Home Health And Wellbeing Flu Remedy Myth – Onions Absorb Viruses and Bacteria From a Room

Flu Remedy Myth – Onions Absorb Viruses and Bacteria From a Room

by Brett M. Christensen

This story was first published on  February 17th 2011


Message claims that leaving onions around a room can absorb the flu virus along with bacteria that cause other illnesses thereby preventing people from becoming sick.

Brief Analysis

Onions left in a room do not prevent people from contracting flu or other illnesses. This claim is a very old myth that has no medical or scientific basis whatsoever. Modern incarnations of the myth probably spring from a centuries old – and equally false – legend that leaving cut onions around a dwelling could ward of the Bubonic Plague.


Subject: Fw: Onions For Collecting The Flu Virus


In 1919 when the flu killed 40 million people there was this Doctor that visited the many farmers to see if he could help them combat the flu. Many of the farmers and their family had contracted it and many died.

The doctor came upon this one farmer and to his surprise, everyone was very healthy. When the doctor asked what the farmer was doing that was different the wife replied that she had placed an unpeeled onion in a dish in the rooms of the home, (probably only two rooms back then).

The doctor couldn’t believe it and asked if he could have one of the onions and place it under the microscope. She gave him one and when he did this, he did find the flu virus in the onion. It obviously absorbed the bacteria, therefore, keeping the family healthy.

Now, I heard this story from my hairdresser in AZ. She said that several years ago many of her employees were coming down with the flu and so were many of her customers. The next year she placed several bowls with onions around in her shop. To her surprise, none of her staff got sick. It must work.. (And no, she is not in the onion business) The moral of the story is, buy some onions and place them in bowls around your home. If you work at a desk, place one or two in your office or under your desk or even on top somewhere. Try it and see what happens. We did it last year and we never got the flu.

If this helps you and your loved ones from getting sick, all the better. If you do get the flu, it just might be a mild case..

Now there is a P. S. to this for I sent it to a friend in Oregon who regularly contributes material to me on health issues. She replied with this most interesting experience about onions:

Weldon, thanks for the reminder. I don’t know about the farmers story, but I do know that I contracted pneumonia and needless to say I was very ill I came across an article that said to cut both ends off an onion put one end on a fork and then place the forked end into an empty jar… placing the jar next to the sick patient at night. It said the onion would be black in the morning from the germs… sure enough it happened just like that… the onion was a mess and I began to feel better.

Another thing I read in the article was that onions and garlic placed around the room saved many from the black plague years ago. They have powerful antibacterial, antiseptic properties.


Detailed Analysis

This widely circulated message claims that placing onions around a room can absorb the flu virus and thus prevent people from catching the flu and becoming ill. It tells the story of a farming family that escaped the devastating flu epidemic of 1919 supposedly by placing onions in the rooms of the farmhouse. It relates other cases in which onions supposedly prevented people from getting the flu or at least aided their recovery from illness. According to the message, onions can absorb and contain not only viruses such as those that cause flu but also bacteria that cause other types of illness. The message also claims that placing onions and garlic around rooms saved many people from getting the Black Plague.
However, there is no credible scientific evidence that supports the claims in the message. Scientists have repudiated the idea that onions can act as “magnets” that attract bacteria or viruses. In an article debunking another onion myth (which suggests that raw onions are a “magnet for bacteria” and can therefore make you ill), Dr Joe Schwarcz of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society explains:

[T]he terminology that onions are “bacterial magnets” makes no sense. No food attracts bacteria, although of course some are more likely to support bacterial multiplication once infected.

An article on The Chemist’s Kitchen website about the humble onion’s supposed propensity to attract bacteria concurs with Dr Schwarcz’s view, noting:

Nothing is a bacteria magnet. Firstly, bacteria have minimal mobility. They usually travel in water droplets, if at all. Sneezes, for example. Moulds can release spores which get blown around but bacteria usually grows in moist environments and are slimy, making getting airborne difficult. Secondly, if there was such a thing as a ‘bacteria magnet’ it would be enormously useful in the medical field for drawing bacteria away from the ill and infirmed. Not such use has been made of onions.

And a November 2009 Wall Street Journal article about home flu cures notes:

Biologists say it’s highly implausible that onions could attract flu virus as a bug zapper traps flies. Viruses require a living host to replicate and can’t propel themselves out of a body and across a room.

When outside of a host, viruses are metabolically inert and cannot reproduce. While outside of host cells, they exist as a protein coat or capsid. If the virus in its inert form comes into contact with a suitable host, it can insert its genetic material into its host. Given these facts, it is stretching credibility to suggest that an onion can somehow magically draw viruses in a room into itself and safely contain them. There is no plausible scientific reason why an onion would have such properties.

As with many such circulated health tips, the message does not present any plausible evidence to back up its claims. The story of the doctor’s 1919 visit to the healthy farm family’s home, along with the supposed reason for their continued health, is just that – a story. No names or other references are included that would allow the veracity of the story to be checked. And the other incidents described in the message are unsubstantiated, anecdotal, and, in any case, prove nothing. The fact that a group of people – such as the staff in a hairdressing salon – did not contract flu in a particular year can not be seen as credible evidence that onions placed around the room were what stopped them from becoming ill. A cut onion left in a jar is likely to become darkened and “messy” regardless of any supposed ability to absorb germs. The pneumonia sufferer may well have began to feel better just as quickly even if no onion was in her sick room.

The myth that onions can somehow absorb the agents of disease and thereby prevent illness goes back centuries. During the dark and dreadful days of the Black Plague in the 14th century, many believed that a strategically placed onion in a dwelling could indeed ward off the plague. However, this tactic did not “save many from the black plague” as claimed in the message. In truth, onions are no more likely to attract and absorb Bubonic Plague bacteria (or the haemorrhagic fever virus that some researchers suggest may have been the real cause of the Black Death) than they are to absorb and attract more modern threats such as the H1N1 virus (swine flu). Those who lived at the time of the Black Death tended to believe that a miasma – a poisonous vapor or mist – was responsible for spreading the plague. They used many tactics to try to ward off this miasma including strong scents and even loud noises. Given the level of knowledge at the time, it is hardly surprising that people believed that a strong smelling substance such as onion might absorb this deadly miasma. These days, with our much greater understanding of bacteria and viruses and how they spread, it is considerably more surprising that some people still believe that onions can somehow magically drag the agents of disease from the air of a room and render them harmless.
While the idea that onions can attract and absorb bacteria and viruses is frankly rather silly, it should be noted that onions have long been thought to have medicinal benefits when consumed in various ways. And there may be some truth to these claims. The above mentioned Wall Street Journal article notes:

The idea that onions have medicinal properties goes back millennia and spans many cultures. Egyptians thought onions were fertility symbols. Ancient Greeks rubbed them on sore muscles, and Native Americans used them to treat coughs and colds. Herbalists note that the World Health Organization recognizes onion extracts for providing relief in the treatment of coughs, colds, asthma and bronchitis.

And a literature review about the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties of garlic and onions published in a 2007 issue of Nutrition & Food Science notes in its abstract:

Both garlic and onions exert their effects on human health via multiple different functions, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. The organosulphur compounds in these spices scavenge oxidizing agents, inhibit the oxidation of fatty acids, thereby preventing the formation of pro-inflammatory messengers, and inhibit bacterial growth, via interaction with sulphur-containing enzymes.

However, the fact that onions may hold some demonstrable medicinal properties, does not in any way validate the fanciful notion that an onion can collect and store bacteria and viruses in a room.

Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,