Natural Insect Repellent

Medicinal use of essential oils goes back generations. These live at a pharmaceutical history in Switzerland. Photo by ilovebutter via Flickr/Creative Commons

If backyard barbecues, camping trips, yard work, or sporting adventures have you reaching for cans and bottles of commercial bug spray to ward off irritating insects, pause and think twice before you douse your children and yourself with noxious chemicals concoctions that often contain poisonous ingredients such as DEET.

Consider safe, chemical-free alternatives that do the job of repelling critters without the health risks inherent in most commercial insect repellents.

essential oils at a museum
Medicinal use of essential oils goes back generations. These live at a pharmaceutical history in Switzerland. Photo by ilovebutter via Flickr/Creative Commons

Essential Oils

Stop allowing the fear of being β€œeaten alive” keep you indoors. Essential oils, safe for people and pets, effectively repel bugs without dangerous toxic chemicals. Different essential oils repel different bugs. Invest in a few pungent and potent essential oils and experiment with what works best for the insect pests you typically encounter.

  • Ticks and Fleas: Thyme, Melaleuca, Peppermint, Geranium, Cedarwood, Lavender, Orange
  • Flies: Peppermint, Patchouli, Eucalyptus, Cedarwood, Melaleuca, Rosemary, Basil, Pine, Wooly Sage, Orange
  • Mosquitos: Lemon, Lavender, Thyme, Clove, Sage, Geranium, Lemon, Rosemary, Cinnamon, Peppermint, Spearmint, Orange
  • Moths, Cockroaches, and Silverfish: Thyme, Peppermint, Rosemary, Orange
  • Gnats, Ants, Spiders: Orange, Lemon, Eucalyptus, Patchouli, Thyme, Rosemary

Addressing the health concern of using commercial chemical insect repellents advises using Oil of lemon eucalyptus (PMD). They say: “Several studies have found this natural bug repellent as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes.”

If using lavender essential oil as an insect repellent, select Lavandula angustifolia, which is especially effective in repelling a broad assortment of insect predators.

Homemade Essential Oil Insect Repellent Recipes

It’s easy to prepare your insect repellents at home. Experiment to find the combination of essential oils that are most effective for your particular insect problem. Utilize small 3-4 ounce plastic spray bottles, large enough to allow enough space in the container to be able to give the liquid a good shake to blend the ingredients before each application.

  • Three tablespoons of one or a combination of the following: vodka, gin, or witch hazel
  • Three tablespoons of one or a combination of the following: almond oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, neem oil or olive oil, or neem oil, which in itself has insect repellent properties.
  • Combine the above ingredients, add 100-to-120 drops of your favorite essential oil and mix well. For best results use pure food-grade essential oils available for purchase online or from your local organic market or health food store. Although many essential oils repel insects, orange oil is the most effective against all types of insect predators.
  • Apply every three to four hours as needed.

Diseases And Discomfort Transmitted By Fleas, Ticks, And Spiders

For those of us in North America, these are the insects most likely to spread disease.


Fleas, tiny insects that can jump 150 times their body length, are externally parasitic to pets and people. Fleas can transmit a wide range of diseases including parasitic dermatitis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, meningeoencephalitis, and tapeworms.


In addition to tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a tick bite can carry saliva that may cause a slow, progressive paralysis, a condition known as β€œtick paralysis.” Tick bites may also cause mild to severe allergic reactions in some individuals.


Common across North America, Black Widow spiders inflict a bite that injects a neurotoxin that produces inflammation, swelling and intense pain. The bite is recognized by the two puncture makes on the skin. The venom not only causes discomfort at the bite site, the toxin spreads to the abdomen, chest, or the entire body.

Mosquito-Borne Disease

One of the deadliest insects in the world, mosquitoes carry disease and death. Millions of people worldwide die each and every year from a diverse range of mosquito-borne disease such as the Zika virus, Dengue fever, Chikungunya viruses, and West Nile Virus.

Editor’s note: If you’re in an area with any of these deadly diseases, mosquito bites are a greater risk to your health than the chemicals in insect repellent. Use the EPA’s search tool to find an appropriate repellent.

Zika Virus

Transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito, the Zika virus is a dire threat to women that are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. If bitten by an infected Andes species mosquito (Ad aegypti or Ae. Albopictus) a pregnant woman can transmit the Zika virus to her unborn child during the pregnancy or at the time of birth.

The Zika virus is a contributing cause of microcephaly and a diverse arrive of severe fetal brain defects. Ongoing medical research studies indicate the Zika virus also presents a wide range of other potential health problems during pregnancy.

West Nile Virus

West Nile virus is another nasty mosquito-borne infection. While most persons infected show no symptoms, the infection can be deadly in persons with a suppressed immune system, children and the elderly. Symptoms typically manifest within 2-to-15 days and may include fever, nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

While most cases of West Nile virus are mild, West Nile meningitis causes inflammation in the protective membranes that cover the spinal cord and the brain. There is no protective vaccine to prevent West Nile fever. The only way to prevent infection is to avoid being bitten by an infected mosquito. In 2012, during one of the worst outbreaks of the disease, 286 people in Texas died from complications of West Nile virus.

Dengue Fever

A mosquito-borne illness, dengue fever, also known as β€œbone break fever” is transmitted by five different species of the Aedes type mosquito, principally A. aegypti. Symptoms, which typically manifest three to fourteen days after infection, may include severe joint and muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, a high fever, and a characteristic skin rash.

In a small amount of cases the disease develops into life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever or into dengue shock syndrome which may cause dangerously low blood pressure. In sub-tropical and tropical climates worldwide, dengue affects more than 528 million people annually: approximately 10,000 to 20,000 people die.

Dengue fever is found in 110 countries including the United States. In 2015, more than 160 cases were reported in Hawaii. The only way to prevent the spread of dengue fever is by controlling mosquito infestations and limiting exposure to mosquito bites.


Presenting symptoms similar to dengue, chikungunya is a mosquito-borne viral disease that causes severe joint pain, fever, nausea and a rash. Treatment involves relieving symptoms: there is no cure for the disease. While found primarily in Asia, Africa and India, chikungunya has been reported in other sub-tropical and tropical regions including the Caribbean.

When not working in her garden in Northwestern Montana, Marlene Affeld writes of her love of nature and all things natural.

Written by Marlene Affeld

β€œA passionate writer for more than 30 years, Marlene Affeld writes of her love of nature and all things natural. Specializing in Eco-Travel, Science, Environmental Health, Conservation, The Beauty of Nature, Sustainability, Green Issues, and Wildlife, Affeld’s passion for the environment inspires her to write informative articles to assist others in living a green lifestyle.”


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