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Homemade All-Natural Tick and Bug Spray (That Actually Works!)

Woman holding an amber bottle of bug spray.
Recipe At-A-Glance
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All-Natural10 minutes
Skip the DEET- and toxic chemical-laden bug spray this summer, and instead make this Homemade All-Natural Tick and Bug Spray to keep the bites at bay.

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I’m a bug magnet. I always have been. My husband and I can be sitting outside, and within five minutes, I’ll get bit no less than 10 times, and the bugs won’t even come near him!

When I was a kid, people used to say it was because I was so sweet! And while that’s a nice sentiment, it doesn’t make the thousands of bug bites I’ve gotten over the course of my life any less itchy. I’m not sure what it is about me that is so attractive to buggies, but man, I really wish they’d, uh, bug off.

Spray from an amber bottle of homemade all-natural tick and bug spray

If I want to sit outside in the summer, I literally have to surround myself with citronella candles and douse myself in bug spray. I’ve never really felt great about spraying super chemically bug spray all over my skin, so I’ve been working on perfecting an all-natural homemade tick and bug spray for the past few years.

What smells do ticks hate?

My previous blend of citronella, lavender, clove, and eucalyptus worked incredibly well for mosquitoes and those annoying biting flies (I’m looking at you, deer flies!), but it did nothing to keep off the ticks that have infested our yard. I started to do a bit of research about repelling ticks and landed on adding rose geranium essential oil. Rose geranium is the essential oil to repel ticks, and in particular, the pelargonium capitatum x radens variety of rose geranium is the most effective. I also added some cedarwood oil—ticks loathe the smell of cedar (but I love it!). We actually spray our yard with cedar oil to help keep the tick population down.

Woman spraying herself with an amber bottle of homemade all-natural tick and bug spray

Does this natural bug repellent work?

The best part about this blend? It actually works! I mean, I’m not guaranteeing you’ll never get bit again wearing this stuff, but it definitely reduces my bite-levels dramatically. Now, instead of getting bit 70 times in an evening (this literally happened one night while visiting Canada—we counted), I might get bit once or twice. I’ll take it! Especially when I factor in the whole not-spraying-my-body-with-scary-chemicals-regularly aspect. It’s a win!

The key here is to apply liberally and reapply frequently—I’m talking every 1-2 hours. This isn’t like the DEET stuff where you can spray it once and be good all afternoon. It’s important to keep reapplying.

Hand holding an amber bottle of homemade all-natural tick and bug spray

I’ve seen other recipes call for vodka, but your recipe doesn’t have any. Why is that?

Yep, some natural bug spray recipes call for vodka, but I prefer to use apple cider vinegar or witch hazel. Vodka works just as well, but it stings like crazy if you have any cuts on your skin at all. Ouch! We made one batch with vodka and won’t be doing that again!

How should I bottle this bug spray?

As far as bottles go, the spray is pictured here in eight-ounce amber glass Boston bottles with a heavy duty sprayer. The amber is great because it blocks UV light that breaks down the effectiveness of the essential oils. And the heavy duty sprayer is nice because it really pumps out the spray so you’re covered. However, the heavy duty sprayer goes through the spray MUCH faster than a fine mist sprayer (like this). I actually have the tick spray in both kinds of bottles. I use the heavy duty sprayer for the first application of the day, and then the fine mist sprayer for reapplication throughout the day.

As always, make sure you label your homemade creation! You can download the labels I use in these pictures below. They are formatted to work with Avery 22808 Kraft Paper 2” round labels.

How much does this cost compared to store-bought natural bug spray?

I will say, gathering all the essential oils takes a bit of investment if you don’t already have them on hand. If you have to buy all the essential oils I list below, you’re looking at right around $125 (more if you want premium brands). Which sounds crazy, but it ends up being just shy of $6 per batch of bug spray.

Considering store-bought bottles of natural bug spray run $10-$12 each for a smaller batch than what you’ll be making? You’ll definitely be money ahead over the course of a summer. Especially when I tell you that this mix works way better than any store-bought stuff I’ve ever tried!

Side shot of a cluster of bottles of essential oils

If you are short on cash though, I recommend starting with the citronella and rose geranium essential oils—those two will do a lot on their own! In fact, many people use a dab of rose geranium oil “neat” on their wrists and ankles to help repel ticks during hikes.

You can also tweak this recipe to fit your own bug-repelling needs. I’ve listed the types of bugs that each oil repels in the recipe below, so feel free to leave out any that aren’t applicable to your area of the world (or add more of a specific kind if you have a real infestation). I’m not associated with any essential oil companies and have no loyalties there, so I’ve linked to each of the brands we use down in the recipe below.

Close-up shot of a label for homemade all-natural tick and bug spray

 
Download Tick and Bug Spray Labels
Woman holding an amber bottle of bug spray.

Homemade Natural Bug Repellent Using Essential Oils

Yield: 8 ounces
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Bugs ruining your summer? Stop swatting and start spraying yourself with our all-natural bug repellent made from essential oils. It's made from all-natural ingredients, smells great, and REALLY works to fend off mosquitos, ticks, flies, and other biting and stinging insects.

Materials

Instructions

  1. Combine all essential oils and the apple cider vinegar or witch hazel in the eight ounce glass spray bottle.
  2. Top off bottle with distilled or filtered water. Screw on sprayer and shake well. Apply label.
  3. To use: Shake bottle well, then apply liberally on exposed skin every 1-2 hours while outdoors.

Notes

  • Some natural bug spray recipes will call for vodka in place of the apple cider vinegar or witch hazel. This works just fine, but the vodka will sting like a mother trucker on any sort of open wound (or freshly shaven legs). We made one batch with vodka and won’t be doing that again!
  • This makes for a very strong bug spray, which works for us buried in the woods in the country. If you just need some spray to keep the backyard mosquitos away in the city? You’ll probably be able to get by with half-strength (use half the amount of essential oils) recipe and stretch your oils!
  • If you don’t have citronella oil (or don’t want to buy it), you can use lemongrass oil as a replacement.
  • Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

    Leave a Reply

    54 Responses
    1. Sue Tavares

      I am trying this out for the first time. I am curious to know if you use a device for measuring the oils. 80 drops of several different oils caused my mind to spin a bit. I know, not essential but I am just curious. Thanks Sue

    2. Kaiti

      What is the youngest age this is okay to use on? My daughter is 6 months old and we can’t put anything on her but she is getting bit by mosquitos and noseeums. I feel so bad for her and I want to find something I can use to protect her!

      1. Danielle @Wholefully

        Hi, Kaiti! We recommend checking in with your pediatrician or health care provider before using essential oils on kids that young. =)

    3. Jordan

      How could you make this recipe for children? 2 years old. I would love to have a natural bug spray for her. Thanks!

      1. Danielle @Wholefully

        Hi, Jordan! We recommend checking in with your pediatrician or health care provider before using essential oils on kids that young. =)

    4. Audrey

      This recipe used to say which essential oils repel different bugs. I can no longer find it. Am I just missing it, or did the recipe change? Thanks!

      1. Danielle @Wholefully

        Hi, Audrey! Thanks so much for pointing that out to us! You’re not missing it and we didn’t mean to change it, either. We think the info somehow got lost in the most recent update. It should definitely be there, though, and we’re updating the post again to add it back. Great catch—thank you!

    5. Kristy

      Love this bug spray!!!! Me and one of my daughters get eaten alive by mosquitoes and we have an allergic reaction to the bites. They are horrendous where we live. I made a batch of this bug repellent, then we went camping in Merritt BC Canada where there are ticks, mosquitoes, and black flies galore. We only got a few bites and that was usually when we hadn’t yet put on the spray. We went through a whole batch of the spray in six days for our family of five. I have just made a double batch but only used one and a half of the essential oils so I’m hoping it is still as effective as the spray is quite strong at full strength. So instead of 2 teaspoons of an oil, I added one and a half teaspoons. Also, thyme oil was very expensive so I didn’t buy it but substituted Rosemary oil which I had on hand and is also effective against mosquitoes. I am so glad I now have a non-chemical spray for my family! Thank you!

    6. some years ago we had a dog that was covered with ticks show up at our door. within a day of him coming we had ticks covering our entryway!! 😳 we added him to our family, but we had to give all of our fur kids numerous tick baths. then we got ticks in our yard so my husband laid down elemental sulfur. he did several applications a year. it took three years but finally we had no more ticks! yes, the furbabies stunk after he would apply it but it was more important to get rid of them. this was in Midland, TX where it’s usually dry and we didn’t see many ticks.

    7. Amy

      Some recipes call for an emulsifier and some don’t. Is it necessary? How long does this mix last and do you need to refrigerate or keep cool? Some call for that too. So confusing.

      1. Cassie Johnston

        No need for an emulsifier if you shake it well before using each time. We don’t keep ours refrigerated, and it starts to lose strength after about a year.

    8. Monica couch

      I need repellents oils recipes for ticks, flies, gnats, fleas and mosquitoes in spray bottle that’s safe for dogs and human… please help…

    9. Andrea

      Noticed that when I hit the 2x and 3x scale up recipes, the drops measurements change but the teaspoon measurements in parenthesis stay the same.

      1. Julie Grice

        Hmm, that must be a quirk of the app we use for our recipe cards. Thanks for the heads up—I’ll look into it!

    10. Jana

      Thanks so much for this! 🙂 I’m about to mix my first bug repellent, and I’m really excited about it! 😀

      This might sound like an overly specific question, but I thought I’d ask anyway: I noticed that we have an infestation of Asian tiger mosquitos where in DC. They don’t seem to be bothered by citronella, eucalyptus and/or rose geranium at all (despite what the internet says), so I’m thinking of getting some cinnamon oil, which has been touted as a great weapon against these buggers.

      I guess my question is mostly whether it’s okay to just use any random combination of essential oils or whether there are any guidelines to follow. I noticed you’re using different amounts of different oils… how did you end up with these numbers? Any rules of thumbs, or is it more of a “Ah, you know, if you got more bugs X than bugs Y, just use a lot more deterrent for bug X than for bug Y.”?

      1. Cassie

        You are totally fine mixing and matching oils to figure out what works for the bugs in your neck of the woods. 🙂 And, yes, the numbers for us mostly come from (A) the desire we have to repel a specific bug and (B) the strength/potency of certain oils. Cinnamon oil is pretty strong, so you could probably get by with a lower amount, whereas rose geranium oil can be pretty moderately scented, so I use a lot!

    11. Angela

      I was wondering, I’m, really sensitive to lavender. If I don’t use the lavender is it reduced effectiveness? Is there something else I can substitute?

      1. Cassie

        I’d just leave it out, and you should be fine. Lavender is a good all-around bug repellent, but you should be covered with the other oils. 🙂

      1. Cassie

        Pets can be really sensitive to essential oils (and different breeds react differently), so I highly recommend checking with your vet.

    12. Carrie

      We made this and love it. However, the spray mechanism on the bottle gets jammed and won’t work. I’m wondering if shaking the bottle might be causing the problem. Do you ever have issues with the sprayer?

      1. Cassie

        I’ve had some bottles that the sprayers just tend to give up the ghost after a few months, but after changing to a different brand of bottle—it’s been just fine! 🙂

    Meet Cassie
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    Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

    I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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