4 Top Tips for How to Make Your Own Natural Bug Repellent

The last weeks of summer can be brutally hot – and humid. In some areas, the warm weather lingers well into October as do insects like mosquitoes, ticks, wasps, bees, and flies. In fact, they can stick around until temperatures begin to dip into the 50s.

And with fall comes spider-mating season. Yikes!

Thank goodness for bug repellent.

While conventional bug repellent formulas using chemical active ingredients such as DEET, Picaridin, and IR 3535 may be the best option in areas known to have vector-borne diseases, they may not be necessary for everyday use when there’s no serious threat.

Natural Bug Repellent

A natural bug repellent can provide a measure of protection from insect bites – but without all the chemicals. Relying on essential oils and compounds, emerging research is showing that these natural solutions can provide protection. It seems that the compounds plants use to protect themselves from predatory insects are the very compounds humans can use in natural bug repellent.

Below are the most promising natural bug-repelling ingredients nature has to offer. By using them to formulate your own homemade bug repellent, you can learn how to keep bugs away, naturally!

Some of the Best Ingredients to Make Your Own Natural Bug Repellent

Nature is loaded with plants that have pest-deterring oils and compounds. Here are some of the best bug-repelling ingredients to consider for a homemade formula.

  1. Natural Bug Repellent 2Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus is, hands down, the most effective natural ingredient for keeping bugs – particularly mosquitoes – away. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a refined version of oil of the eucalyptus tree. This process intensifies the concentration of an active compound within the oil called PMD.

Remarkably, the refined oil of lemon eucalyptus (with PMD concentrations of 20-26%) has been shown to perform as well as products with DEET concentration of 15-20% in protection against mosquitoes and ticks.

Perhaps that’s why the EPA recognizes oil of lemon eucalyptus as a “biochemical pesticide,” which means it’s a naturally occurring ingredient that repels pests by nontoxic mechanisms.

It’s important to note that this ingredient isn’t the same as unprocessed lemon eucalyptus essential oil and is a much more effective deterrent to insects. It’s a fantastic ingredient to use in a homemade repellent, but the CDC advises not to use it on children under 3 years of age.

  1. Citronella Oil (Lemongrass Oil)

You’ve likely heard of citronella. It’s one of the most widely used natural repellents available as it protects from host-seeking pests like mosquitoes and ticks.

In studies, it’s initially as effective as DEET. But then its efficacy quickly lessens as citronella oil rapidly evaporates (as many essential oils do). It must be applied every couple of hours.

That said, its evaporation rate can be slowed by combining it with a large molecule like vanillin, which can help prolong its efficacy, according to research.

  1. Catnip Oil

Catnip isn’t just for cats! Its active ingredient, nepetalactone, has been used for centuries to keep insects at bay. Research published in 2021 revealed a new understanding of how catnip oil repels offending insects.

It appears that nepetalactone likely activates an irritant receptor in pests called TRPA1, which is found in many living creatures, including mosquitoes and other insects – but it isn’t an irritant to humans.

In one study, volunteers placed their hand in a cage with live mosquitos, both with and without the protection of catnip oil application, and catnip oil was shown to be an effective repellent.

  1. Additional Essential Oils

Research indicates that several other essential oils, diluted in various amounts, may have repellent properties for protection against mosquitoes and ticks – including oils of clove, patchouli, peppermint, and geranium.

In traditional use and some studies, a number of additional essential oils are associated with deterring various insects such as tea tree oil, lavender, neem, cinnamon, rosemary, sage, and thyme, to name a few. Interestingly, one study found that combining certain bug-repelling essential oils in formulations increased efficacy over using them alone.

Creating a Homemade Bug Repellent

If you wish to make a natural bug repellent at home, you can combine one or more of the ingredients above with carrier oils (coconut oil, soybean oil, almond oil, etc.), astringents (witch hazel, alcohol, vinegar), and/or other natural ingredients that might prolong their efficacy. Different sources suggest that the essential oils shouldn’t exceed 15-20 percent of your solution.

Natural Bug Repellent Recipe

Here’s a basic bug-repellent recipe to get you started. You can find most of these ingredients online or at your favorite health retailer:

  • Pour 1/3 cup of witch hazel into an 8 oz glass spray bottle
  • Add 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • Add 5-6 drops of citronella essential oil
  • Add ½ teaspoon of vanilla
  • Secure lid and shake well

Safety Note: Before spraying your homemade repellent all over your exposed skin, spray a little on a small patch of skin first to ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction to the essential oil.

Experiment!

You can explore more natural bug repellent recipes online. You might need to tinker and experiment to create the formulation that works best for you.

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Kim Henderson
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