Spending time outdoors is healthy for the body, the mind, and the soul. It helps ground you, provides a healthy dose of vitamin D, improves short-term memory, lowers blood pressure, supports a healthy immune system, and even fights depression, anxiety, or just a crappy mood.
Yet when you’re outdoors, you also have the opportunity to come in contact with insects of all varieties, including those that bite—e.g., mosquitos, ticks, and biting flies. When the biting bugs are out, many grab a chemical-laden spray, hold their breath, and deal with the unpleasant smell until they can get back inside. But what if you could make a homemade mosquito repellent that not only works but also actually smells, well, nice? Pleasant even? So, you can really enjoy your time outside…
Why Bug Spray is Key
There are lucky people who aren’t allergic to mosquitos or flies. They still get the bites, but they don’t experience the itchy bumps that detract from an otherwise lovely spring or summer day. There are others who just don’t seem to get bit. Even if the bugs are out in force, they fly past them to find a more enticing body of scent, sweat, or heat.
The vast majority of us, on the other hand, do get bit and then experience a range of reactions—from a little bump and itch to looking like someone hit us with a baseball bat, with a large, painful lump.
Worse, ticks and mosquitos are also, quite literally, killers. Mosquitos are considered the number one killer in the world as they spread potentially deadly infections like Malaria, Yellow Fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Dengue Fever, Zika Virus, and West Nile virus. Ticks also can transmit deadly disease, notably Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
The Problem with Most Insect Repellent
So, a good bug repellent is a summer priority. Yet, the majority of store-bought bug sprays rely on smelly, potentially dangerous chemical concoctions including DEET. While considered safe to use by the CDC, 1 DEET is a controversial ingredient as it is so effective, yet there is also evidence that it may result in neurotoxicity, especially in sensitive individuals. 2 And it comes with other health and environmental baggage.
Plus, there are a number of safely guidelines to follow for the proper use of DEET-containing products, including:
- Not applying to cuts, wounds, or irritated skin (hello sunburn!)
- Not applying on hands or near eyes and mouth
- Using “just enough” repellent to cover exposed skin and clothing (what’s just enough?) and avoid overapplying
- Avoid using under clothing
- Wash any treated skin with soap and water when returning inside
- Wash any treated clothing before you wear them again
- Don’t use spray while in enclosed areas
If you’re hiking in the deep woods or are in an area where the bugs are known to spread disease, then it’s probably a good idea to pull out the big guns (e.g., DEET) to protect yourself. But if you’re just enjoying a nice beverage on the patio at your apartment, on your deck, or in your backyard at the end of the day, then a homemade mosquito repellent could be much more enjoyable to use. Plus, they’re easy to make (in just five minutes), inexpensive, and surprisingly effective.
How to Make a Homemade Mosquito Repellent
Imagine, if you will, a mosquito repellent that smells good, is nontoxic, doesn’t need to be washed off as soon as you get inside, yet still keeps the biting bugs away. Better yet, imagine several homemade mosquito repellents, so you can change it up to a version you actually enjoy applying.
What makes a homemade mosquito repellent both effective and enticing are essential oil(s). There are several essential oils that have been shown to help deter pests. Oils like:
- Greek Catnip
- Lemon Eucalyptus
- Tea Tree
Different insects may be deterred by some oils more than others. For example, it appears that:
- Flies and gnats avoid lavender, patchouli, peppermint, rosemary, and spearmint.
- Fleas and mites, on the other hand, stay away from eucalyptus.
- And ticks tend to stir clear of cedar wood, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Beyond that, the choice is really up to your preference, and you can also make your own personal mix to find an appealing scent. (Though, start with less variety as sometimes individual oils smell better than their combinations—and some combinations just smell odd.) You’ll also want to choose from a reputable brand as there are some cheaper “essential oils” available that do not provide the quality needed for an effective homemade mosquito repellent. Some reputable brands to consider include Young Living, DoTerra, Revive, Plant Therapy, and Rocky Mountain Oils.
Next, it’s time to choose your base as there are a number of essential oils that should not be applied directly to the skin as they can be potent and cause reactions. Therefore, you’ll want to choose a skin-friendly carrier to make your bug repellent. Also, remember to put your homemade mosquito repellent into a glass bottle as essential oils can break down plastic bottles.
Finally, spot test your oil and carrier on a small place on your skin and wait an hour or two to make sure it isn’t irritating or that you don’t have an allergic reaction.
Popular base options include:
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Witch Hazel (which is more gentle on the skin than vodka or vinegar)
Our 7 Favorite Homemade Mosquito Repellent Recipes
Now that you know how to get started, here are a few favorite combinations:
Vinegar and Essential Oil
- 3 oz of apple cider vinegar 3,4
- 3 oz of water
- 10 to 12 drops clove essential oil 5 (other good choices include citronella or eucalyptus)
Mix water, vinegar, and essential oil in a glass container that has a pump and mix well. Apply the solution before you head outside. This is a good option as it doesn’t leave your skin feeling greasy, and the apple cider vinegar along with the essential oil work to repel bugs.
- 3 oz carrier oil (e.g., olive or coconut oil)
- 20 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil (or 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil 6 with 10 drops lemon essential oil 7)
Place all ingredients in a glass bottle, mix well, and apply to exposed skin periodically as you’re enjoying the outdoors.
Coconut Peppermint Oil
- 1 oz coconut oil 8
- 12 drops peppermint oil 9
Mix your peppermint oil into the coconut oil and apply two to three times directly to your exposed arms, legs, etc., and smooth into your skin.
Coconut with Neem or Tea Tree
- 10 drops of neem oil 10 or tea tree oil 11
- 1 oz coconut oil
Mix neem or tea tree oil into coconut oil, and apply at least two times daily to any exposed skin.
- 1 oz of vodka
- 3 oz of water
- 10 drops of citronella, 12, 13 lemongrass, geranium, or lavender essential oil
Combine vodka, water, and chosen essential oil(s) and store in a glass spray bottle. Before heading outside, spray yourself at least two to three times.
- 2 oz of water
- 10 drops of cinnamon oil 14
Mix water and cinnamon oil and put in a glass spray bottle. Spray exposed skin well before heading outdoors. Be careful with the cinnamon oil, though, as a concentrated dose can burn the skin.
Lemon, Lavender, Vanilla Spray
- 10 drops of lavender essential oil 15, 16
- 3 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cup water
Combine all ingredients in a glass spray bottle and shake well. Then spray on exposed body parts two to three times daily.
Other popular combinations include:
- Lemongrass and rosemary essential oils 5,17 with coconut or olive oil.
- Soybean oil and lemongrass essential oil.
- Geranium and lavender essential oils with carrier oil of your choice.
- Citronella, peppermint, and lemongrass essential oils with your choice of carrier oil.
- Catnip oil doesn’t smell as pleasant as some of the other options, but one study reported it repelled mosquitoes even more effectively than DEET (by up to 10 times). 18
- Thyme essential oil mixed with carrier oil. 19 You can also throw some dried thyme on your campfire or in a fireproof bowl, as burning thyme can also offer protection for up to 90 minutes. 20
Keep in mind that these bug repellents may not be as strong as commercially available products, and they also need to be reapplied more often. But once you find your favorite combination, you’ll probably not only keep the bugs away, but you’ll find peace of mind, feel more comfortable getting closer to loved ones, save some money and avoid toxins. Now, that’s a winning combination!