What Is Thymol — And Is It As Effective As Other Household Cleaners?

Here’s what you need to know about the botanical oil. 

Eco-friendly cleaning products, which include plant-based active ingredients like thymol, are growing more and more popular by the day. But do they work as well as other household cleaners — and how do they affect the environment? Here's everything you need to know about thymol:

What Is Thymol?

Thymol is found in thyme oil (oil derived from thyme, an herb with antimicrobial properties). The botanical oil has a long history of antiseptic use: Ancient Egyptians used it for embalming, Europeans used it to soothe blistered skin during the Black Death, and Blackfoot Native Americans used it to treat mouth and throat infections.

These days, thymol serves as the active ingredient in many household cleaners. It's also found in mouthwashes, acne treatments, insect repellents, and fungicides.

wild lemon thyme and hand cleaning door handle
Jenny Dettrick/Getty Images, Os Tartarouchos/Getty Images

Does Thymol Work As Well As Other Cleaners?

When used properly as the active ingredient in a reputable household cleaner (such as Seventh Generation, which offers a full line of thymol cleaning products), thymol can kill 99.99 percent of household germs. This is on par with popular disinfectant brands like Lysol and Clorox.

When attempting to disinfect with thymol or any other commercial cleaner, it's important to remember the following:

  • There's a difference between sanitizing and disinfecting. Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces by killing or removing them. This usually takes about one minute. Disinfecting, meanwhile, kills the germs on surfaces. This can take about 10 minutes.
  • You can't disinfect a dirty surface. Clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before applying the disinfectant. This will allow it to do its job properly.
  • Check the label to make sure your cleaner is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Thymol Environmental and Health Effects

The EPA is "not aware of any adverse effects of thymol to humans or the environment when it is used in a manner prescribed by product labeling," according to EPA.gov.

CleanWell — an eco-friendly brand that uses thymol in all its products — makes disinfectants and sanitizers that kill 99.9 percent of household germs without the use of phosphates, which can accumulate in waterways and can cause harmful algal bloom (a rapid increase in the population of algae in water systems that affects the entire ecosystem).

CleanWell's products are also made without alcohol, which can be poisonous or flammable; bleach, ammonia, which can cause eye, respiratory, and skin irritation; and parabens, which may cause skin irritation and disrupt the endocrine system.

yellow package of CleanWell Botanical Disinfecting Wipes, Lemon, 35 Count

Buy it! CleanWell Botanical Disinfecting Wipes; Amazon, $8

Does Thymol Kill the Coronavirus?

The EPA's list of 500+ products known to kill the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) includes seven products with thymol as the active ingredient:

  • Ready to Use Thymol from Wexford Labs
  • SBT 2 to 1 Concentrate from Melaleuca Inc
  • Benefect Broad Spectrum Disinfectant by CleanWell LLC
  • Benefect Botanical Daily Cleaner Disinfectant Spray by CleanWell LLC
  • Benefect Botanical Daily Cleaner Disinfectant Towelette by CleanWell LLC
  • Clean Well Broad Spectrum Disinfectant by CleanWell LLC
  • Thymox Disinfectant Spray by Laboratorie M2

Read more about EPA-approved COVID-19 disinfectants here.

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