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. Victoria B Avatar
    Victoria B

    If I make the original recipe with essential oils how long is the recipe good for? If we don’t finish the bottle in one summer, can we continue to use it the next on kids?

    Thank you !

  2. Victoria K. Avatar
    Victoria K.

    What is the ratio of vanilla, witch hazel and water to use for one of the recipes?

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      You could try half filtered water, half witch hazel, and 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla for an 8 ounce spray bottle. It’s similar to the main homemade bug spray in the article but with vanilla instead of essential oils and herbs.

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      Pets and plants have their own essential oil and herb safety considerations that are usually quite different from what is safe for humans. Because these recipes are made for human use it would be best to use one specifically for pets or a garden spray instead.

  3. Ella Avatar

    Unfortunately, I’ve noticed carpet beetle larvae in chests of drawers and on walls over the last few years. I think carpet beetles have flown in from outside.

    I don’t have rubbing or grain alcohol to hand so I’m going to boil some water instead; let it cool then add some peppermint, lavender, cedarwood and clove oil to a spray bottle and spray the insides of drawers and other areas. I’m guessing that shaking the mixture before spraying will be enough?

    It might help some others to know that I successfully deterred wasps from regularly entering a bedroom window every morning by sticking, with sellotape, some cotton pads spotted with clove oil across the window corners. Clove oil really works.

    I’d be interested to know if anyone’s had any success using blocks of cedarwood in wardrobes and chests of drawers. This is my next plan of action.

    Thanks for your wonderful site!

  4. Serena Avatar

    Do I still have to add rubbing alcohol or vodka if I have T.N. Dickinson’s witch hazel with 14% natural grain alcohol? Thanks!

  5. Rebecca Avatar

    Why is witch hazel and alcohol used? Can I use distilled water? I am grain and glycerin (palm allergy) free. All witch hazel I can find is alcohol or glycerin based.

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      You could use water but the oils wouldn’t mix as effectively and you’d probably want to keep in the fridge. If there is any kind of alcohol that you can tolerate, you could also use something like rum or tequila.

  6. Naomi Avatar

    How big of a glass bottle does this recipe make? Like how many oz?

  7. Sandy Lockwood Avatar
    Sandy Lockwood

    Does the bug spray recipe also work on plants to keep Japanese beetles away?

  8. Linda Lauretta Avatar
    Linda Lauretta

    Love the bug spray recipe, thanks for sharing it so generously.

  9. Crystal Mattson Avatar
    Crystal Mattson

    Are these safe to use around cats. I have two cats that are around me all the time. I know some essential oils can be toxic for them.

  10. Therese Kaufman Avatar
    Therese Kaufman

    I have seen several DIY bug sprays that use a small amount of vegetable glycerin. Wouldn’t that attract bugs, being it is a sugar?

  11. Samantha Renee Avatar
    Samantha Renee

    I need to repel insects from my puppies outside.. I’ve put fresh garlic all over their pen. Works for a few days and flies and mosquitos are back! Can I plant peppermint outside their pen to help repel them?.. or any other suggestions?..
    Thank you!

    1. Frances Koonce Avatar
      Frances Koonce

      Garlic/onions are toxic to pets. Make sure they can’t be eaten.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Thank you for this! Does the apple cider vinegar recipe attract bees though? I’d like to try that one.

  12. Shereen Silvern Avatar
    Shereen Silvern

    I just moved to south carolina and am constantly getting bit morning, noon and night. I’ve bought a diffuser with essential oils, plants that supposedly repel bugs and use various sprays and creams. Still getting bit. Can you recommend something I can buy that can be applied to my skin even when I go to bed? I’m desperate. Thanks shereen

  13. sydney Avatar

    Hi there! Excited to try this. I’m wondering – what is the re-application time frame typically? Some sources say ~30-60 mins? Any insight on the experience of effectiveness?

  14. Sarah Avatar

    I don’t have a glass bottle to make this…would a plastic bottle work???

      1. Christine Cottrill Avatar
        Christine Cottrill

        Hi Katie,
        I’ve been referring to Your website for a couple of years and I thank you for the time and research you put into providing natural alternatives. I read thru the bug spray tick repellant section here. I making my own too because of toxicity issues and allergic to many natural EO also like citronella, Rosemary, lemongrass which are the best ones for repelling. I also have Lyme disease here in MD and so does my dad in NJ so my moms making one also. So after researching and reading a homemade tick/bug spray using yarrow tincture and adding lavender and catnip EO ( ) I thought I will try that. my yarrow is still in potato alcohol (I’m gluten and corn free) and needs another week or so. But I couldn’t find catnip Eo so we bought catnip tincture by Natures Answer instead. Problem is I don’t know conversion of Catnip Eo to catnip tincture we bought? I don’t know how much to add to my repellant recipe. Can you help me? I really appreciate your input.

    1. Louise Avatar

      Its not really recommended to use plastic with essential oils, it can over time, erode the bottle. Amber bottles or those dark blue bottles are recommended -to protect the effectiveness of the oil.

  15. Amanda Avatar

    Hi There! I am interested in making your recipe, but I wanted to clarify how to use it. Can this be used safely on children’s skin or just spray on clothes and it will be just as effective? TY

  16. Michelle Avatar

    Hello, will the first recipe keep spiders, silverfish, mosquitoes, roaches and pretty much any insect outside my house..? I live near the water with no AC and it tends to get humid around here. I’ve tried sooo
    Many products and other natural suggestions but nothing’s worked.. help ! Thanks ??

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      These are more designed to keep them off your body, but you could try spraying around doors and any other place they typically come in and see if it helps.

      1. teresa Avatar

        hi katie du u think that applying to extremities only would repel instead of smearing on body?

    2. O. Rainey Avatar
      O. Rainey

      Spiders do not like citrus smells. I mix Vinegar, Lavendar Oil, Orange Oil, And Peppermint Oil and sprayed it all over the basement (windows, unfinished ceiling, and any place a spider might build) and we didn’t see a single web for at least a month.

  17. Tricia Avatar

    Hello Katie, I tried the link you have for ‘kid safe essential oil blend’. It took me to a six-pack of children’s oils. Are you able to change that link – I think you meant it to go to the ‘Shield Me KidSafe Essential Oil’. And how many drops of ‘Shield Me’ would you recommend – 100? Thank you!!

  18. Ling Avatar

    Hi, I have the kidsafe blend essential oil, but was wondering how many drops you used? I couldn’t seem to find the proportion for the Kidsafe blend. Thank you!

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