In DIY, Essential Oils, Homemaking, Spring, Summer
Homemade Bug Spray in amber spray bottle with recipe ingredients in the background.

Homemade Bug Spray

Love being outdoors but hate getting bit by bugs? Here’s a non-toxic, natural homemade alternative to those harmful store-bought bug repellents. The bonus is this DIY version works as well as those containing DEET!

I’m like a giant beacon for mosquitoes and other biting bugs. If I’m outside and there are mosquitoes within a mile radius, I’m getting bitten. Can anyone else relate?

But after discovering I could make a homemade bug spray (and avoid the nasty toxins from the store bought version) summers have never been better or more itch-free!

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Avoiding Chemicals in Commercial Bug Spray

After ditching chemicals in our home, I made it my mission to search out a healthy alternative to the dangerous, mainstream bug repellents. I came across this post from Homemade Hints which detailed why homemade essential oil bug repellents don’t work as well as their chemical-laden counterparts, especially those containing DEET (which, for the record, will melt holes in a two-way radio, please don’t put it on your skin).

It’s not that essential oils are less powerful at repelling those nasty blood-suckers, it’s that EOs are extremely volatile, meaning they dissipate quickly. Once the essential oil evaporates, the scent is gone and their power over mosquitoes is gone as well.

But with the fear of Lyme disease, or West Nile Virus (both diseases carried by insects), many will choose to protect themselves from bites over the concern of potentially dangerous chemicals in insect repellent.

DEET (or N,N-diethyl-meta-tolumide) has been shown to harm brain and nervous system function. Even more so in children as their skin more readily absorbs chemicals in the environment. The chemicals in these sprays have more potent effects on their still developing nervous systems.

Thankfully new research is being done on the efficacy of essential oils and, not surprisingly, because these are in their natural form (as opposed to synthetic chemicals meant to mimic these natural compounds), so-called “Super Bugs” aren’t immune to their effects. The bonus is, these natural oils don’t have a negative effect on our body.

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How to Make Homemade Bug Spray Last Longer

As I mentioned, many homemade bug sprays only work for a short period of time. Once the essential oil scent is gone, so are the bug-fighting powers.

The good news is you can extend the life of your bug spray by adding vanillin! Sounds weird, I know, but it turns out vanillin (a natural compound extracted from vanilla seed pods) has been added to perfumes for years to slow down the evaporation rate, making the scent last longer. It works by reducing the volatility of essential oils and, in some tests, doubled the length of the potency of the oils.

Real vanillin can be cost prohibitive so I was happy to find that vanilla extract works as a suitable second place option as it still contains some vanillin (steer clear of imitation vanilla, not because synthetic vanilla is harmful when used topically, but because of the harmful ingredients like caramel coloring, preservatives and corrosive acids that lurk within). 

In addition to vanillin, by combining several essential oils together, your results at repelling multiple species of mosquitoes improves. Did you know there are 176 species of mosquitoes in the United States and 3,500 species worldwide?

Studies (like this one) have shown that catnip oil is actually ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET. And lemon eucalyptus oil is the first plant-based mosquito repellent to be endorsed by the CDC. This progress is huge and very encouraging!

Essential oils that repel mosquitoes:

My favorite is this Nature Shield blend which combines many of the oils listed above. I pair it with lemon eucalyptus (which is not two oils, but one) and some organic vanilla extract. As soon as warm weather hits, I whip up the following recipe to give our family the best shot at avoiding those itchy bites all summer long.

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Homemade Bug Spray in an amber spray bottle with recipe ingredients in the background.

Homemade Bug Spray


  • Author: Full of Days
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 4 oz. bug spray
  • Category: DIY

Description

Love being outdoors but hate getting bit by bugs? Here’s a non-toxic, natural homemade alternative to those harmful store-bought bug repellents. The bonus is this DIY version works as well as those containing DEET!


Ingredients


Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a small spray bottle.
  2. Shake bottle well before each application (and a few extra shakes between applications if spraying more than one person).
  3. Apply to exposed skin as well as clothes, shoes, hats and backpacks. Be careful to avoid contact with eyes.

Notes

  • When packing this bug spray for a hike, toss it in your bag in a sealed zip-top bag to avoid leaks/spills.
  • If you won’t be hiking with this spray, these glass spray bottles are recommended.
  • I always prefer glass when using essential oils, but because our kiddos pack their own bug spray in their hiking backpacks, we use these plastic spray bottles to avoid broken glass.
  • When spraying the face, we recommend spraying a little onto your hands and rubbing it onto your face to avoid accidental spraying in the eyes.
  • Our family chooses to use Plant Therapy for their high quality, pure, therapeutic grade essential oils offered at affordable prices. For $10 off your first order, click through any of our Plant Therapy links and sign up for their newsletter. They’ll gift you $10 off of your first purchase. Plus shipping is always free, no matter how small or large your purchase.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: N/A
  • Calories: N/A
  • Sugar: N/A
  • Sodium: N/A
  • Fat: N/A
  • Saturated Fat: N/A
  • Unsaturated Fat: N/A
  • Trans Fat: N/A
  • Carbohydrates: N/A
  • Fiber: N/A
  • Protein: N/A
  • Cholesterol: N/A

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Showing 17 comments
  • Chelsie
    Reply

    Would this blend be safe to use on my 5 week old infant?

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen
      Reply

      Hi Chelsie! Great question. Essential oil use on infants and small kiddos is quite a personal choice. It’d be my recommendation not to spray this on your kiddos, but rather spray the person holding them, or just make sure they’re covered in loose fitting clothing to keep the skeeters from landing on their skin. Hope this helps!

      • Kelli
        Reply

        What is the difference between the Nature Shield and Plant Therapy’s kids line (Insect Shield or something it’s called)?

        • Kelsey Steffen
          Kelsey Steffen
          Reply

          Great question Kelli! Plant Therapy takes all the guess work out of wondering if essential oils are safe to use on kiddos (focusing on ages 2-10), so the Kid Safe “Shield Me” blend has Citronella, Grapefruit, Geranium Bourbon, Rosalina and Patchouli, while the “Nature Shield” has Citronella, Geranium Egyptian, Lemongrass, Eucalyptus Globulus, Cedarwood Virginian, Lavender, Tea Tree, Catnip, and Patchouli. Some of the oils listed in the Nature Shield aren’t considered safe for use on children. So, if you’re spraying it on kiddos, go for the Shield Me blend!

  • Tracey
    Reply

    Would pure vanilla extract (Kirkland brand) work? It’s not organic but not imitation either.

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen
      Reply

      Yep! That should work great Tracey! You can always increase the vanilla extract to 1 Tbs if you want to be sure you’re getting enough vanillin! 🙂

  • Dawn Yoder
    Reply

    Very informative! Never occurred to me to add vanilla! Really love all the great info in this post, I shared!

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen
      Reply

      Thanks Dawn! The vanilla is a great trick! We appreciate the share!

  • Tracey
    Reply

    When I clicked on the Nature Shield it connected me to the wood dryer post?!

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen
      Reply

      Good catch! Thanks Tracey, it should be updated! Let me know if you have any other questions! 🙂

  • Shannon
    Reply

    Woah, I had no idea about the vanilla! Thanks for that tip. I might make some of this next spring for mosquito season in TX but with my own blend. Thanks!

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen
      Reply

      Awesome Shannon! Yeah, the vanilla is a total shocker, right? Hope this helps!

  • Carol Little R.H.
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing. I make one that is VERY effective and uses catnip oil!

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen
      Reply

      Yes! Catnip is another great oil to repel mosquitoes, just added that to the list of oils…thanks Carol!

  • Raia Todd
    Reply

    I need to make some of this. The mosquitoes are getting really awful down here. Is there anything I can use in place of witch hazel, though?

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen
      Reply

      Great question Raia! Although I’ve only used witch hazel, alcohol should be a good alternative. I’m not sure if hydrogen peroxide would work, as I’m not sure if it would interfere with the essential oils or not? Here’s to no biting bugs this summer!

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