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 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.
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.
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.