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.
Considering we live on 10 wooded acres, 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.
This became especially true when we realized my daughter had (unfortunately) inherited my bug-magnet gene—I definitely didn’t want to cover her skin in toxic chemicals every day!
So I’ve been working on perfecting an all-natural homemade bug repellent spray for the past few years, and a while back, I NAILED IT. This combo of scents keeps all the biting and stinging insects in my area away from us, and as a bonus, it smells really good!
The key to good protection using this natural bug spray is to reapply frequently! Every one to two hours is recommended.
Okay, let’s start with the most important thing: does this natural bug repellent actually work?
YES! I mean, I’m not guaranteeing you’ll never get bit again wearing this stuff, but it definitely reduces my bite-levels dramatically—about on par with standard toxic-chemical bug spray from the store. 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. As soon as the scent wears off from the spray, so has the effectiveness, so it’s important to keep reapplying.
How do you make homemade mosquito repellent?
My homemade bug spray is made with essential oils and a carrier liquid—in this recipe, I recommend using apple cider vinegar or witch hazel and water. The process is as simple as mixing or shaking them all together, and boom! You have made DIY bug spray.
What essential oils does this bug repellent use?
I made this blend to fight off the insects that bother us the most in the woods of Southern Indiana, so you might find a different blend that works best for your region. Here’s what I used and what bugs each scent helps repel:
- Rose geranium oil—ticks
- Lavender oil—moths, mosquitoes, fleas, and biting flies
- Citronella oil—mosquitoes, biting flies, no-see-ums, and gnats
- Thyme oil—mosquitoes
- Cedarwood oil—ticks
- Eucalyptus oil—all biting and stinging bugs
- Peppermint oil—ants and mosquitoes
- Basil oil—mosquitoes and biting flies
- Clove oil—mosquitoes
Two other common oils to add to bug repellent spray are garlic oil and rosemary oil. Both are quite effective, but I personally didn’t want to smell like a roast chicken wherever I went! So I left those out.
In particular, garlic is a very potent bug-repelling oil. It works so well that we have a company spray garlic oil around our house biweekly each summer to keep the mosquitos and ticks at bay. It works wonderfully!
This blend is optimized for our Southern Indiana bug population, but feel free to experiment with what essential oils in what amounts work best for your region.
Does this really work on ticks? What smells do ticks hate?
After I came down with Lyme disease, I started to do really dive into learning 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 variety. In fact, many people use a dab of rose geranium oil “neat” on their wrists and ankles to help repel ticks during hikes.
If you’re just looking for one essential oil to repel ticks, rose geranium is the essential oil you’ll want to get.
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 or if you’ve recently shaved your legs. Ouch! We made one batch with vodka, and I’m pretty sure my child will never forgive me for it.
Doesn’t the apple cider vinegar stink?
I personally love the smell of apple cider vinegar, but if that’s not your thing, no worries. The smell of apple cider vinegar dissipates very quickly—we’re talking within a minute or so—and you’re left with the very pleasant smell of the essential oils left behind. If you’re super sensitive to the smell of vinegar, opt for witch hazel instead!
How should I bottle this bug spray?
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 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?
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). This sounds crazy, but it ends up being just shy of $6 per batch of bug spray.
This bug repellent costs about $6 per batch to make.
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, start with just citronella and rose geranium essential oils—those two will do a lot on their own!
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.
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