Can Essential Oils Help UTIs?

Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on September 22, 2023
3 min read

Essential oils are aromatic liquids from plants‌, and new research suggests that they may be helpful in fighting off bacterial infections.

A urinary tract infection, called a UTI, is an infection that affects any of your urinary organs. This includes the urethra, ureters, bladder, and sometimes the kidneys. A bladder infection is a UTI that only affects the bladder.

These infections are usually caused by bacteria, and some early research suggests that certain essential oils can help fight said bacteria.

  • Cinnamon. Test-tube studies show that a compound in cinnamon oil called trans-cinnamaldehyde can stop urinary bacteria from forming biofilm ⁠— a sticky matrix that helps bacteria grow -- on catheters. The authors of the study suggest that the surfaces of catheter locks and catheters could be coated in trans-cinnamaldehyde to help prevent UTIs.
  • Oregano. Oregano oil is effective against stationary E.coli bacteria in test tube research. When E.coli bacteria are “stationary”, they’ve entered a non-growth phase to survive when there aren’t any nutrients available. As they do so, they reorganize and adapt for survival, which leads to drug-resistant strains of the bacteria. Stationary E.coli can be present in UTIs. One laboratory study shows oregano oil is highly effective against E. coli, and that, in conjunction with antibiotics, all stationary E. coli in the study were killed.
  • Thyme. Thyme oil is rich in thymol and carvacrol. Test-tube research found that these compounds stopped E.coli bacteria from making biofilm. It also showed that these compounds were very active at inhibiting bacterial virulence, which means that infections, if treated with these compounds, might be less severe.
  • Marjoram. Other test tube research shows that marjoram oil also stops E.coli bacteria from making biofilm ⁠— however, the study’s authors caution that, while the essential oil might stop biofilm from being made, the oil doesn’t have antibacterial effects.

While these results are promising, more research is needed to conclusively determine whether essential oils have any medical benefits.

One of the biggest challenges with using essential oils as treatments is safety. Essential oils irritate the skin and mucous membranes. Oregano, thyme and cinnamon oil are all highly irritating, and can cause burning sensations.

In order to be used safely, essential oils should be diluted with a fatty oil, like grapeseed or coconut.

But even if they’re diluted, you shouldn’t apply these essential oils to your genitals or groin area, to your urethra, or put them on a catheter. These areas are highly sensitive and have mucous membranes that will be burned and irritated by these oils.

Don’t use them in the bath, as these essential oils don’t mix well with water, and can intensify the sensation of burning and itchiness.

Because of the way your body breaks down and gets rid of compounds, the oils might enter your urinary tract if you ingest them. But you should not ingest essential oils.

While the compounds themselves may be helpful in treating UTIs, more research is needed to understand how to safely use essential oils to treat a UTI. They, or their constituent compounds, may be most effective in conjunction with antibiotics.

While there may be natural remedies for a UTI, it’s easier to simply prevent a UTI from happening in the first place. You can do this by:

  • Staying clean and dry 
  • Drinking lots of water
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom
  • Pee right away after sex
  • Wash the skin around your vagina before and after sex

If you have a UTI, or you get them frequently, talk to your doctor about treatments that can help. Talk to a trained aromatherapist about using essential oils safely.