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
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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

Materials

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

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?

Sources
  1. Swale, D. R., Sun, B., Tong, F., & Bloomquist, J. R. (2014). Neurotoxicity and mode of action of N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET). PloS one9(8), e103713.
  2. Duke Today Staff. (2002, May 1). Duke pharmacologist says animal studies on DEET’s brain effects warrant further testing. Duke Today. 
  3. Centers For Disease Control. (2020, March 5). Mosquitoes in the United States.
  4. Almeida, R. et al. (2018, October 4). High mortality in aquatic predators of mosquito larvae caused by exposure to insect repellent. Biology Letters, 14: 20180526. Royal Society Publishing. 

 

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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. WellnessMama.com 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.

Comments

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

      1. Tanya Avatar

        I’ve heard that too. My friend uses it around her fruit trees to keep the insects away. Also, catnip is supposed to be extremely effective for deterring ticks. Have not tried it yet as the essential oil is very expensive – therapeutic grade anyways.

  1. Linnea Avatar

    How long do these home made bug repellants last (in fridge and on the counter)??

  2. Jenifer Hall- Corbett Avatar
    Jenifer Hall- Corbett

    For folks that don’t have a lot of essential oils on hand. “Bug Off” by Plant Therapy (I purchased at Amazon) is a blend a Citronella, Eucalyptus, Cedarwood, Lemon Grass, Lavendar, Lisea, Tea tree, and Pathouli. 25-30 drops of this plus recipe as stated above works GREAT!! You do have to apply a little more often than the icky commercial stuff but who cares! This recipe is very cost effective!

  3. Amorita Jones Avatar
    Amorita Jones

    Can i spray this on my clothing and on my clothes in my dresser to keep bugs out as well? thanks.

  4. Lea Avatar

    Dear Wellness Mama,
    I know you said you were looking for recipes for shampoo and detergent, my mother used to make her own shampoo and conditioner from these ingredients,
    Coconut Milk, honey, water, and a little bit of soap(like hand soap) my mom told me that the coconut milk is rich with vitamins and oils that are good for the scalp, and the honey coats and moisturizes the hair, the water is there to just thin it out so your not left with a sticky mess and the soap is to clean all the dirt, if you want a fragrance you can also add some vanilla bean, lavender works well, or any other fragrance oils you find in a craft store work, just make sure they are okay for your skin(so not the stuff for candles) hope this helps. (sorry my mom couldn’t remember the measurements but i figured it was a good start)

  5. Lisa Joseph Avatar
    Lisa Joseph

    How long do you recommend leaving the fresh herbs steeping in the water for? thanks! 🙂

  6. lorraine Avatar
    lorraine

    i made the dried herbs bug spray but i put a twist on it, i doubled the recipe and put one cup of rubbing alcohol, and 1/2 of vinegar mixed with a 1/2 cup of regular water, dunno if it works yet but it def smells strong….and honestly if it works then i can deal with the smell!

  7. Traci Akierman Avatar
    Traci Akierman

    Thank you for this recipe.  Mosquitoes LOVE me.  I used to get bitten even using Off.  I’ve tried several natural bug sprays and none worked for me.  I made the one using witch hazel and essential oils and gave it a test run today.  30 minutes trimming my hedge and no bites!

    1. Garrett Avatar
      Garrett

      Babies shouldn’t be sprayed with anything because their skin is so thin and sensitive. Essential oils cannon irritate sensitive skin. Jusr keep babies inside if the bugs get bad.

  8. Amanda Sweeney Avatar
    Amanda Sweeney

    Hi…..why the vegetable glycerin in the spray? Just wondering is it definitely helpful as I don’t have any and wouldn’t bother trying to source unless essential – is there anythihg else you can use instead? Thanks!!!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      Just helps it need less shaking. You can definitely omit without a problem, just shake really well before using.

      1. Amanda Sweeney Avatar
        Amanda Sweeney

        Thanks so much, I am going on hols to Greece in September and am definitely gonna try your spray. Thanks!!

    2. Marguerite Santa Maria Avatar
      Marguerite Santa Maria

      Most health food stores sell it and its good to have just incase you need it for anything else. I used to used it in my electronic cigs to dull down some flavors.

  9. Joyce Avatar

    Thank you for the recipe for natural homemade mosquito repellent!  I’m so going yo try this…however, I have a few questions:
    1. Can you use this directly onto skin, or should it be sprayed onto clothing?
    2. What brand of essential oil would you recommend or does any brand work?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      It can be sprayed directly on skin. I use the oils from Mountain Rose Herbs (there’s a link in my resources section) since they are the least expensive high quality oils I’ve found.

  10. Luisa Avatar

    Thanks so much for these great recipes.  Based on one of your recipes, I tried 1.5 TBS of organic catnip, 1.5 TBS of organic lavender and 2 cloves in distilled water.  It has worked like a charm.  I usually get eaten alive by mosquitoes and when I have that on, nothing.  I am very happy because I can use this on my kids without worrying about the effects of DEET.

  11. Ruth Reynolds Avatar
    Ruth Reynolds

    My dogs were being bitten to pieces when ever I walked them near the river or in the forest, the mosquitos and horseflies are awful – the dogs get bitten, I get bitten but they are the best places to walk them. I have now made the bug spray using the essential oils suggested above and IT WORKED!!! The horrid bitey wee beasties would fly towards the dogs, get to a few inches and fly away!!
    The dogs came back bite free, my legs were bite free but like a twit, I forgot to spray my hands so got bitten on my thumb.
    I just want to say a massive thank you!!!!

    1. lisa Avatar

      so that was my question i am new to the use of e.o is putting them on a dog safe, dogs lick themselves so i was worried it wouldn’t be safe for them we recently moved by a river and my dog is in misery she is doing the walking itch and scratches till she bleeds

    2. Tim Avatar

      Ruth, did you use ALL of those oils listed, or just pick some… and if so, which ones did you use ?

    3. shirelle Avatar
      shirelle

      Hello there, i know this was a very long time ago and I hope you get a notification. What did you use for you and the dogs. As I got bitten last week and my arm and hand swelled up, turned put I had cellulitis and my partner was bitten 8 times last night so I have a feeling there’s a few in my room. I need something to repel mosquitoes straight away. Thanks.

    4. Lisa Avatar

      There are so many recipes on here now , which one works for you and your dogs?

  12. Ken Avatar

    I rub undiluted white vinegar on my exposed skin, including face, and it appears to send the mosquitoes packing. They hang around my clothing but not my skin, which tells me that white vinegar, by itself, is a repellant. My next experiment is to spray my clothing with it, also. I am convinced that there is no one repellant that will work with everyone. What works for one person doesn’t for another and vice versa.

      1. Wellness Mama Avatar
        Wellness Mama

        I’ve tested with mosquitos, fleas, knats, sweat bees, etc and it works on those

        1. Teghan Avatar

          Are you suggesting that white vinegar by itself is just as effective as a mosquito repellent as some of the above recipes?

    1. WALT Avatar

      AMEN…WHAT WORKS FOR ONE PERSON DOES NOT MEAN IT WILL WORK FOR ANOTHER, MY PARENTS BROTHES SISTERS AND I ARE LIVING PROOF !!!

    2. Carla Avatar

      I think I will try this on the grass for the barbecue parties with a spray bottle. Undiluted white vinegar is easy enough. Thanks.

    3. linda Avatar

      With the white vinegar can u add a essential oil(s) to it??

  13. Crystal Gray Avatar
    Crystal Gray

    When you spray it on you, is it supposed to smell like the oils? When I spray it I don’t smell anything, Does that mean that I didn’t put enough oil?
     
     

      1. Dee Avatar

        Hello,does the smell go off after awhile? Does it mean it is no longer effective? I put in quite a lot of YL oils so would expect it tolast but the smell goes off quite quickly.

  14. Courtney Avatar
    Courtney

    Thanks this is great.  I can’t wait to try the strong bug spray.  My son is allergic to mosquitos so it is very important we use a strong spray on him but I hate spraying him with DEET based spray every time he goes outdoors, which is several times a day. 

3.96 from 136 votes (135 ratings without comment)

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