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.
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.
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.
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!
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.