Delicious Bug Repellents

Summer is a wonderful time of year with its wall to wall sunshine and wide open spaces ready to explore, but as we become more active and get out and about having fun, so do the insects! Being vigilant against biting insects is a must but the chemical industry has settled on only one real option – DEET. DEET is diethyltoluamide, a 100% man made chemical that is extremely destructive on everything it touches, not just mosquitoes. Long term exposure to DEET brings some hideous side effects not just to our bodies, but also to the environment. If you use DEET you come to know that you need to cover skin 100% and continuously for it to have any effect. This protection may work, but it comes at a price. It can cost you your health and the earth’s resources.

Most people are trying to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes because of the irritation these bites leave, but also because of the more serious diseases they carry like West Nile Virus, or if you travel abroad, Malaria or Dengue Fever. DEET may be the first protection to jump to mind, but there are many natural alternatives that are just as effective if applied properly and vigilantly. To repel biting bugs, you need to make sure that you always have your natural repellent with you, and make sure it is applied regularly. It will easily wash or wear off! An added bonus is that if you choose to plant mosquito repelling plants, your animals are protected too.

The ‘Wellness Mama’ blog has some excellent recipes for natural bug sprays that really work – we have tired them and love them. They smell good and can be made from items we usually have hanging round the home. The recipe she uses for thieves vinegar is like a ‘super zap ‘em’ spray! It does take more vigilance to make sure you are covered, but it’s worth it.

Wellness Mama Bug Spray Ingredients:

Essential oils: choose from Citronella, Clove, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Cajeput, Eucalyptus, Cedar, Catnip, Lavender, Mint

Natural Witch Hazel

Distilled or boiled Water

Vegetable glycerin (optional)

How to Make Homemade Bug Spray:

Fill spray bottle (I used 8 ounce) 1/2 full with distilled or boiled water

Add witch hazel to fill almost to the top

Add 1/2 tsp vegetable glycerin if using

Add 30-50 drops of essential oils to desired scent. The more oils you use, the stronger the spray will be. My personal favorite mix is: Rosemary, Clove, Cajeput, Lavender, Cinnamon and Eucalyptus… it works great and smells good too!


Make Bug Spray From Dried or Fresh Herbs

Fresh or Dried Herbs Bug Spray Ingredients:

Distilled water

Witch hazel or rubbing alcohol

Dried herbs: peppermint, spearmint, citronella, lemongrass, catnip, lavender, etc. I recommend using at least one herb from the mint family.

How to Make Bug Spray From Fresh or Dried Herbs:

Boil 1 cup of water and add 3-4 TBSP of dried herbs total in any combination from the above. I use 1 TBSP each of peppermint, spearmint, catnip and lavender, and also throw in a couple of dried cloves.

Mix well, cover and let cool (covering is important to keep the volatile 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 place (fridge is great because then its nice and cool!)

Use as needed. Added bonus: it smells great and is very refreshing to the skin!


Super Strong Insect Repellent Recipe

Fair warning: this stuff stinks when it is wet, though the smell disappears as it dries. It works incredibly well though, and this is the one I use when I’m going to be in the woods or in tick infested areas. It is based on a recipe that was supposedly used by thieves during the Black Plague to keep from getting sick. They used it internally and externally to avoid catching the disease and to keep the flies and other pests away. According to legend, it worked and they survived… but it definitely makes a great insect repellent these days! Its also very inexpensive to make and you probably already have the ingredients in your kitchen!

Vinegar of the Four Thieves Insect Repellent Ingredients:

1 32 ounce bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar

2 TBSP each of dried Sage, Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme and Mint

At least quart size glass jar with airtight lid

How to Make the Vinegar of the Four Thieves Insect Repellent:

Put the 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!


There are other natural plants you can use to keep the bugs away that aren’t always oils. Most of plants do, of course, come as oils but by planting them in your garden you can deter the bugs, improve the air quality and make sure you have a constant supply! have these great ideas for deterring biting insects:

  1. Catnip—You can drive cats wild and make mosquitoes run in terror, according to research at Iowa State University which found that the essential oil found in the herb catnip is about 10 times more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes.
  2. Citronella—the old standby. Use only pure essential oil of citronella—not fragrance oil.  Oils purchased in bulk for burning are not adequate for applying topically to your skin.  For your skin it is best to get a high quality citronella essential oil from a natural food store.  While it’s not as effective as catnip, it’s still a good option.
  3. Garlic—eat lots of fresh garlic—mosquitoes can’t stand the stuff.

(See: 12 Surprising Uses for Garlic)

  1. Lavender essential oil smells great and is a commonly used and effective mosquito repellent.  It’s best diluted in a carrier oil like apricot kernel, sweet almond, or coconut oil.  If you can find organic soy oil, it is also a good option since it also keeps mosquitoes at bay.
  2. Neem oil or neem seed oil:  According to a study by the US National Research Council neem oil is more effective than DEET.  The results were confirmed by scientists at the Malaria Institute in India and in research cited in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association. Neem is a plant that grows in India.
  3. Organic soy oil—Research cited in The New England Journal of Medicine found that repellents made of soybean oil are just as effective as DEET-containing repellents. Soy oil is inexpensive and easy to find, making it an excellent choice. Plus, it is an excellent body moisturizer. As an aside, research shows that an ingredient in soy can slow the growth of body hair when applied topically.  Choose organic soy oil if possible since many soy crops are now genetically-modified.
  4. Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)—New research published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicineshows that lotus is an effective mosquito repellent and also helps kill mosquito larvae.  Since lotus grows in water it is a good option as a natural repellent in backyard ponds and water features rather than something that is applied topically.
  5. Black pepper (Piper nigrum)—New research from the same studyshows that an extract (the study used an alcohol extract but black pepper essential oil would probably work too) of black pepper is effective in repelling mosquitoes.

I mix about 30 drops of the essential oils of catnip, citronella, lavender, neem, and black pepper (total, so about 6 drops of each essential oil) into about 30 mL of an unscented and natural oil or moisturizer, which I keep handy in a jar. I rub a bit onto my skin prior to heading outdoors. You can also mix 30 drops of these essential oils into organic soy oil for extra protection. Always do a 24-hour skin test to be sure you don’t have sensitivities to any of the oils.

Please remember if you choose to use citrus oils that many of them are photosensitive. They can cause the skin to burn when exposed to the sun, so ALWAYS patch test before use.

Do take the time to investigate natural insect repellents as they really do work, smell wonderful and cause no harm to earth. The fact that they usually work out cheaper has absolutely nothing else to do with it!

Good luck – and a happy, bite free summer to all of you!



Like what we’re doing? Want to share your story or tell others? Do you have a green business in Calgary and want to get in front of a large local audience? Let’s build a green community together!