 4% dilution in your wash, you could kill everything, but picture how much tea tree oil constitutes 4% of a whole washing machine.

I love TTO. That doesn’t mean that I misuse it though.

If you want to add something to your wash to kill bacteria, add Oil of Oregano or Colloidal Silver. They do kill every single bacterium that they touch. So even if they don’t kill all the bacteria in your wash, if they touch it, they kill it. No one left to relay the weapon’s strategy.

This doesn’t mean your bottle of TTO is useless though. TTO is an amazing weapon. It’s one of only two medicinal oils that are perfectly fine to use straight on the skin. If your baby gets a patch of eczema, a cut, a boil, a mosquito bite or a pimple, one drop of straight undiluted TTO will annihilate any bacterium that wants to wage a war against your baby’s skin. You can use one drop to clean tweezers or the nasal aspirator. You can even use it on your nipples when breastfeeding because tea tree oil is safe for ingesting. My personal favorite though: I like to take one drop and wipe it along my baby’s fingernails when she has an itch that she won’t stop scratching. That way, I don’t have to worry about infection.

For more information on the 4% rule and how to properly use tea tree oil, please refer to these books:

Prescription of Herbal Healing by Phyllis A. Balch

Australian Tea Tree Oil Guide by Cynthia Olsen



  1. Jill

    I keep a bottle of tea tree oil in my makeup bag for the occasional pimple. I love it for that purpose. I honestly never thought to use it on anything else, so your article has really given me a great deal of thought as to what other purposes it may serve. I purchased my bottle at The Body Shop, any idea if it’s straight, undiluted TTO?

    I’ve heard of Oil of Oregano before also, but don’t know much about it. I am going to research it a bit more now that you mention it’s bacteria killing properties.

    Thought I’d mention that I found your blog via your husbands post on facebook (gotta love facebook :)). Darl and I grew up in the same church together. His family and mine were very close back in the day, but have since sort of lost touch. It’s so nice to see he’s doing well, married and with adorable children! Congratulations to you all!!!

  2. Dawn Papple

    Facebook IS amazing! The only Tea Tree Oil offered by The Body Shop on their website is not straight tea tree oil. For about the same price as what they label tea tree oil, you could get some actual tea tree oil, it would be easier for you to figure out the proper dilution that way, and would work quicker on pimples anyway…

    Here’s what The Body Shop’s “Tea Tree Oil” is:
    Water, Alcohol Denat., PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Polysorbate 20, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Limonene, t-Butyl Alcohol, Calophyllum Inophyllum Seed Oil, Citral, Leptospermum Petersonii (Lemon Tea Tree) Oil, Denatonium Benzoate, Tocopherol.

  3. Jill

    Yikes! I feel dooped for paying for water + TTO! :). Thanks for the info. I’m just getting into adding the natural and crunchy life to our home. One healthy step at a time :).

  4. Jill

    Yikes! I feel dooped for paying for water + TTO! :). I’m just getting into adding the natural and crunchy life to our home. One healthy step at a time :). Thanks for the info!

  5. Dawn Papple

    Don’t feel bad, that’s why I wrote this. It’s a VERY VERY commom misconception and I feel quite certain that who ever sold it o you thought it was the very best choice. The studies were only a couple of years ago, so these things take time. Spread the word though!

  6. Stacey

    Hi Dawn,

    I came across this entry when trying to find info on TTO and baby wipes solutions, and I’m wondering where you got some of the info – everything I’ve found says that TTO is NOT safe to be ingested at all, and also not to use on baby’s skin – even though every diaper wipes solution recipe says to add TTO.

  7. Dawn Papple

    No problem!

    I wrote two of my most significant sources on this information directly at the end of the blog. Those are the two books that have the studies that you can then check out depending on what your main concerns are. If you have any questions besides what I can answer, those two books are a wealth of information and they cite their sources and studies. In addition, when I am learning about new information, I always run it through first which will give you the rundown of all of the medical studies published in most of the medical journals in the world.

    As far as TTO directly on the skin, you can learn more information on that by reading/googling/or taking a class about aromatherapy and essential oil use. In an aromatherapy and essential oils safety class, one of the very first opening statements is always, “With the exception of tea tree oil and lavender, you must always dilute.” I used to have a professional aromatherapist and essential oil use instructor that taught classes at the natural living store that I owned.

    As far as tea tree oil being safe for ingestion, TTO applied directly to lip sores like herpes or canker sores within the mouth is a VERY COMMON practice. TTO is a common ingredient in throat lozenges. You can find many if you look on the website of one of the industries leading vendors, Lotus Light. Probably just a google search for Tea tree oil and honey lozenges would produce the same results.

    It is very common for people who heal with essential oil to apply tea tree oil to a tampon that has been moistened inside of it’s applicator and insert it into the vagina to get immediate relief from yeast infections. Also, in my circle of friends, any time there is any vaginal itch, it’s common practice to take a couple of drops of straight TTO and apply it over the labia. It smarts for a second sure, but it will fix the skin up right away, whatever the cause: irritation, heat rash, sweat, ingrown hairs, fancy underpants rubbing, infection, or yeast.

    When I have a white coat on my tounge the next morning from eating too much sugar, I put five drops of TTO on my tooth brush and brush my tounge. For strep throat, in the natural healing community, it is common practice to take a q-tip with a few drops of TTO on it and apply it to your tonsils.

    If someone is colonized with MRSA in their nose, rather than using the bactroban in the nose twice daily, the essential oil community will do the same treatment, but with one drop of tea tree oil per nostril undiluted.

    When you use it on a baby’s skin, I would recommend only using a drop in a pimple, boil or patch of rash. If you use a bunch of straight TTO on ANYONE’s skin, it will get a little pink, and it will sting a bit for about five seconds. However, it is common knowledge that TTO is safe for use undiluted on the skin.

    Perhaps the info you’ve found is because it is not comfortable? Perhaps they just are scared? Perhaps they’re misinformed? Perhaps they are afraid you’ll use a teaspoon ful ratehr than one drop? (Which would really really sting.)

    I have used it undiluted on my baby’s skin. It is amazing at bringing down bug bites, battling burns (even sunburns) and pulling debris from scrapes and cuts. It also tastes awful, but you can ingest it and they do use it in food, gum, things like that.

    It is far more important, if you’re going to sway one way or another that you DO NOT over dilute. Like I said in my opening statement, it’s certainly not going to be popular. People LOVE to use it for diapering and wipe solution, but THAT is extremely unsafe. It’s the crunchy mom’s equivelent of taking two days worth of antibiotics and then stopping before the course is over. It creates MRSA. You are much safer with using straight TTO if you are unsure of how to dilute it.

    To get you started though, on understanding where I’m coming from, check out those two books and you will have a MUCH clearer understanding of the science of TTO.

    Thanks for your comment!

  8. Dawn Papple

    Also, upon further thought, too much TTO can be drying to a person’s skin, so perhaps they’re afraid you will over use it? If the skin gets too dry, you would use it less frequently.

  9. christina

    Hi dawn.
    Great Information and resources.
    I’ve always used TTO, love it like you do 🙂
    I’m a little stuck right now though.
    There has been a disclaimer on
    all three brands I have purchased in the past (100% pure TTO)
    The warning is DO NOT USE WHEN PREGNANT OR BREAST FEEDING. Now a new BF mama the warning applies to me for the first time … I was laughing reading the previous comments … I too just replenished my supply of TTO to add to our diaper pail. I’m going to do some reading and may find OOOregano may be the better option as you’ve mentioned. In the mean time the question is to cease using TTO as the label warns or ……… ?

  10. TTO releases estrogen, as does lavender, so for moms of little boys, this is really something to be careful with when you are pregnant with them. Just as you don’t want to eat too much soy when you a pregnant with a little boy, you also don’t want to apply much TTO or lavender.

  11. Pingback: Cloth Diapering in an Apartment | Diaper Parties by Everything Birth

  12. Pingback: Take the “Flats Challenge” brought to you by Dirty Diaper Laundry — Everything Birth's Blog on Midwifery, Attachment Parenting, Cloth Diapers and More

  13. Pingback: My Battle With Acne — Everything Birth's Blog on Midwifery, Attachment Parenting, Cloth Diapers and More

  14. I used tea tree oil directly on an infected toenail. I’ve had nail fungus for 3 1/2 yrs now. It killed that fungus… fast! I’ve been on 2 prescription medications that never worked & couldn’t take the others because I was constantly between nursing & pregnancy. I bought TTO bc I started cloth diapering, but found I only use it for my (other 2 infected) toenails! 🙂

  15. Ariel

    Hi Dawn, I like to make my own wipes solution– do you recommend using an essential oil in it? If so, which oil would you recommend?

    I am excited to try TTO for the things you suggested. Thank you for posting this info!

  16. Pingback: How to know how much essential oils to use: Working through the math. — Everything Birth's Blog on Midwifery, Attachment Parenting, Cloth Diapers and More

  17. Pingback: Do you have a crappy scalp? — Everything Birth's Blog on Midwifery, Attachment Parenting, Cloth Diapers and More

  18. Chandra Walton

    I was wondering how much OOO you would suggest adding to the wash for cloth diapers, and how often. Also, do you have a recipe that you would recommend for an antibacterial wipe solution?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top