I started looking into making my own homemade bug spray when I began working out in the garden more (you see some seriously giant mosquitos out there!), and I wanted something natural to spray on my body (that wasn’t chockablock full of harsh chemicals) to keep the mozzies away (along with any other creepy crawlies that might come my way).
An all-natural DIY insect repellent using 100% natural ingredients
What on earth is DEET?
As I mentioned before, commercial bug sprays and insect repellents tend to contain chemicals like DEET or Picaridin which are active ingredients that help repel mosquitos and other insects. BUT, there are mixed results when it comes to how safe it is for our bodies.
Heather of Mommypotamus pointed out:
“N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) is the usual go-to for commercial bug spray. It’s incredibly controversial, and for good reason…. Dr. Abou Donia, a Duke University pharmacologist, found that “rats treated with an average human dose of DEET (40 mg/kg body weight) performed far worse than control rats when challenged with physical tasks requiring muscle control, strength and coordination.”
What’s more, after looking at the EPA’s long list of warnings and precautions for DEET, it definitely re-confirmed my yearning for something more natural to put on my skin.
DEET-free and super quick to whip together in your kitchen. Plus, if you make the bug spray using essential oils, you smell amaaaaazing!
After all, the skin is an organ itself (fun fact: the biggest in the body!), so whatever we spray/rub/apply/use on our skin will ultimately be absorbed into our body and bloodstream (and I’m sure you’d agree, some things are definitely better left out of our body).
Oh! And to add on to the already bleak results, in the same study, Dr. Abou Donia discovered that DEET caused “neurons to die in regions of the brain that control muscle movement, learning, memory and concentration.” Children were said to be at higher risk for brain changes after exposure to DEET because their skin absorbs it more readily.
Natural Bug Sprays and Insect Repellents
Below are a few recipes I’ve gathered from a few different sites (like Wellness Mama, DIYNatural, and mommypotamus – to name a few) that help to deter and repel insects of many kinds, such as ticks, mozzies, and other bugs and insects that may be prone to biting.
The first bug spray recipe I share is the one I most often use at home, and is mainly made up of essential oils that are highly effective for natural bug protection (a lot of these scents bugs hate).
The scents used in these natural insect repellents are fantastic for deterring bugs, they’re very potent.
Just keep in mind, there are some concerns about putting these essential oils directly on the skin, particularly on children, so if you prefer you can simply apply this spray onto clothing or gear instead of directly on the skin.
Using a combination of any of these essential oils works really well: citronella, clove, lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, cajeput, eucalyptus, cedar, catnip, geranium, lavender, or mint. All of these oils have mosquito and insect-repelling properties, and the recipe I share below shows the combination of oils I use most often. If you don’t have one of the oils I mention, feel free to leave it out or use a mixture of other oils in its place.
Essential Oil Bug Spray Recipe
For this recipe I use 100-120 drops of essential oils (so it is quite potent), so if you do choose to apply it onto skin, always test a small amount on a tiny part of your skin first, just to ensure you do not react to it in any way. Again, for children it is best to do the same, and check to make sure you only use kid-safe essential oil blends in the spray you use for them (otherwise just apply it onto clothing).
Essential oil bug spray: using scents of citronella, clove, lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, cajeput, eucalyptus, cedar, catnip, geranium, lavender, or mint will help repel insects
- 30 drops geranium essential oil
- 30 drops citronella essential oil
- 20 drops tea tree oil
- 20 drops lemon essential oil
- 20 drops eucalyptus essential oil
- 20 drops lavender essential oil
- 10 drops rosemary essential oil
- 1 tbsp vodka or rubbing alcohol
- 1/2 cup natural witch hazel
- 1/2 cup water (or vinegar)
- 1 tsp vegetable glycerine (optional)
- Place essential oils in a glass spray bottle. Add vodka or alcohol and shake well to combine.
- Pour in witch hazel and shake to combine.
- Add vegetable glycerine if using. This is not necessary but helps ingredients stay combined (if not using, just shake bottle to combine ingredients every time you’re about to use it).
- Add water and shake again. Shake before each use as the oils and water will naturally separate some over time. I keep a bottle by the back door for easy application.
Bonus: You’ll smell amazing while wearing this spray (the essential oils smell incredible!)
If you’d like a little live run-through of how I make this hand sanitizer, see my video below for a quick demonstration.
Herb Bug Spray
Alternatively, if you don’t want to use essential oils, you can make a natural bug spray out of fresh or dried herbs! This recipe is a lot less expensive, though it is also not as potent as the recipe above. A tip from Katie Wells of Wellness Mama: If you have the time and want to make a stronger version of this recipe, prepare the herbs in an alcohol mixture as a tincture instead, and use this directly as a spray after straining out the herbs.
Using dried or fresh herbs (particularly those in the mint family) in your spray are wonderful for keeping the bugs away.
- 1 cup distilled water
- 1 cup witch hazel or rubbing alcohol
- 3-4 tbsp dried herbs: peppermint, spearmint, citronella, lemongrass, catnip, lavender, etc. It is recommended that you use at least one herb from the mint family.
- Boil 1 cup of water and add 3-4 tbsp of dried herbs total using any combination of herbs from the above suggestions. Katie uses 1 tbsp each of peppermint, spearmint, catnip and lavender, and also throws in a couple of dried cloves.
- Mix well, cover and let cool (covering is really important, as it keeps the evaporative oils in).
- Strain herbs out and mix water with 1 cup of witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. Store in a spray bottle in a cool dry place (keeping it in the fridge is wonderful as it becomes very cooling when applied to the skin).
- Use as needed.
Tick and Insect Vinegar Repellent
I discovered this one from Katie Wells of Wellness Mama too and loved it!! I use it anytime I go hiking or camping out in the bush as a great way to keep ticks and bugs away!
One thing to keep in mind: This reeks when it’s wet, but the smell does disappear as it starts to dry, so rest assured you won’t be smelling so strongly of vinegar the whole time you’re wearing it 😉
This is a fantastic spray for deterring ticks and insects as it’s very potent and strong. It’s great to use when you’re deep in the woods or in tick-prone areas, and can also be used as a remedy for illnesses (due to it’s antiviral and antibacterial properties).
This recipe is also quite cheap to make and you’ll probably already have all the ingredients with you in your kitchen.
- 1 32 oz bottle of apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp each of dried sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme, and mint
- Quart-size or larger glass jar with airtight lid
- Put vinegar and dried herbs into large glass jar.
- Seal tightly and store on counter or place you will see it daily. Shake well each day for 2-3 weeks.
- After 2-3 weeks, strain the herbs out and store in spray bottles or tincture bottles, preferably in fridge.
- To use on skin, dilute to half with water in a spray bottle and use as needed.
- Use 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 any illness. For adults, dose is 1 tablespoon in water several times a day. For kids over two, the dose is 1 teaspoon in water several times a day.
Tick repellent DIY tutorial
Other Bug Repelling Tips
I discovered these from Katie Wells too and have started applying some of them right away (I’ve planted so many bug repelling herbs in our garden now 😉 ).
- Add vanilla extract to any of the above recipes, or just rub onto the skin. You can also mix vanilla with witch hazel and water to make a spray version.
- Plant insect-repelling herbs in your yard. Lavender, thyme, mint, and citronella are wonderful.
- Rub lavender flowers or lavender oil on your skin, especially on hot parts of body (neck, underarms, behind ears, etc.) to repel bugs.
- Rub fresh or dried leaves of any type of plant in the mint family all over skin to repel insects (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, pennyroyal, etc. or citronella, lemongrass, etc.). Basil is also said to repel mosquitoes.
I definitely recommend spot-testing for allergic reactions anytime you’re using a new product on skin, whether it’s natural or not.
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What are some of your tricks for keeping bugs away naturally?
Lots of love,
Wells, Katie. (updated: July 30, 2019). All-Natural Homemade Bug Spray Recipes That Work!. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/2565/homemade-bug-spray/
Wells, Katie. (updated March 21, 2020). Risks and Dangers of Essential Oils. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/26519/essential-oils-risks/
DEET. (June 14, 2017). EPA. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/deet#safety
Dessinger, Heather. Natural Tick Repellent Recipe. mommypotamus. Retrieved from https://mommypotamus.com/natural-tick-repellent-recipe/
Jabs, Betsy. Natural Homemade Mosquito/Insect/Bug Repellent. DIYNatural. Retrieved from https://www.diynatural.com/homemade-insect-mosquito-repellent/
Swale DR, Sun B, Tong F, Bloomquist JR. (August 7, 2014). Neurotoxicity and mode of action of N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET). NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25101788