The effects in vitro of tea tree oil (TTO) and plaunotol were examined by monitoring the growth of a standard strain of Staphylococcus aureus FDA 209P and of fourteen methicillin-susceptible strains of S. aureus (MSSA), together with twenty methicillin-resistant strains (MRSA). The minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) and the doses for 50% inhibition of growth (ID50) were determined by the micro-broth dilution (MD) method, and the broth dilution with shaking (BDS) method, respectively. The MIC of plaunotol for 50 and 90% of the MSSA and MRSA were assessed by the MD method, as 16 microg/ml and > or = 1,024 microg/ml, respectively. No antibacterial effects of TTO on MSSA and MRSA were detected by the MD method. The growth-inhibitory effects of TTO on S. aureus by the BDS method were examined, and it appeared that TTO was effective over a lower range of concentrations than previously reported. It seems that TTO is very effective in vitro against MSSA and MRSA at high concentrations but less effective below 40 microg/ml of TTO.