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If you are heading outside for picnics, sporting events, yard work, or relaxing on the patio, chances are you’ve seen a bug or two already. While covering up is the best option for decreasing bug bites, it’s not always realistic. After all… summer can be HOT!


Homemade Insect Repellent

In the past I have reached for cans of commercial bug spray lying around during cookouts and camping excursions… I figured it was better than dancing around like a wild turkey, slapping myself, and shouting at bugs while friends shot strange looks at me. However, I never felt quite right about it.

Matt has boycotted poisonous DEET solutions for years in favor of essential oil solutions, with great success.

Consider This…

The more I educate myself about DEET and other chemicals, the more I’m convinced I have to be proactive about finding better alternatives. (If you’re new to the DEET issue, you might be interested in reading this…) I try to treat my skin with the respect it deserves as it performs the difficult job of protecting my insides. Thank goodness I have discovered the power of essential oils and their ability to deter bugs!

Before you get desperate and spray on commercial bug sprays (that may contain some nasty chemicals), take some time to consider the better alternative; a natural bug repellent that smells wonderful, is effective, and takes only minutes to whip up.


Different oils repel different bugs, so it’s best to use a combination of essential oils to ward off several types of biters. Don’t let a fear of being eaten alive keep you inside this season. Instead, invest in a few hard-hitting essential oils and test out this natural alternative to chemical sprays.

Natural Insect Repellent

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of one or a combination of the following: witch hazel or vodka (find witch hazel here)
  • 2 tablespoons of one or a combination of the following: grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, olive oil, or neem oil (which contains natural insecticidal compounds) – (where to buy these oils)
  • ½ teaspoon vodka as preservative (if not already using)
  • 100-110 drops essential oils (where to buy 100% pure essential oils)

Sample Bug-Repelling Essential Oil Blend:

  • 55 drops lemon eucalyptus (reported by the CDC to be a good natural substitution for DEET in repelling insects, but not recommended for use on children under 3 yrs.)
  • 15 drops cedarwood
  • 15 drops lavender
  • 15 drops rosemary

Directions:

Add carrier liquids to small spray bottle (3 or 4 oz. works well so there is room for shaking). Add essential oils. Shake well before each use. Natural bug repellent will need to be reapplied every few hours for maximum effectiveness.

Other Bug-Repelling Essential Oils:

  • citronella
  • eucalyptus
  • tea tree
  • peppermint
  • cypress
  • rose geranium
  • bergamot
  • lemon

(You can find these 100% pure essential oils here.)

Homemade Insect Repellent 1

Additional Tips and Warnings:

  • As always with essential oils, women who are pregnant or nursing should consult a health practitioner before using.
  • Extreme caution should be used when using essential oils on young children.
  • Always perform a patch test to check for an allergic reaction before using an essential oil for the first time.
  • Always label homemade products well.
  • Dark-colored bottles work best for products containing essential oils. Store in a cool, dark place when not using.

Note: This natural homemade insect repellent is great for mosquitos, flies, and other annoying warm season bugs. Tweak to your liking and apply with confidence.

Resources & Recommended Reading

(photo credit to Diane Jabs)


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Comments

  1. Jen says

    I was wondering if you knew where to get grain alcohol. Is that the stuff that’s 150 – 190 proof? I live in Pennsylvania and I believe we have to have a special state issued permit to get it. Is there something else that can be used?

    • Jen S. says

      I did some research and I beleive it is ok to posess the alchol so we can go to another state to purchase the higher proof. Maybe NY and MD. But I am not totally sure. However will the lower proof of 150 proof work or do you need the 190 proof? So we can find it locally or another alternative?

      • Betsy Jabs says

        We use the 150 proof grain alcohol. You are probably actually fine using 80-100 proof vodka. I forget that not everyone has access to the “good stuff.” ;) You can also check your local drug stores for “ethyl alcohol.” I think I have seen it in Rite Aid before.

    • Kristin says

      i live in PA and you can get everclear and other grain alcohols from liquor stores you may have to have them order it for you though.

  2. Dawn says

    Thanks, Betsy, this is great. We’ve been overrun with ticks this spring. Is this safe for dogs too?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I have read online about people placing a drop or two on their dog’s collar or back of the neck (where they can’t lick it off).

  3. Doris says

    Great article! I have been using essential oil repellents for years and have found them to be very effective. I am allergic to all commercial repellents. I use it several times a day when I am outdoors for a long time and I use it on my pets as well.

    • Heather says

      I use tea tree oil to repel lice. I apply a dab behind each ear and at the nape of the neck to each of my children before school. When the yearly lice outbrake came last year, my daughter was the only one in her kindergarden class who did not get lice. I’ve heard this works for ticks, when applied to body folds (back of knees, elbows, etc.) but we don’t have that problem here.

  4. says

    What oils are specifically good for ticks? I have to inspect the Chubby Hubby every time he takes a walk!

  5. Trellowyn says

    I get my EOs from http://www.naturesgift.com. Marge has extremely high quality oils, many that aren’t run of the mill and is a wealth of information. And I’d mix the oils and alcohol together before adding it to the carrier so that it would blend together better too. Excellent looking recipe!

    • says

      I was wondering this too – seems like a great alternative recipe for other mosquito repellents but where we live and camp at deer ticks are always a big concern.

      • says

        Thanks Matt and Chelle. I agree that mosquitoes are just an annoyance and I like for them to not bother me while I smell good in the meantime; but, this year the deer ticks are of of grave concern. So, Lemon Eucalyptus it is!

    • Christy Finecy says

      I don’t know how well it works because I haven’t used it. I do know that Odorless Garlic pills taken 3x daily throughout the buggy season will repel ticks and mosquitoes along with other bugs, but people won’t be able to smell it on you.

  6. Doris says

    Grace, me personally, spray it in my hand and rub it on all exposed areas. I apply just enough to absorb into my skin. Great moisturizer also. I find that I need to re-apply if I am sweating a lot (yard-work), I don’t smell it anymore or, unfortunately if I get bit. I would say maybe every 2-3 hours for me. Once you start using it, you will figure out how much you need and how often.

    • says

      I agree with Doris, every couple of hours… and the more you sweat the quicker it will need to be reapplied. I too like to spray in my hands, rub together, and apply to any exposed skin areas.

  7. Eve says

    I have been experimenting with the original gold Listerine lately and one of the uses I have found is as a mosquito repellant. Someone mentioned it to me a couple of years ago. I put it in a small spray bottle, about 3/4 Listerine & 1/4 water. I spray it very liberally. It dries quick and doesn’t stain anything.
    I will probably use full strength Listerine when I go camping. It has worked well for me because mosquitos LOVE to bite me. I have used it on my dog (to cut doggie odor) and sprayed her bed too. Not sure how “natural” Listerine is but it’s easy & it works for me.

    • Doris says

      Eve, that sounds like a plan! I have used the gold listerine as a ground spray full strengh and it did a great job in my yard while entertaining. I will have to try your recipe.

      • Kathi Bourg says

        I guess everyone’s chemical makeup is different…or Texas mosquitoes are just more tenatious! I tried the Listerine a few years ago on both myself & the little guy, and they (mosquitoes) didn’t seem to mind it a bit! But I have heard from others that I know that it worked well for them…It’s not terribly expensive so I guess it’s worth a try!

  8. says

    You say this smells great and I believe you, do you think this would work well as a fragrance? Kind of a two-in-one, or could be used even if you’re not anticipating any bugs? Hehe. I am looking for a nice smelling body spray but also would benefit from this seeing as I am prime mosquito feed!!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      It really depends on which oils you use and your preferences in body spray scents. If using lemon eucalyptus (which has a citronella scent) or citronella, you may turn some people off. ;) The ones I mix up typically have a woodsy-citronella scent…not exactly what I want to be wearing around as an all-purpose body spray. However, I guarantee you could mix one up that served both purposes. Give it a shot! :)

  9. Christy says

    It says not to use the L/E mix on children under 3. Can you recommend anything that is safe for the little ones???

    • Betsy Jabs says

      The following are typically regarded as safe for children and are also effective against bugs: cedarwood, lavender, rosemary, bergamot, cypress, tea tree, and lemon. However, I do not have children of my own, and I always recommend readers do their own research and use only the essential oils they feel comfortable with. (I’ll just warn you ahead of time…there are LOTS of conflicting opinions out there.) :) It is also generally recommended to use only half the amount of essential oils if it will be used on kids.

    • melanie says

      I have heard that Avon skin so soft works well as a bug repellant… I had some given to me but haven’t tried it yet…

      Not chemicla free, but better than DEET and could be used on children…

  10. Valerie Unruh says

    Not completely on topic but Eve and Doris mentioned gold listerine and I thought I add that it works well to help keep my sister’s eczema under control, I haven’t done any research on it and I don’t know where she got the info but I know she uses it and it works……

  11. Pat says

    I’ve been saving a little spray bottle for “something”…it worked perfect for this! Didn’t have the cedarwood, but the other EO’s in there smell nice! Can’t wait to try it out!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Ah, don’t you just love it when you finally have the perfect little saved container for something??? :) Hope you love this formula!

  12. Lisa Quenon says

    Please share this again on social networks. I shared it on my FB page, yet I’m certain not quite the same readership. The Mom of the little baby I care for was concerned about his mosquito bites after a weekend out. She said that she guessed she’d have to put commercial repellant on his tender baby skin. I said, hey, I just read this thing about homemade, ‘deet-free,’ repellant and she was so thrilled. Since Texas finally got some rain, then we now have the mosquitos! And I’m not certain whether I read this from you or not, but I read that a combination of tea tree oil and water in a spray bottle is a good tick repellant. Have to track that down for my trip to the mountains later this summer and all of that hiking! Take care and thank you! Lisa Q

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Will do Lisa! We appreciate you sharing the info with others! Matt did post on fb a few weeks ago about a tea tree oil solution being effective against ticks. Mix 1 part tea tree oil to 2 parts water in a spray bottle. Have fun hiking and beating the bugs! :)

  13. Avery says

    I was wondering about a natural in home fly repellant. Not something to spray on myself, per se, but something to leave out and make my home not so inviting to the flies.
    I feel awkward trying to ask for suggestions, because having flies in my home makes me me feel like I might as well put a banner around my neck that says, MY HOUSE IS DIRTY, when in fact, it really isn’t. We keep our house cleaned, our litter boxes cleaned daily, any foul odors are found and remedied ASAP as I have a sensitive nose, food is put away, etc. etc. But for some reason, we are having a HECK*** of a time with flies in our home.
    After about a month of flies, we started putting up fly strips, which I think are disgusting in all sorts of ways but at least it downed the fly population in our home. Now, I am sick of fly strips and am looking for something that will discourage flies from being in our home. I, honestly, hate to trap and kill them, and I don’t really want to poison them, I just want them to not like my house so much.
    Please! HELP!!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I can relate…in my last house we would have a strange fly problem in the middle of winter…and I’m a neat FREAK. Very strange.
      I saw your comment on the air freshener article, so I think you’ve already figured this out…but definitely make an “air freshener” with some of these bug-busting essential oils. To deter flies try lavender, citronella, eucalyptus, lemongrass, peppermint, basil, or a combination of any of those. You might also try some homemade fly strips made from a strip of cloth infused with oils, or place some infused cotton balls strategically around your house. Good luck!

  14. Barbara says

    Hi, I love this site and already made the deodorant (today is day 1, so we’ll see).

    Here is my dilemma: my religion forbids alcohol, including for medicinal purposes (ie: cleaning wounds), unless it is like 5% or less per volume. I am wondering with the grain alcohol – is there anything else I can use as a “preservative” or do I need it at all? What is there to preserve?

    I did have isopropyl alcohol which I mixed with some VERY dark patchouli (love that stuff), and it has kind of stayed with me, but I’m not sure I will keep it due to the high alcohol content (may try witch hazel and see how that works).

    Hopefully you can help with the bug spray/grain issue.

    Thanks much in advance,

    Barbara

    • Betsy Jabs says

      No worries Barbara…you can omit the alcohol and the bug spray will be fine. The oil (grapeseed, olive, almond, etc.) is what you’re preserving. These oils will go rancid after some time. However, without the alcohol, your bug spray should still be good for a few months or more.

  15. Christy Finecy says

    I am highly allergic to DEET and searched high and low for a solution when I was a Girl Scout. I found another Girl Scout who was also allergic to DEET and she told me about using Odorless Garlic pills. I’ve found that Odorless Garlic pills taken 3x a day for a week prior to exposure and then continuing through the buggy season works great! I don’t have to worry about ticks, mosquitos, gnats or any other biting/annoying bug found in my area of the country (southern Indiana). Best part…no offensive smell from sprays or the garlic.

    • Christy Finecy says

      Note: I used did this the summer I was a Girl Scout camp counselor living in a tent all summer and NEVER had a tick bite me. Only in that very first week did I even have one crawling on me. I was taking them off my campers who were using DEET. Several of the other counselors also used Odorless Garlic pills and were just as tick-free and mosquito-free as I was. One thing I realized was that anything with fragrance, be it natural oils or man-made like in deodorants, moisturizers, shampoos and soaps, was going to attract raccoons, so all those things had to be locked in my footlocker.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Great info Christy! Thanks for posting this! Good to know the garlic smell doesn’t hang around with you…that would be my biggest concern. :)

  16. Andrea says

    Hi Betsy ,
    There is also something called the Vinegar of the Four Thieves that is fairly easy to make and is safe for everybody from kids to animals to use. I don’t have the recipe handy but if you google the Bulk Herb Store and Vinegar of the Four Thieves recipe it should come up. The history is rather interesting as well. :) Hope this helps! Keep the tips coming! You guys are great :)

  17. Genn says

    My bottle is small, but with only 4 tbsp of liquid and some drops of oil, there is barely anything in the bottle. Is that normal, or am I suppose to add water? lol

    • Betsy Jabs says

      That’s normal Genn…the recipe only makes about 1/4 cup of bug spray. Don’t add water, just double the recipe if you want more. :)

  18. Maddy says

    Hi Betsy,
    I was just wondering in you knew a recipe for something that repels bugs from a room. All those insect sprays you buy kill the bugs and have loads of harmful chemicals, and I was wondering if there was a way to make insect repellent for a room rather than a person. I’m afraid I haven’t made myself very clear, sorry, but I hope you know what I’m trying to ask! :)

  19. Maddy says

    Oops, sorry, scratch that last, I just read Avery’s comment, your reply and the air freshener article and am definitely going to give that a try.
    thanks so much:)

  20. Avery says

    i had another comment I wanted to post but can’t seem to find the strain that it would be more relevant to, skunk repellant.
    We had a problem with skunks meandering around our home and chicken house, I spent a few hours researching repellants online and found that a lot of folks recommended using mothballs BUT there was some question as to whether or not that was safe, then I found some information suggesting that skunks are not fond of things like eucalyptus and peppermint…. so, I took some eucalyptus oil and doused a 3-4 cotton balls, and some peppermint oil and doused 3-4 cotton balls, and took them outside and placed them around the outer edge of my house, looking specifically for any little holes under the banking where skunks might be tempted to crawl under my house, and…. I didn’t smell my wandering skunk the rest of the year.
    NON-TOXIC, all natural skunk repellant that seems to work….

    like i said, this may not be the right section to be posting this but hopefully if anyone is looking for this kind of information hopefully they will be able to find it.
    ((( I don’t know how well this would work for getting rid of a family of skunks that, say, has moved into your barn but it kept away my wandering skunk)))

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Oh wow, this is very interesting Avery! This is probably the best comment strand to post this info in, since we don’t have any other “pest deterrent” articles. :) Thanks for posting!

  21. Debbi says

    What would you recommend using instead of the lemon eucalyptus? I have a 2yo granddaughter and it says not to use that for children under 3. Do you know why? Other than they might lick the eucalyptus…and it’s not meant to ingest. lol

  22. Linda says

    Does anyone have a recipe for in house hold insect spray for around the baseboards and windows to keep bugs out of the house?

  23. jennifer says

    love your blog, totally subbed and rss’d–so my question is what’s the most natural remedy for roaches? since i live with my parents(yes i said it:( ) my moms mobile home gets overrun with those huge black and brown roaches, the kinds that are as big as horses and laugh when you spray them? (had one flip me the bird one time and take off!) i mostly get them in my bathtub and in my room of the house, anything you guys can recommend will save me from losing sleep this upcoming texas summer….ill have my spray bottle ready!:) thanks for what you guys do!

  24. jennifer says

    holy cow! where are you guys from? cause i’m moving! yeah, according to billy the exterminator, roaches love mobile homes because of the glue that’s used to secure all the pieces to make the house-so much for my moms 45,000 buck investment:( will try the link! thanks:OD keep up the great job guys!

  25. Robyn says

    Just thought I would throw this out there. Rosemary is actually a neurotoxin for anyone with epilepsy, as I have. Stumbled across that one looking for info for a suitable spray for my two year old. A good sub for the rosemary would be tea tree. And for my son, I will probably try a combo of lavender, tea tree, and geranium. They seem to be approved. Here is more info on the epilepsy.

    http://www.essentialoils.co.za/epilepsy.htm