Say hello to a DIY homemade bug spray that repels mosquitoes and other annoying insects. The easy recipe is budget-friendly, simple to make, and includes only 3 ingredients: witch hazel, oil or glycerin, and a done-for-you blend of essential oils (no need to buy multiple essential oils).
Our family spends a lot of time outdoors during the summer. The late summer sun and hot weather is an invitation to stay up later and enjoy meals on the grill, summer snack boards, homemade popsicles, and evenings in the backyard. And with summer comes one thing none of us love: bugs and mosquitoes.
What are safe and natural bug repellents?
There are several safe and natural alternatives that work as bug repellents, even repelling summer’s most hated and annoying visitor: mosquitoes.
Natural bug repellents work by using scents (like herbs) that deter mosquitoes, flies, gnats, ticks, and lice away from the skin.
These options aren’t as powerful or long-lasting as picaridin or DEET (common chemicals used in commercial repellents), but they can be a great alternative if you want to go all natural.
Top Natural Ingredients for Insect Repellent
- Lemon Eucalyptus Oil: One of the most recognized natural options and approved by the CDC for repelling mosquitoes. This is the longest-lasting natural option. Works to deter ticks, lice, and mosquitoes.
- Citronella: Derived from lemongrass and lemon eucalyptus. This is a commonly recognized ingredient for repelling mosquitoes, aphids, fleas, and flies. Citronella is only effective as a bug repellent if the formulation is correct. The essential oil blend in today’s bug spray recipe is from Plant Therapy and uses citronella essential oil, which contains citronellol and geraniol content. Works to deter mosquitos.
- Lavender: This is a great option to grow in your yard during the summer, particularly around gathering areas like patios. Mosquitoes, gnats, and other bugs hate the fragrant smell of lavender.
- Peppermint and Rosemary: Flies dislike herbs like mint and mosquitoes dislike the scent of rosemary (yes, mosquitoes have a complex sense of smell). Both of these herbs are lovely to add to summer meals, so why not add herb plantings to your summer patio to deter bugs?
- Catnip: This herb has been getting a lot of buzz lately for its ability to fend off mosquitoes. Another herb you can easily plant during the summer or use to make a natural bug spray (with an essential oil).
How to Make Homemade Bug Spray Repellent
There are many different homemade bug spray recipes online. Some recipes call for making a tea with herb leaves (like lavender and thyme) by boiling the ingredients and straining them to make a DIY bug spray.
Others call for ingredients like apple cider vinegar, which, to me, feels like spritzing a bottle of vinaigrette salad dressing on your skin.
Today’s recipe is a fast and easy way to make your own bug spray!
To make it fast and easy, use a done-for-you blend of essential oils. A blend that is specifically mixed together with individual essential oils, like citronella and catnip, to deter and repel bugs.
This way you save money and time!
To make homemade bug repellent, add the essential oil blend to a spray bottle along with witch hazel or high-proof vodka. Then add oil (olive oil, fractionated coconut oil, or jojoba oil), vegetable glycerin, OR aloe vera gel.
1. Witch Hazel or High-Proof Vodka
Either a high-proof vodka or witch hazel may be used in this recipe as the carrier (to the skin) for the bug-repelling essential oils. When using witch hazel, make sure it contains a preservative on the ingredient list (most do).
If you end up with a small bug bite, vodka (or any high-proof alcohol) can also aid in taking the sting away.
2. Glycerin or Oil
Vegetable glycerin or oil is also added to dilute and disperse the essential oils. Glycerin also adds nourishing moisture without weighing down the light spray.
If you don’t have vegetable glycerin, oil will work: fractionated coconut oil (a liquid form of coconut oil), olive oil, or jojoba oil. Another option is aloe vera gel.
If you use aloe vera gel, make sure it contains a preservative. Don’t use fresh gel from the plant as it will spoil quickly.
3. Shield Me Or Nature Shield Essential Oil Blend
A done-for-you blend of essential oils is a cost effective way to use multiple essential oils without buying the individual oils.
This is the beauty of using a blend specifically created for keeping bugs away, like Plant Therapy’s kid-safe Shield Me Blend or Nature Shield Blend.
The kid-safe blend, Shield Me, is specifically formulated using five bug-repelling essential oils that are safe to use on children 2-10+ (adults can use it, too): Citronella, Grapefruit, Geranium Bourbon, Rosalina, Patchouli.
The Nature Shield Blend should NOT be used on or around young children, but is safe for adults and uses the following essential oils to keep your skin free of mosquito bites: Citronella, Geranium Egyptian, Lemongrass, Eucalyptus Globulus, Lavender, Tea Tree, and Patchouli, Cedarwood Virginian and Catnip.
Essential oils need to be diluted before applying on the skin. Here we’re using glycerin (or oil) and witch hazel or vodka as the dilution carrier to the skin.
I use 72 drops, as seen in this recipe from Plant Therapy, which is a 2% dilution.
4. Optional: Vanilla Extract
There is some evidence to suggest that vanilla extract may deter bugs (mosquitoes, gnats, etc.) because they hate its scent. If you want to add vanilla extract to this recipe, make sure it’s pure with no added sugars or flavorings. The only ingredients for pure vanilla extra should be: vanilla beans and alcohol. I suggest adding about 1/2 tablespoon for the scent.
How to Use Essential Oils Safely & Effectively
Use This Spray Often: Essential oils are 100% natural and volatile, meaning they evaporate quickly. While a commercial bug spray will last hours on the skin, one made with essential oils will only last 30-60 minutes. This means you must reapply for it to be effective. This spray is best for short bursts outside, or when reapplication is practical.
Dilute Essential Oils: Always dilute essential oils before use. In this recipe, modeled after Plant Therapy’s recipe, we’re diluting the essential oils about 2% with the witch hazel and oil.
Be Careful Around Pets: If you have pets, always use caution with essential oils. Here’s a list of the essential oils that should NOT be used around dogs and cats.
Other Natural Ways to Protect Against Bug Bites
Beyond using a bug spray on your skin and clothes, you can also take other natural precautions to protect yourself during the summer months from bug bites.
Wear Long-Sleeve Clothing: I know, it’s summer. Who wants to wear long sleeves? You don’t have to wear anything heavy, a linen long sleeve shirt is perfect to wear in the early morning or evening when mosquitoes are most active. Lightweight joggers are also a great way to protect your legs versus leaving them bare to bugs when wearing shorts.
Get Rid of Standing Water: Check around your home for areas of standing water, like flower pots, buckets, etc. Standing water attracts mosquitoes where they lay their eggs.
Burn Herbs in the Campfire: I love this idea! In the evening, when you’re enjoying a campfire and roasting marshmallows, add herbs to your campfire to deter bugs with their potent scent.
Plant Herbs Like Catnip, Rosemary, and Mint: Plant herbs in abundance around your patio and gathering areas during the summer months to deter bugs with their fragrance.
DIY Homemade Bug Spray Mosquito Repellent (Essential Oils)
- 1 4-ounce spray bottle or larger
- 1/2 cup witch hazel or high-proof vodka
- 1 tablespoon vegetable glycerin fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, OR aloe vera gel may be used instead
- 72 drops Plant Therapy's Shield Me Essential Oil Blend (suitable for ages 2-10+) OR Nature Shield (suitable for adults)
- 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract Optional
- Pour the witch hazel (or vodka) and essential oil blend of choice (either Sheild Me OR Nature Shield) into a 4-ounce or larger spray bottle. Add vanilla extract if using.
- Add the glycerin (or oil or aloe vera gel). Secure the lid on the bottle and shake to incorporate the ingredients.
- Shake the bottle before each application. Spray the bug repellent on the skin, rubbing on the skin if needed. As with any homemade remedy, I highly recommend testing this spray first on a small area of the skin. Make sure your skin doesn't react to the essential oils before applying liberally.
- Store away from sunlight and use within 3 weeks.
Hey, and many thanks for sharing your recipe. Is it necessary for me to use the same essential oils as you are using, or can I use any brand?
Use your favorite brand, Karen.
Do you still use this homemade bug spray? Have you found any safe non toxic bug spray to buy that you would also recommend? Thanks!
Hey Meredith, I do. I still use the essential oil for a bug spray. There are several brand options out there now. I can’t think of any nationwide brands, but I’ve seen a few in our local health food stores.
Can I use my (actually your) homemade Vanilla with this?
Definitely, Noel! 🙂
What type of pull does the vodka proof play? I have 80 proof and am wondering if that will play a factor in effectiveness or not?
Hey Noel, 80 proof is good.
Since you’re using water, don’t you need a preservative?
Kristin is currently out of the country, but I’ll make sure to let her know of your comment so she can respond when she returns. ~Rachel
Hey Chris, Yes, if you’re going for long-term use. This is a short-term product (small batch). Use it within a few weeks, using your best judgment, and use distilled water.
Hi Kristin! What is the shelf life on this spray? Thanks so much!
Hey Kristina, If you’re using distilled water, then about a month.
How young is too young? Are children under a year OK?
Hey Noel, Hmmm, I’m not sure about children that young. I would recommend contacting Plant Therapy: http://www.planttherapy.com/contact-us. They are very responsive and informed about specifics.
Hi Kristin. I don’t have any kids but I like the idea of using the kid safe blend for this recipe so when my nieces and nephew are over I may use on them as well. Only question is, do you think the kids safe blend is maybe not as effective for adults as compared to the adult blend? Debating if I should just make two small recipes to accommodate both.
Hey Megan, I think they are both effective. The kid-safe version is made with oils that may be safely used around children (some oils aren’t safe around kids). The non-kid-safe oil blend works the same, in my opinion, but may use some oils that aren’t safe around kids. I would definitely make the kid-safe version for your nieces and nephews, just to be safe :).
Hi – I think the “Ban the Bugs” name has been changed to “Shield Me”. I was just looking at their website, and I believe this is the case.
Hey Noel, Thank you for sharing! I just looked it up, too, and you’re right.
Hello i have a Question about the bug repellant I have 5 Chihuahuas and a shih tzu they’re all about 8 to 10 pounds would this be recommended for them and I also live in Florida as well so how the heat is
Hey Georgia, In general I usually avoid using essential oils on animals. Some essential oils aren’t safe to use around animals, so I generally play it safe. This site is really helpful for checking specific essential oils and their safety around kids and animals (the author is a certified aromatherapist): http://www.learningabouteos.com/
I have a 70 lb. Boxer. What changes (if any) are recommended to make this a pet friendly blend?
Hey Amanda, I’ll ask Retha (an aromatherapist at Plant Therapy) and get back to you early next week.
Hi! I want to give this a try but I have a few questions before I start ordering the materials. How many drops does one 10mL bottle of ban the bugs contain? Do you think the glycerin oil is less oily than coconut or other oils? I have olive oil and coconut already but I would get the glycerin if you think it is worth it? Also, how many ounces does one bath of this make? You linked a 16oz bottle but I was wondering if a small size would work. Finally, do you think this vanilla (http://www.mccormick.com/Spices-and-Flavors/Extracts-and-Food-Colors/Extracts/Extra-Rich-Pure-Vanilla-Extract) is ok? That is what I already have. Thanks so much for all your help!
Hey Katie, This is a super handy chart for determining the amount of oil per bottle: http://mountainroseblog.com/dilutions-conversions/. A 10ml bottle should yield around 170 drops of oil. I’ve never really measured the drops, just basing that number off the chart. I like glycerin because I feel it sticks to the skin better than coconut oil. Glycerin is a bit thicker than a nourishing oil (like coconut oil), and I believe it’s less oily (based on my experiences over the years). The 16oz. bottle is the brand (and bottle) I keep on hand for all my cleaners and DIY projects, but this recipe only makes 4oz, so you’ll have lots of extra “air” room. I usually double this recipe (resulting in a half full bottle). The vanilla you listed is perfect!
Hi! Do you know if the kid safe version is also pregnancy safe? Also, does it by any chance ruin clothes due to the glycerin or possible oil content?
Hey Holly, I’m not sure about pregnancy-safe. One of my favorite sites for essential oil safety is Learning About EOs. Here’s a great article with a long list of essential oils to avoid: http://www.learningabouteos.com/index.php/2013/08/06/essential-oil-safety-during-pregnancy/. If any of the oils from the essential oil blend are on the list I wouldn’t use Ban The Bugs. The glycerin and oil won’t stain clothes when you gently mist your skin and clothing. Just don’t heavily apply the solution to clothing.
I bought 80 proof vodka, would leaving the water out make this about the same strength as your recipe with 150 proof and water? And then just reduce the oil in half as well?
Hey Rachelle, You can definitely try reducing the water. Just make sure the alcohol doesn’t irritate your skin (without the water). Let me know how it goes!
How often do you have to reapply to keep the bugs at bay?
Hey Courtney, It depends on how much we sweat. Lately, due to the Florida heat, I reapply the spray every 2 hours.
this recipe sounds wonderful. can’t wait to make it. how would I find out if it is pet safe? I know you would think if it is safe for kids…should also be safe for pets. But that is not always the case. just thought you might have some info on that. thanks. and love your site!
Hey Peggy, Great question. I’m going to email Retha at Plant Therapy and ask her about the pet safety issue. I’ll let you know :).
Hey Peggy, Here’s Retha’s response, “It depends on the pet so you will need to ask that first. If it is a cat, I don’t recommend it. If it is a dog, we can make it safe for them. Let me know what kind of pet and I can give a bit more information :).”
Love the natural way to repel bugs. My kids hate the stinky bug spray at the stores. After using this on them, they love it and I fell safe for my kids using them. Thanks.
Wonderful, Hayden! I’m so glad your kids like the bug spray.
Do you have to use a glass bottle? I can’t tell from your pic if it’s glass or plastic.
Hey Shanayc, If you’re looking to store the bug spray long-term I recommend using a glass bottle. For short-term use a plastic bottle will work just fine.
About how many drops are in a bottle or mL of EO? Just curious if you had an idea…and also, I thought somewhere I had read that EO stuff (DIY, like hand soap) shouldn’t be stored in plastic bottles. Is that true, do you know?
Hey Helen, Here’s a really handy conversion table I use for determining the approximate number of drops per essential oil bottle: http://mountainroseblog.com/dilutions-conversions/. Glass is the recommended storage container for essential oil DIYs. For a long-term use product, I go with glass (I love these bottles). For a short-term use product, I’m okay with storing my essential oil DIYs in plastic.