Making your own natural homemade bug spray is simple and effective. DIY bug sprays are a safe alternative to conventional bug sprays that pose great health concerns. You can make your own bug spray with simple ingredients! The best part is you’ll be able to make bottle after bottle without breaking the bank or exposing your family to toxic chemicals!
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Like almost every household item (toothpaste, deodorant, neosporin, vapor rub etc), you can make your own DIY bug spray.
So fun story-last night my family and I sat on the patio-I was out of my DIY bug spray but thought we would be OK. Uh….WRONG. All of us have big red bumps on our legs from mosquitos. Bad move on my part.
Fun fact: mosquitos are attracted to estrogen. Fantastic since the majority of middle aged women are estrogen dominant!
A bug spray is an essential summer staple in my neck of the woods and being without it and getting eating alive confirmed that my homemade bug spray works!
Ticks and fleas are really bad this year and now that we’ve had a full weekend of rain, I’m sure the mosquitos are organizing their armies as we speak. Nothing is worse then trying to relax on the patio with a glass of Riesling while slapping the you know what out of yourself, spilling your wine and getting more and more irritated as each second passes-so much for patio time!
Why Make Homemade Bug Spray?
Commercial bug sprays are filled with harmful chemicals not to mention the aerosol can they are typically in.
You might have heard of DEET which is the controversial ingredient conventional bugs sprays contain. The main health concern with DEET is brain related. Let’s discuss DEET in more depth….
Why I Avoid DEET
The Environmental Working Group identifies DEET (in concentrations less than 30 percent) as one of its top picks to reduce the risk of life-altering disease from tick and mosquito bites with low toxicity concerns. But the organization stresses that precaution and proper application is essential.
Often times, reapplying bug spray is necessary. This can screw up the opinion that DEET is safe at 30% concentration. If you reapply DEET bug spray multiple times a day, your risk of irritation, neurotoxicity, and kidney/liver damage greatly increases. Since the EWG knows this ingredient to be safe under 30% concentration, it’s best to avoid over saturation and absorption – which can happen when you apply too much DEET for too long.
The Environmental Protection Agency has said on several different occasions that the “normal use” of DEET products is safe even for small children. However, their long list of warnings and precautions say otherwise. I’m not about to use a product deemed “safe” even though there is a mile long lists of warnings.
Pharmacologist, Dr. Abou Donia from Duke University found that DEET in rats caused “neurons to die in regions of the brain that control muscle movement, learning, memory and concentration.” He says that children are at a higher risk because their skin absorbs it more readily.
DEET has an impressive list of side effects you should be aware of.
Side Effects of DEET:
- Allergic reactions
- Chronic headaches
- Respiratory disorders
- Skin conditions
- Slurred speech
- Joint and muscle pain
- Endocrine disruptor
Essential Oils and DIY Bug Repellent:
Some essential oils that work well for repelling bugs are citronella, clove, lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus, cedar, catnip, lavender and peppermint.
Studies have shown that lavender essential oil is effective at repelling mosquitoes. Plus, lavender is considered safe for topical use without diluting it. I never go far without lavender essential oil, especially in the summer!
Scientific evidence suggests that citronella oil is an effective alternative repellent against mosquitos and has a protection time of about two hours. The EPA has categorized citronella oil as an insect repellent due to its high efficacy, low toxicity and customer satisfaction, but it may not be as effective in higher temperatures.
Citrus oils like lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit etc. are also effective at repelling not just mosquitos but also fleas, aphids, black flies and spiders! However, adding citrus oils should be done for homemade bug sprays meant for use in the shade or in the evening since citrus oils can cause photosensitivity.
A 2005 study looked at several compounds in thyme oil and found that they had a similar duration and repellency to DEET. This oil needs to be diluted though-don’t apply it directly!
A 2011 study found that lemongrass oil was 74-95% effective for up to 2.5 hours against mosquitoes. In combination with more powerful essential oils, lemongrass can be a great addition to a DIY bug spray.
Certain essential oils work better for different bugs.
Mosquitos – citronella, lemon eucalyptus, peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus, catnip, basil, clove, thyme, lemongrass, geranium, lavender
Fleas – cedarwood, citronella, eucalyptus, tea tree oil, lemongrass, lavender, orange, pine,
Ticks – rose geranium, juniper, rosewood, thyme, grapefruit, oregano
Also, essential oils aren’t just effective bug repellents, they also fantastic healers! Essential oils can be used to soothe and heal bug bites and wounds as well. You’ll be floored at how powerfully effective they truly are.
Where to get the Best Essential Oils for Repelling Bugs:
I prefer to get my essential oils from Plant Therapy. I love their quality and I love that they offer organic oils at a very reasonable price. Plus, they offer free shipping and they ship fast.
I also love Mountain Rose Herbs organic oils and have many in my collection. However, they ship slower and I often need ingredients quickly which is why I found Plant Therapy.
A Note on Apple Cider Vinegar:
Many natural bug spray recipes contain apple cider vinegar and my original recipe did as well. However, I never consistently used it because of the terrible smell!
I decided to use different essential oils I discovered from my research and replace the ACV with witch hazel.
My homemade bug spray recipe has been proven effective and you won’t be the outcast spraying nasty smelling repellent!
However, a vinegar spray can be incredibly effective especially when combined with the essential oil blend of rosemary, lemon, cinnamon, clove and eucalyptus. Otherwise known as Thieves. I haven’t tried this concoction but I would not recommend spraying it directly on your skin.
As a side note, ACV’s smell does fade considerably once it’s dried.
Before we get started, a typical homemade spray to repel bugs contains about 50 drops of essential oils per 1/2 a cup of liquid.
What You Need to Make a Natural Bug Repellent:
- 4 ounce glass spray bottle
- Witch hazel
- Essential oils
Homemade Bug Spray Kid Friendly Version
This is an easy and quick recipe for a kid friendly homemade bug spray to keep you insect free this summer without the threat of harmful chemicals in conventional bug sprays.
- 1/2 cup Witch Hazel
- 15 drops Citronella Essential Oil
- 5 drops Lemon Essential Oil
- 10 drops Lavender Essential Oil
- 5 drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil
- 4 ounce glass spray bottle
- Combine all ingredients in a 4 ounce glass spray bottle and shake.
- Spray all over exposed skin while outdoors.
- Use as often as needed.
- Spray liberally to your skin, clothes and even hair while outside. You can spray as often as you like but typically these essential oils are known to repel for 60 minutes to 2 hours.
This recipe is safe for children 3 and up. If you plan to use it on yourself and need a stronger version, keep the 1/2 cup of witch hazel and follow to suggestion below or double the essential oils in the kid friendly recipe.
Homemade Bug Spray Adult Recipe
This homemade bug spray recipe is potent and only intended for adults. In fact, I would recommend using caution when spraying directly onto the skin.
- 1/2 cup Witch Hazel
- 15 drops Citronella Essential Oil
- 15 drops Lavender Essential Oil
- 5 drops Thyme Essential Oil
- 4 drops Lemongrass Essential Oil
- 4 ounce glass spray bottle
Simply add each ingredient into a 4 ounce spray bottle and shake!
I'll warn you, the above recipe is hard core and doesn't smell amazing. Thyme and citronella are very overpowering. Lemongrass has a nice scent but too much of it can burn your skin. Lavender is added in hopes of toning down the overall scent.
Also, if you hate the smell of citronella-look into THIS essential oil blend as well as THIS one too. Both claim to repel bugs and can be used in place of my essential oil suggestions.
How to Ease the Itch of a Mosquito Bite:
- Try my bug bite balm recipe for instant relief and faster healing!
- For those dreaded tick bites, spider bites and rashes my easy antiseptic roll on is a must to keep handy during the warmer months.
- Tea Tree essential oil is another staple to get my family through the summer.
- For itchy rashes and poison ivy, try my recipe for Homemade Calamine Lotion!
- Apply apple cider vinegar to a cotton ball and let it set on top of the bite.
- Hold an ice cube on the bite.
- Apply a chilled chamomile tea bags over the bite.
Other Ways to Repel Insects:
- I always keep non-toxic, plastic-free insect-repelling bands on hand. They are comfortable to wear, great for children and work very well!
- I also burn citronella incense on the patio. I used to diffuse straight citronella oil but I believe the smoke works better than a mist.
- Vanilla extract is said to repel bugs and can be added to the recipe above.
- Grow lemongrass, lavender, thyme, mint, and citronella near your patio to naturally repel bugs.
- Rub fresh lavender or lavender oil on your skin, especially on your neck, underarms and behind ears.
More Homemade Repellent Recipes:
A Side Note on Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Oil:
If you’d rather just buy a bug spray but want to keep it safe, I suggest THIS one. A 2016 reviewTrusted Source concluded that oil of lemon eucalyptus is an effective natural mosquito repellent. Plus, according to the CDC, products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus are effective against mosquitoes. However, it is not recommended for use on children.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus shouldn’t be confused with lemon eucalyptus essential oil. They are not the same thing unfortunately!
Make some homemade bug spray and go enjoy the great outdoors!
Can I use any combination of those that you listed in your text that work well for repelling bugs? I have peppermint, melaleuca and lemongrass…would that combo work or should I buy some citronella to go with them? I can’t handle the lavender smell.
Hi Bonnie!! Your trio would work well, but Citronella is the heavy hitter in this recipe. If I were you I would try what you have, then if it’s not strong enough, get the citronella. Beware though-the citronella smells just like those citronella candles you get at any grocery store-it’s strong, but it’s a fresh smell.
My friend tried 60 drops Lemongrass and 60 drops Lavender topped off with alcohol free witch hazel in a 4 oz bottle. It only worked for a little bit then the mosquitos came back 10 fold! These mosquitos were in Jamaica. I don’t know if that made a difference or not but they seemed to like it after they got used to it. I’ll try this recipe.
Martha-That’s why I used the apple cider vinegar-I’ve heard it is the mother of all bug repellents! Our bug bites are down to a minimum using it. I would prefer to not spray vinegar on my skin because it’s so strong and also the initial smell but I’d rather deal then have mosquito bites! Wonder if the mosquitos in Jamaica are stronger then the US?! Thanks for sharing!!
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Great share! We love essential oils and all of the wonderful uses they have ESPECIALLY if it means avoiding mosquito bites without toxic chemicals!
Is this formula effective for ticks? My husband does alot of work in the yard and has found 4 ticks on himselfalready this Spring, gross! To avoid the DEET sprays I’d like to make something for him that’s equallyeffective.
Hi Jenni – thanks for sharing your recipes! I have an allergy to Eucalyptus and am wondering if you can recommend a good substitute for the Eucalyptus oil in the bug repellent and the vapour rub. Thanks!
Sherri-I would just omit it. You could add 5 drops of any of the other oils except lemongrass!
“Before we get started, a typical homemade spray to repel bugs contains about 50 drops of essential oils per 1/2 a cup of liquid.”, Yet your adult recipe only has 39 drops….. so why not 50 drops?
Also, do you know where to get the Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus? I do have lemon eucalyptus essential oil, but I know it isn’t the same thing…..