Beat Off the Bugs with These 7 Homemade Repellents

The arrival of summer brings the onset of camping trips, hiking holidays, sunset picnics, and plentiful outdoor activity. But we are not the only ones coming out to play as the warmer temperatures are just as inviting to bloodthirsty bugs and for many of us, these unruly guests can spoil all the fun. Whether it's from a mosquito, horsefly, black fly or tick, bug bites are incredibly irritating causing relentless itching and ugly inflamed bumps. And it's no wonder we reach for the nearest, readily available, store-bought remedy for quick relief.

Unfortunately, most of these conventional quick fixes can actually do us more harm than good as they contain a widely used toxic chemical called N-Diethyl-m-toluamide, otherwise known as DEET. While the health effects of DEET are not conclusive, they are enough to warrant some concern and limited exposure. The best way to avoid these critters sinking their teeth into you is to cover up any exposed areas. But let's be real here, no one wants to be wrapped up from head to toe in this heat! Don't let the fear of being eaten alive keep you inside this summer. Keep the chemicals away and the bugs at bay with these easy, inexpensive, all-natural DIY repellents.  

Essential Bug Spray  

Most of these recipes use essential oils, which are highly effective, but it can be tricky to get the right concentration. There are some concerns about putting various essential oils directly on the skin, especially on children as they may cause a reaction. As a general rule, you should always dilute most essential oils prior to application to the skin. We suggest using the following spray recipe on clothing or outdoor gear instead of applying directly on the skin.

Ingredients: Essential oils: choose from Citronella, Clove, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Cajeput, Eucalyptus, Cedar, Catnip, Lavender, Peppermint or Rose Geranium (for ticks) Natural Witch Hazel Distilled or boiled Water Vegetable glycerin  

Directions: Fill spray bottle (8 ounce) 1/2 full with distilled or boiled water Add witch hazel to fill almost to the top Add 1/2 tsp vegetable glycerin Add 30-50 drops of essential oils to desired scent - The more oils you use, the stronger the spray will be). You can also mix the any of the above essential oils with a fruit or nut oil carrier such as jojoba, almond, avocado or coconut oil and dab the mixture onto your skin.  

Helping Herb Bug Spray Ingredients:

Distilled water Witch hazel or rubbing alcohol Fresh or Dried herbs: peppermint, spearmint, citronella, lemongrass, catnip, lavender, etc. We recommend using at least one herb from the mint family.

Directions: Boil 1 cup of water and add 3-4 TBSP of dried herbs total in any combination from the above. I use 1 TBSP each of peppermint, spearmint, catnip and lavender. Mix well, cover tightly and let cool. Strain herbs and mix water with 1 cup of witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. Store in a spray bottle in a cool place (can be refrigerated).

TIP: If you have the time and want to make a stronger version of this recipe, prepare the herbs in an alcohol mixture as a tincture instead and use this directly as a spray after straining out the herbs.  

Homemade Mosquito Repellent Ingredients:

16 oz of rubbing alcohol
3.5 oz of whole cloves
3.5 oz of nut/fruit oil (coconut, almond, avocado or jojoba)


Place cloves in the alcohol and leave to infuse for at least four days, stirring every morning and evening. After 4 days, strain the alcohol into a spray bottle and add the oil Shake well before use. Spray directly onto skin or clothing.  

Basil Vodka Spray Repellent

Simply place a handful of fresh basil leaves into a glass measuring cup. Pour one-half cup of boiling water over the basil. Let the leaves steep for two to four hours. Squeeze the basil leaves to release as much of the liquid as possible. Pour the infused liquid into a spray bottle and add one-half cup of vodka. Shake gently to mix the contents and apply to the skin as necessary.

Vinegar of the Four Thieves Insect Repellent

For infested areas such as woodlands and forested lakes, you may need something a little stronger. This recipe is based on a concoction that was supposedly used by thieves during the Black Plague due to its antiviral and antibacterial properties, to keep them from getting sick. You will need to make this repellent ahead of time so if you have a camping trip on the horizon, you need to get this prepared up to 3 weeks before you go. As a pre-warning, this mixture is very pungent when wet but as it dries, the smell will disappear.


1 32 ounce bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar
2 TBSP each of dried Sage, Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme and Mint A quart size glass jar  or bigger, with an airtight lid


Put the vinegar and dried herbs into large glass jar. Seal tightly and store in a place where you will see it daily. Shake well each day for 2-3 weeks. After 2-3 weeks, strain the herbs out and store in spray bottles or tincture bottles, preferably in fridge. To use on skin, dilute to half with water in a spray bottle and use as needed.  

Other Insect Repelling Quick Fixes

Add vanilla extract to any of the above recipes, or rub directly onto the skin. You can also mix vanilla with witch hazel and water for a great smelling spray version. Become a gardening guru and plant insect repelling herbs such as lavender, thyme, mint and citronella in your yard. If you do not have access to any of the above ingredients used in these recipes, you can simply rub lavender flowers or fresh or dried leaves of anything in the mint family (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, pennyroyal, etc or citronella, lemongrass and even basil) especially on hot parts of body (neck, underarms, behind ears, around ankles etc.) for immediate relief from bugging bugs! Lastly, one particular effective natural repellent that deserves to be experimented with, is garlic. Depending on how much you enjoy garlic, you can take a garlic supplement (no-odor varieties are available), eat lots of meals containing fresh garlic, or for even rub a cut clove over your exposed skin. This way should be able to ward off both mosquitoes and Dracula!

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