Woman holding an amber bottle of bug spray.

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.
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    69 Comments

    1. I saw where you spray your yard with cedar oil to help with ticks. Can you tell me what brand you use or where you get this? Do you have to mix it, or is it ready to go when you buy it? Thank you so much!

      1. Hi Veronica! We use a service to handle the application for us—it’s much easier for the large area we need to cover out here buried in the country woods! You may need to look into the ones you can buy and spray yourself to figure out which will work best for your space!

    2. Hi! I have a question about the shelf life of these essential oils and the finished product. Your recipe seems to make a big batch of spray which I may not go through for a while. My concern is that I will invest and then it will be too old to continue using. Do you know how long you would consider the mixture still effective? Do essential oils in their original containers go “bad”?
      Thanks
      Larissa

    3. I HAVE A ANIMAL RESCUE ON 3 ACRES OF LAND. I AM FINDING A LOT OF SMALL TICKS EVERY WHERE. IS THERE ANY THING I CAN USE TO SPRAY ALL AROUND THAT IS ANIMAL SAFE

      1. Hi Teresa! For something like this, we recommend you reach out to a service that can handle it for you!

    4. I like this recipe for bug repellant because it seems to have all of the oils that will repel mosquitos, etc. I’m concerned with the strength of the solution, though. It is a 13% essential oil solution, if my math is correct. Is it skin safe? Have you had any irritation or reactions after applying this to your skin? Thanks in advance

      1. Hi Linda! This is around 10-11% dilution (depending on your drop size). We use it at full strength because of where we are (buried in the woods in the country!), but you might not need to. If the strength of the solution concerns you, you can absolutely scale back the amount of oil used. Half the amount of essential oils will give you a half-strength spray. Depending on where you are, the half-strength version will still work well for you!

    5. Is this not over the 5% recommended dilution rate for essential oils? I just want to make sure it is safe for my family. 🙂

      1. Hi Jen! It is. It’s about 10-11% dilution (depending on your drop size). If this is of concern to you, you can absolutely scale back the amount of oil used. Half the amount of essential oils will give you a half-strength spray. We use full strength because of where we are (buried in the woods in the country!), but depending on where you are, the half-strength version will still work well for you!

    6. 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

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

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

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

    9. 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. 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!