Natural Bug Repellent Recipes That Work!

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Every year as warmer weather approaches, I make several homemade products for summer. This includes my homemade sunscreen and these natural bug repellent recipes.

I don’t use sunscreen often because it limits vitamin D production. I prefer to eat my sunscreen instead. This homemade insect repellent spray recipe, on the other hand, gets daily use where we live (unfortunately!).

Why Homemade Bug Spray?

At my house, we joke about mosquitoes being the size of birds. They certainly do seem to come in flocks! Keeping bugs away with a good mosquito repellent is a top priority, especially with small children who are prone to scratching mosquito bites.

It’s not just annoying bites that we have to worry about. Some mosquitos can transmit diseases like Zika and West Nile virus. Then there are fleas and ticks infected with Lyme disease, Bartonella, and more.

According to the CDC, about 6% of all mosquito types are known to transmit diseases. But it’s impossible to know which ones when you’re just enjoying an evening outside.

Many natural bug-repellent options from the store aren’t my first option either. The label may say all natural and plant-based but they’re full of soybean oil and undisclosed proprietary ingredients. For example, one popular brand of DEET-free natural mosquito repellent features oil of lemon eucalyptus. However, the other 70% of the ingredients list is a mystery.

What’s the Deal with DEET?

While I am serious about avoiding bug bites, I don’t want to use nasty pesticides and repellents like DEET to do it. DEET is in many commercial insect repellents and has mixed results when it comes to safety.

The EPA weighed in on DEET in 1998 and again in 2014, concluding it doesn’t have health concerns for most people, even for kids. Looking at their long list of warnings and precautions, I’ll stick with my natural bug spray.

Dr. Aboue Donia, a pharmacologist found that rats treated with an average human dose of DEET had some issues. They performed far worse than control rats on physical tasks requiring muscle control, strength, and coordination.

In the same study, DEET caused neurons to die in parts of the brain that control muscles, learning, memory, and concentration. Young children are more at risk because their skin absorbs things more readily.

It’s also interesting to note that so far the EPA has yet to complete an endocrine disruptor screening on DEET. So we don’t know know how it affects hormones.

Another common pest control option is picaridin, a synthetic chemical derived from piperine. Runoff from these products contaminates the water supply and is known to cause deformities in certain animals. So what is it doing to us?

Natural Alternatives to DEET

As with most household items, you can make natural bug spray cheaply and naturally at home. Lotion with coconut oil is another DIY I like to make instead of buy. This recipe takes just minutes to mix up. You can use different ingredients based on what you have available. I’ve included several variations so you can try whichever one you have the ingredients for.

5-Minute Essential Oil Natural Bug Repellent

This is the best bug spray recipe I’ve found. It uses essential oils, which are really effective for natural bug protection. I prefer not to put this blend directly on skin, especially on kids. Instead, I use it on clothing or our gear.

Any combination of these essential oils will work

All of the above have insect and mosquito-repelling properties. I’ve included the mixture I use below. For this recipe, I use 100 drops of essential oil in total with a mixture of various oils. If you don’t have a certain oil you can leave it out or use a mixture of the others in its place.

Don’t Want to DIY Your Natural Bug Repellent?

Don’t feel like making your own? There are some really great pre-made bug-repellant options now.

To save time, I sometimes use a pre-mixed kid-safe essential oil blend. It’s made to repel insects and can replace the other oils in the recipe below. Here are a few premade natural bug spray options that don’t require any mixing at all.

I definitely recommend spot-testing for allergic reactions anytime you’re using a new product on your skin, whether it’s natural or not.

Natural Bug Repellent Recipes

I use this bug spray to spray my kid’s clothing on their way out the back door in the summer. I also pack one in our first aid kit when camping or hiking. This homemade anti-itch cream is also handy to carry in case of a random bug bite!

How to make natural bug spray in about five minutes
3.96 from 136 votes

Natural Bug Repellent Recipe

Make this 5 minute simple & effective homemade bug spray recipe with essential oils and other natural ingredients to keep mosquitos and insects away.
Prep Time10 minutes
Total Time10 minutes
Yield: 1 cup
Author: Katie Wells



  • In a glass spray bottle, combine the essential oils.
  • Add the vodka or rubbing alcohol and shake well to combine.
  • Pour in the witch hazel and shake again to combine.
  • Add the vegetable glycerin if using. It isn’t necessary, but it does help everything stay combined.
  • Add the water and shake again.
  • Shake before each use as the oils and water will naturally separate over time.


How to Use:
I keep a bottle of this bug spray by the back door for easy application. I also pack one in our first aid kit when camping or hiking. I find it’s also handy to carry this homemade anti-itch cream in case of the random bug bite!

DIY Bug Repellent Recipe Variations

Natural bug sprays can also be made without essential oils. Just use dried herbs and witch hazel or vinegar. This recipe is less expensive, but it’s not as potent as the recipe above.

Herbal Bug Spray Ingredients

Herbal Bug Spray Instructions

  1. Boil water, then add the herbs.
  2. Mix well, cover, and turn off the stove. Let cool completely. Covering is important to keep the volatile oils in!
  3. Strain out the herbs and mix the tea with witch hazel or alcohol. Store in a spray bottle in the fridge for up to a week.
  4. Use as needed. Added bonus: it smells great and is very refreshing to the skin.

TIP: You can also use the above herbs and make an alcohol tincture instead for longer shelf life. Add 1 part tincture to 1 part water before use and spray liberally on clothing.

Vinegar Tick and Insect Repellent Recipe

Fair warning: this stuff stinks when it’s wet. Thankfully the smell disappears as it dries. It works really well though. I use this spray whenever I’m going deep into the woods or other tick-infested areas.

It’s based on a recipe that was rumored to be used by thieves during the Black Plague to prevent sickness. Legend has it that the thieves survived thanks to this bug blend. Regardless if the story is true or not, it definitely makes a great insect repellent.

This recipe is cheap and you probably already have the ingredients in your kitchen.

Vinegar of the Four Thieves Insect Repellent Ingredients

Vinegar of the Four Thieves Insect Repellent Instructions

  1. Put the dried herbs into the large glass jar. Pour the vinegar over the herbs until the jar is almost full.
  2. Seal tightly and store in a cool, dry place. Shake occasionally.
  3. After 2-3 weeks, strain the herbs out. Store the vinegar in spray bottles or tincture bottles, preferably in the fridge.
  4. To use on skin, dilute to half with water in a spray bottle and use as needed.
  5. Use it whenever you need serious bug control!

Note: This mixture is very strong and has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It can also be used as a tincture for many illnesses. For adults, I use 1 tablespoon in water several times a day. For kids over two, I use 1 teaspoon in water several times a day.

Other Simple Natural Bug Repellent Ideas

  • Use a non-toxic, plastic-free insect-repelling band like these. They’re easier to use on children and very effective.
  • Add vanilla extract to either of the above recipes or just rub it on the skin. You can also mix vanilla with witch hazel and water for a spray version.
  • Plant insect-repelling herbs in your yard. I grow lavender, thyme, mint, and citronella near our patio and we use these fresh plants as bug repellent in a pinch.
  • Rub lavender flowers or diluted lavender oil on your skin to repel insects.
  • Rub fresh or dried leaves of anything in the mint family all over your skin to repel insects. Peppermint, spearmint, catnip, pennyroyal, etc., or citronella, lemongrass, etc. Basil is also said to repel mosquitoes. I’ve used fresh basil leaves in the garden with great success before.

What are your tricks for keeping bugs at bay? Which do you think is worse… the insects or the chemicals in most repellents?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


570 responses to “Natural Bug Repellent Recipes That Work!”

  1. Beverly Wing Avatar
    Beverly Wing

    Hi guys.
    I’m having a problem with these tiny bugs about the size of a dot. Boy can they bite. They have wings also. Does anyone know of a homemade spray I can use on them?

  2. Roshun Avatar

    I would love to find an all natural remedy for repelling mosquito’s and other biting insects, but in my experience essential oils are very costly and come in tiny bottles; is there a way this can be more cost effective for those of us on fixed budgets? Please advise. Thank you!

  3. Roger Avatar

    The recipe says to use half a cup of some ingredients. Can anybody here tell me how much that converts to in oz or ml please?

  4. Pamela Avatar

    I have everything to make the bug spray but not geranium. Is there something else that I could use instead?

  5. Stephanie Avatar

    Have you had any issues with the badger brand? I was told to avoid it because there is lemongrass in it and it attracts bees. I would love to try it, but I don’t want bees buzzing around me.

  6. Sandra Avatar

    Hi! What is the reason for adding in the rubbing alcohol and witch hazel into the bug spray? Thanks!

      1. Amanda Avatar

        Hi Katie, I don’t have any witch hazel, can i use purified water as a substitute?

  7. kim Avatar

    How long does this bug spray keep for? I’m wondering when to change it out.

  8. Ashley Avatar

    What I use for bugs… Garlic. Pure, raw garlic cloves. 2 at a time. It works. Biting insects will not want to bite you. Flying ones may land, but will not bite. I normally get garlic heads when the temps get hot. Can also use the bug off products at Springtime, Inc. For your animals. They also now have garlic tablets for humans. I highly recommend their products. No, this is not an advertisment, just saying what I found that works.

  9. Heather Avatar

    How long is the oil mixture repellant good for? I’m getting married outdoors and am giving out tiny bottles of this to the guests. I don’t want to mix it up too far in advance and it become ineffective.

  10. April A Bruce Avatar
    April A Bruce

    Another cost efficient natural, (and unfortunately
    kindof smelly) mosquito repellent is one simple plant ant one simple step!! Are u ready for this? Wild leeks (or onion grass for us southern folk)!! Simply grab a handful, crush it in your hands, and rub on exposed skin. Told u it was easy and cheap. ?

  11. Andreah Avatar

    I am interested in making a version of bug/ tick repellent that is friendly for my 4 month old baby. I plan on using lavender and citronella with witch hazel (alcohol free) and some glycerin. My question to you is if the rubbing alcohol is necessary (for use with baby), and what exactly is the purpose of it? Thanks in advance!

  12. Brandie Avatar

    Just wondering if your 100 drop essential oil bug spray is safe around or on pets? I see it doesn’t have tea tree but want to double check!

  13. Lenah Avatar

    I use to make your witch hazel vanilla water recipe for my family’s bug spray, but I have misplaced the recipe I had written out, and now can’t find it on your blog since you’ve changed it some, and looked through all the comments as well, would you or anyone else mind telling me the proportion ration for these three ingredients?! It would be very much. Appreciated! Thanks so much! And by the way Katie your site is my go to site for everything and then mommypotamus was my next! Neat that you all combined!

  14. Jan Avatar

    What Is a good recipe for spraying around outside exterior and inside garage and around baseboards to keep bugs from coming inside. Every once in awhile I see a lone roach (ugh!) inside. Would you send me a reply via email?

    By the way, I love your website!

    Thank you!

  15. Denise Avatar

    How often do you reapply? I live in the wilderness of Norther B.C and there are literally swarms of mosquitoes (more of a consistent blanket really) in my yard and forest around me at all times, our home is even inundated with them. I notice when I use this spray, they won’t land on me or bite, but definitely still swarm me..likely there’s only so much to be done for that when the numbers are so high! I do love this recipe though, and will spray it on my dogs when they allow me to.

  16. rachel Avatar

    Hi! Thanks for these recipes for bug spray. I am particularly interested in the vinegar of the four thieves recipe. My husband cannot be around essential oils because they are too strong for him, so I was going to try dried herbs instead. I was wondering why the list of herbs for the four thieves recipe do not include the more common minty herbs like peppermint, lemongrass, citronella but uses sage and others instead. Is there a particular reason for this? Can I make the vinegar of the four thieves recipe with just lemongrass and citronella?

  17. Lora Avatar

    Hello, will your diy bug repellent work on ticks as well as mosquitoes?

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