The great outdoors can be refreshing and enticing. However, bugs can make going outside, especially in warm, humid weather, a frustrating and irritating experience. With disease-carrying mosquitoes out there, you may be especially interested in keeping the bugs at bay using an essential oil insect repellent.
However, many people don’t want to use harsh chemicals on their skin. In fact, some insect repellents may not be appropriate for children to use. Creating natural insect repellents using essential oils can help you keep the bugs at bay and enjoy your time in nature.
Many of these essential oils can be added into a natural cleaning routine. If you’re scouring your floors and wiping your counter tops with cleaners made from these essential oils, you’re already doing a great deal to keep the creepy crawlies out of your home.
Ten Best Essential Oil Insect Repellents
Citronella oil is considered safe by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In fact, it is often added to foods as a flavoring.
When it is used topically as a bug spray, it is completely nontoxic, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. Any citronella oil that enters the bloodstream will simply be excreted as waste. Although it can irritate mucus membranes, if you keep it away from your eyes, nose and mouth, it shouldn’t be a problem. Citronella oil can cause skin sensitivities in some people.
Mosquitoes are attracted to humans and animals in part because of the carbon dioxide that we exhale. Citronella oil hides this attractive scent and makes mosquitoes unable to locate their targets. Enough citronella in an area may drive mosquitoes to a completely different area.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is an extremely versatile essential oil. It can help soothe the nerves and promote sleep. It can help prevent infections in wounds and calm skin disorders. It can also help repel insects. One of the best reasons to use lavender as an insect repellent or as part of a bug spray blend is because it smells so good.
According to SFGate, lavender essential oil is safe for use on humans and pets. You can make a flea spray with witch hazel, lavender essential oil and lemon. Spray it on your pets during flea season to deter the biting insects.
Lavender is effective on mosquitoes, especially if it’s combined with other essential oils, such as citronella. If you apply the diluted oil behind your ears, behind your knees or on your wrists, you’ll release more of the scent as your body warms up.
If you have a problem with houseflies, keep a lavender diffuser in your home. You can also add lavender plants close to your doors and windows to prevent flies from hanging around. The plants can also keep insects away from other plants. If you have fruit trees, keep pests away from them by planting lavender nearby.
If you’re hiking or camping, the smell of a chemical-laden insect repellent can prevent you from fully immersing yourself in the experience. According to The American College of Healthcare Sciences, some researchers have found that a compound in pine oil can work better than DEET at repelling mosquitoes.
It is recommended to use only 1 to 3 drops. Adding the drops to a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil, can prevent potent oils from damaging your skin.
Pine has been used for centuries to repel pests. It may have been burned or hung inside a home to keep insects out. In 2008, an insect repellent was manufactured from compounds found in pine oil.
Mint has long been used as an insect repellent. Peppermint provides a clean, minty smell while keeping the bugs away. It is safe to use topically when it is diluted, although it could react with sensitive skin. It provides a cooling sensation, so it’s an ideal bug spray to use in hot weather.
In addition to being used directly on the skin, peppermint oil can be used on standing water to kill mosquito larvae. In one study, a specific type of mosquito was killed when it was in water that was exposed to 3 ml of peppermint essential oil per square meter of water.
Peppermint oil can also be soothing when applied to mosquito bites. Because it feels cool when you put it on the skin, it can take away the itch of a bite. Mix it with witch hazel or vinegar to amplify its cooling properties. It is also effective as a bug bite lotion when blended with lavender.
Bergamot Essential Oil
Bergamot has a summery, fruity scent that is much more pleasant than many chemical bug sprays. Bergamot essential oil comes from the rind of the fruit that is produced on the bergamot tree. It smells like a spicy orange. In fact, bergamot is often used in commercial perfumes because of its wonderful scent.
It also has powerful pest-repellent properties. Bergamont is often grown in vegetable gardens to keep pests away from other plants. The oil repels mosquitoes, and it can also be used on mosquito bites. This makes it a great addition to your pest control kit.
However, bergamot can make you oversensitive to the sun. It contains bergamottin and bergaptin, which absorb ultraviolet light. This can amplify your sun exposure and lead to intense sunburns. Don’t use bergamot as a topical insect repellent. Instead, diffuse it in your porch or outdoor space, and save the topical application for the bug bites that you already have.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Eucalyptus has been found to be effective at repelling mosquitoes. Eucalyptus contains p-menthane-3, eucamol an 8-diol. These compounds may even be more effective than DEET in battling mosquitoes. The strong smell may confuse the mosquitoes, making them unable to reach their targets.
Eucalyptus also has antiseptic properties that help soothe existing bug bites. Like peppermint oil, it has a cooling effect on the skin. However, eucalyptus may not be safe to use on children and young babies.
Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Lemon eucalyptus has a wonderful citrus scent that’s different than the minty scent of regular eucalyptus. Consumer reports revealed that an insect repellent containing 30% lemon eucalyptus was able to keep the type of mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus from biting for up to 7 hours.
Although the essential oil works against mosquitoes, research has found that the distillate or hydrosol works even better because it lasts longer. Dr. Axe recommends that you don’t use lemon eucalyptus oil on children ages 3 or younger.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil comes from the melaleuca plant. Tea tree oil is often touted as a preventative and remedy for chigger bites.
It has a distinct scent that is unpleasant to some people. Test out a small amount before spraying it all over your skin and clothing.
In addition, tea tree oil is very potent. It should always be diluted when using it. It is approved for use for pets in extremely diluted quantities (1 to 1.5% concentration). It can be toxic to pets if used in greater concentrations.
Basil Essential Oil
Fresh basil leaves can simply be rubbed on the skin to provide mosquito protection. However, an essential oil can be more potent. Basil oil has been found to repel mosquitoes as well as kill the larvae that may be developing in ponds, pools and fountains.
According to Mind Body Green, basil oil can help extend the effects of other natural essential oil bug sprays. For example, lavender and peppermint may only ward off insects for an hour or two. Adding basil oil can help extend that time frame to eight hours.
Thyme Essential Oil
Thyme has a fresh, herbal scent and can keep houseflies and mosquitoes from bothering you. Healthline has recommended it as a way to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes that carry malaria. In fact, thyme oil was found to have a 91% protection rate. You can add just four drops of the oil to a teaspoon of carrier oil. If you prefer to use a spray, add five drops of thyme oil to 2 oz. of water.
How to Use Essential Oil Insect Repellent
Around the House
If you’re using insect repellent around the home, diffuse the essential oil into the air. You can also add the essential oil to a homemade cleaning solution. Finally, add a few drops to cotton balls and place them strategically around your house. You can stuff them into windowsills or under doors to prevent pests from coming into the house.
Insect Repellents for Pets
If you’re trying to keep pests away from your pets, you can create a spray with pet-safe essential oils. You can also spray your pet’s collar with the spray. Finally, you can make a powder from equal parts cornstarch and baking soda with seven drops of lavender essential oil for each cup of powder.
For those bites that have already happened, relieve stinging and itching by applying a mixture of essential oil and apple cider vinegar to the area. Mix 1 oz. of vinegar with 7-12 drops of oil. Add the solution to a cotton ball and apply to the bite. You can mix a few drops of an oil to a carrier oil to apply after the vinegar solution. This will help protect the bite so that it can heal.
Insect Repellent Sprays and Lotions
Finally, if you’re using the insect repellent to keep the bugs away from your body, you can create a spray or lotion using the recipes below. It’s always a good idea to test a small patch of skin for sensitivity before spraying it all over yourself.
Recipes for Homemade Essential Oil Insect Repellent
If you want to make your own insect repellent, it’s very easy. The most basic way to make an essential oil insect repellent is to mix 12 drops of essential oil with 1 oz. of a carrier oil. You can use rosehip, coconut, jojoba or olive oil as your carrier. Then, simply apply the mixture to your body. The carrier oil is moisturizing, and the essential oil provides insect protection.
If you don’t like the oily feel of this method, try a homemade bug spray. To make these oils, simply add the ingredients to a glass spray bottle. Shake before use. Make sure that you spray them over your body and your clothes for the most effective protection.
If you’re using this bug spray on a child, you can avoid getting it in the eyes, nose and mouth by applying it to your hands first and then rubbing it on.
Essential Oil Bug Spray #1
- 15 drops lavender essential oil
- 10 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil
- 10 drops tea tree oil
- 6 drops bergamot oil
- 2 oz. distilled water
- 2 oz. white or apple cider vinegar
Essential Oil Bug Spray #2
- 15 drops citronella essential oil
- 15 drops eucalyptus essential oil
- 5 drops lavender essential oil
- 5 oz. distilled water
- 5 oz. vodka
Essential Oil Bug Lotion
This lotion works well and provides a barrier against insects. However, it does involve using soap, so it is not ideal to use if you’ll be going swimming. Don’t use it around the eyes if you’ll be sweating or exposed to moisture, because the soap could run into your eyes.
- 1/3 cup liquid castile soap in eucalyptus or peppermint scent
- 30 drops essential oil from the list above.
Is it necessary to use natural forms of insect repellent? Not necessarily, but essential oil insect repellent is often safer, especially for children. However, make sure that you’re aware of the safety of essential oils for children. Peppermint and eucalyptus have been reported to be dangerous for children. It may be safest to check with your pediatrician before using any essential oil on an infant.
Still, essential oils can provide better protection than chemicals. Some mosquitoes are becoming resistant to some chemical sprays. Therefore, you may be able to protect yourself more effectively with essential oils.