How to Make a DIY Natural Bug Repellent

How to Make a DIY Natural Bug Repellent

Have you ever stopped to consider the ingredients in the regular bug sprays and insect repellents that you use? If not, it's time to do so. You may be exposing yourself to harmful chemicals.

One of the popular yet toxic ingredients is DEET. Over time, it causes respiratory effects, skin irritation, rashes, and neurological problems. It causes lethargy and headaches in children and can harm unborn babies if a pregnant woman uses it on bare skin.

The ingredient is safe, though, as long as it's used sparingly and applied on clothing, not bare skin. 


If you'd want to switch to safer, natural options to protect your family from summer pests, there are several options.

Let's look at some essential oils that can help keep bugs away. 

Natural insect repellants

Essential oils repel bugs because they contain chemicals that the bugs find repulsive.

We recommend using oils because they're natural and are less likely to cause skin irritation and adverse reactions. They also don't present threats to our internal health.


Note that not all essential oils repel pests. Also, the active ingredients in essential oils tend to be highly volatile, so they often work for only a short time- about an hour. After this time, you need to reapply since the oils evaporate and leave you unprotected. 

1. Lemon eucalyptus essential oil

This is a repellent extracted from the lemon eucalyptus tree native to Australia. NOTE: Natural lemon eucalyptus oil isn't the same as the essential oil of lemon eucalyptus.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists this ingredient as effective against mosquitoes and other pests, though it's about half as effective as DEET. 

Effective against: ticks and mosquitoes, but not sand flies. It also evaporates slower than most essential oils and so lasts for several hours. 

2. Citronella essential oil

Citronella essential oil comes from the stems and leaves of lemongrass. It produces citronellal, citronellol, and geraniol compounds, which are used in candles, perfumes, and soaps.


Rather than scaring away insects with its scent, citronella hides other scents that are attractive to them- this makes it difficult for the bugs to locate their targets. The oil has been registered as a plant-based insect repellant in the U.S. since 1948. It's an ingredient in several commercial insect repellants and sunscreen products.


Studies show that citronella does the job, especially when combined with vanillin, which extends protection times. A combination of these two repels mosquitoes for at least three hours.

Effective against: Mosquitoes and other flying insects. If using citronella alone, you'll need to reapply every 30 minutes. 

NOTE: This oil is a skin sensitizer and may cause allergic reactions if used on bare skin.

essential oil

3. Catnip essential oil

A 2001 study found that catnip oil repels mosquitoes more effectively than DEET. As much as this was only one study, the results are promising.


A 2006 study proved that catnip oil beats amyris, eucalyptus, thyme, and cinnamon oils in repelling bugs. It provided six hours of protection at two different concentrations. 

Also, a 2011 study found the oil effective against ticks and mosquitoes.

Effective against: Mosquitoes, ticks, and flying insects.

4. Neem essential oil

Several studies have shown that neem can protect you from mosquito bites. Researchers in India did a study in the late 90s and found that kerosene lamps with 1% neem oil reduced bites on volunteers sitting in a room overnight.


In another study, 2% neem oil mixed with coconut oil and applied to the skin protected against several mosquito species, ranging from 61-94 percent protection against West Nile virus types to 96-100 percent protection against malaria-transmitting species.

Effective against: Mosquitoes, and potentially other flying insects. It's most useful when mixed with a carrier oil, but less effective in sprays. 

5. Soybean oil

Some evidence suggests that this oil may provide longer-lasting protection than other natural repellants, especially citronella oil.

A 2002 study found that soybean oil on its own provided protection against mosquito bites for 94.6 minutes on average—longer than most oils do on their own. A 2004 study showed that Bite Blocker, (with 2% soybean oil), protected against mosquito bites for 5-7 hours—longer than most options. 


Lemongrass (citronella) is also protective when mixed with soybean oil—excellent for homemade remedies.

Effective against: A variety of mosquito species, and potentially other bugs.

6. Cedar essential oil 

A 2014 study showed that cedarwood oil was significantly effective against red fire ants, ants, and black-legged ticks. At its highest dosage (6.3 mg/ml), it killed 100 percent of the ticks. 

Cedar oil also wards off fleas. It not only kills them on contact but can also heal itching and rashes. Rub the oil on your hands and run through the animal's fur or apply with a spray bottle.

Effective against: Ticks, fleas, mites, lice, ants, and other bugs.

Other essential oils that may be effective

The essential oils below last only a short time, or are less effective than those listed previously. However, they still have insect-repelling action. You can use them in your DIY homemade repellants.

• Thyme

• Vetiver

• Rosemary

• Bergamot

• Peppermint

• Pine

• Tea tree

• Eucalyptus

• Basil

• Lavender

Homemade natural bug repellent 

Here's our handy recipe for a chemical-free repellent:


10 drops carrier oil (examples: sunflower, apricot kernel, soybean, or coconut) 

10 drops of your primary essential oil 

4 oz witch hazel

Additional essential oils of your choice

Distilled water (optional)

Vanilla (optional)


Dilute ten drops of your primary essential oil (and a few drops of other essential oils you desire) in four ounces of witch hazel in a spray bottle. If you'd like to dilute the mixture, you can add distilled water.

Add ten drops of carrier oil, such as apricot, soybean, sunflower, or coconut.

TIP: Adding vanilla will help to extend the lasting power of this homemade solution. 

With love,

The Sole Toscana Beauty Team.