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Homemade Bug Spray and Insect Repellents

Homemade Bug Spray and Insect Repellents | NourishingJoy.com

Last year I published an article on how to grow your own mosquito repellents, but this summer I thought I’d bring the DIY, homemade repellents a bit closer to home.

(Not that your patio isn’t home, but when the mosquitoes are buzzing in your ears, the lovely lavender plants a few metres away don’t exactly bring much comfort.)

So today, here are tried-and-true recipes for homemade bug spray, Bug-Off skin oil, insect repellent lotion, and a soothing salve for when you do get bit.

But first, we need to talk about DEET.

DEET (or should I call it by it’s proper name – N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) is the most common ingredient in commercial insect repellents and has been proven to have the longest period of repellency of any product on the market.

Although it has been deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s also classified as a pesticide by that same organization. And although the toxicity sheets for DEET declare there is no known harm to humans with limited use, even on infants, there are increasing number of studies that bring that into question, including a 2009 study from France that shows that it not only interrupts the nervous system of mosquitoes (as previously known), but that it also interferes with mammalian nervous systems – namely, ours.

According to GreenYours.com, which quotes a study from Cornell University, DEET is “a known eye irritant and can cause rashes, soreness, or blistering when applied to the skin. Additionally, DEET has been linked to neurological problems…  Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found that DEET causes diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes in rats.”

So all in all, unless we’re in an area infested with swarms of malaria-ridden mosquitoes, I would strongly prefer that my children run and hike and explore with DEET nowhere in sight. And of course, if you DO use DEET, just take the advice of the ever-wise Evidence-Based Living and give your children a really good bath as soon as you are away from all the bugs.

For these recipes, any of these essential oils work well to repel bugs, but they are listed here in order of preference (and since different bugs are repelled by different scents, use a mix if you can): eucalyptus, citronella, camphor, lemongrass, pennyroyal, peppermint, lemon, rosemary, cinnamon, clove, cedarwood, sandalwood, thyme, or basil.

Homemade Bug Spray and Insect Repellents | NourishingJoy.com

 

Homemade Bug Spray

1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1/8 cup vodka or witch hazel
1/8 cup water
80 drops mixed essential oils, neem oil, or four thieves oil

Pour all ingredients into a small spray bottle and shake well. Apply often.

Variation: Catnip has been shown to repel insects very well, so if you aren’t in a rush to make this recipe, stuff a bottle full of fresh catnip and fill the bottle with vodka. Let sit for 4-6 months in a dark place. Then, whenever you want to mix up a batch of homemade bug spray, use that infused vodka to make your concoction.

Note: If you will be using this bug spray on children under 2, know that peppermint oil is not recommended, especially in those under 2, so use lavender, lemon, sweet orange, or tea tree in its place.

 

Bug-Off Skin Oil

This is faster to make than an actual lotion, but it does leave a residue on the skin. I call for jojoba because it’s the least greasy or soybean because it has mild repellent properties naturally, but olive, liquid coconut oil, whipped shea butter, or apricot kernel oil can also work. If you’re applying this on children under 5, use half of the amount of essential oils.

Be sure to reapply every 30 minutes or so if insects are heavy in your area.

1 oz jojoba oil or soybean oil
10 drops eucalyptus smithii essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops geranium, citronella, or lemongrass essential oil

 

Thick & Creamy Bug-Off Lotion

I choose to make a thick body butter rather than a thin lotion because I find it stays on better. If you prefer a thin lotion, choose your favorite unscented commercial lotion, preferably one with as few preservatives as possible, and stir the essential oils into that lotion. Oh, and this recipe does require an electric mixer, preferably one with a whisk attachment.

1 cup of mango or shea butter
½ cup coconut oil
1/2 cup of jojoba or a mild olive oil
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch
120 drops essential oil of your choice (optional)

Prepare an ice bath in the sink or prepare a space in your refrigerator large enough to accommodate your electric mixing bowl. Meanwhile, place your electric mixing bowl in the freezer.

Over the very lowest heat possible, melt the mango and shea butters until nearly liquid.

Add the coconut oil and continue melting until the mixture is completely liquid.

Remove the mixture from the heat.

Place the arrowroot in a small bowl and slowly add about half of the jojoba oil, carefully stirring it into a slurry as you go.

Mix thoroughly, then add it to the mango/coconut mixture along with the remaining jojoba oil, stirring well.

Pour the mixture into the chilled mixing bowl, return to the freezer, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment.

After 10 minutes, add the essential oils to the oil mixture, then whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. If after a few minutes it does not seem to be thickening, return the bowl to the freezer for an additional 4-5 minutes.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then whip again and repeat this procedure until it is solid but light and fluffy. Be careful not to chill the butters too much towards the end, or you’ll end up with chunks rather than light cloud fluff.

 

Bug Bite Relief Salve

If you don’t want to render your own or can’t find any locally, US Wellness Meats carries an excellent tallow. Also, Katie at Wellness Mama has a lovely homemade healing salve that uses plant-based ingredients.

½ cup rendered tallow
1 tablespoon olive oil
40 drops essential oils

Melt the tallow gently over very low heat just until it’s entirely liquid.

With the tallow in the liquid state but as cool as possible (around 120°F), whisk in the olive oil.

Add in the essential oils and pour into your storage tins or jars.

Put the mixture in the refrigerator to let it solidify.

 

And of course, if itching due to bug bites is overwhelming, make our homemade calamine lotion for some quick relief!

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This post may contain affiliate links, including those from Amazon.com, which means we earn a small commission off your purchases. And here's the thing: We only mention services and products that we think are truly worth your attention, whether they're free, paid, or otherwise. This site relies on YOUR trust, so if we don't stand behind a product 110%, it's not mentioned. Period.

Comments

  1. Sus says

    This is great! We’re about to move to a very buggy area and I have three littles that I don’t want eaten, but also don’t want slathered in toxins. Thanks!

  2. Gee says

    Thank you, am like a mosquito magnet, they swam me at times when I’m out side so I greatly appreciate all of your information, ideas and recipes for bug repellants.

  3. Sherri says

    I’m so excited to try these! I despise the smell of commercial bug sprays but we have to keep them near our doors to apply before we go out of the house.

    On a more serious note, we are in the middle of West Nile Virus (WNV) territory. People don’t realize how devastating this disease can be. I personally know of 2 elderly people who died after contracting it. And professionally, I know of people who have spent a year or more in therapy rehabilitation because of the effects.

    • Kresha says

      Yes, I had an uncle die of it. It is serious. Be sure to re-apply any bug spray often, especially the non-DEET ones!

  4. says

    Great information. Thank you for sharing. You sould try Aromaflage. Its essential oils provide incredible fragrance while naturally repelling insects. Thanks again

  5. Heather says

    I was just wondering in the first recipe if the ACV can be skipped? I’m not crazy about the smell and no amount of essential oils seem to mask it. Are mosquitos resistant to ACV?

    • Kresha says

      Absolutely you may skip it. Mosquitoes just don’t really like it, so it helps boost the overall effectiveness of the bug spray, but certainly the essential oils are there for that purpose as well, so make it however you like it! :)

  6. Lisa says

    Just to clarify about DEET being classified as a “pesticide” ANYTHING (natural or not) that kills bugs is a pesticide. So the classification as such doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dangerous. I am grateful for the recipe though! Doing yoga at sunset at the lake is causing me lots of mosquito bites!

    • Kresha says

      Yes, mosquitos seem to know just when to bite when you’re in the middle of holding a difficult pose. :-)

      Certainly, from a semantical standpoint, you’re absolutely correct, but according to the EPA documents linked to here, DEET is a conventional, chemical pesticide, not a biologically-based pesticide, and since chemical pesticides are what we typically think of with the word “pesticide,” I thought it fitting to just use the simplest, most obvious (or at least most commonly understood) version of the word.

  7. Debbie says

    I really enjoy all the recipes, both for food and for other things! I do have a question, though. Where can I get all the oils you talk about and the rendered tallow? Can you buy the tallow or can you make it at home? I am like a magnet to mosquitoes and I really hate using the smelly commercial stuff. Our mid-west area has been drenched thoroughly and repeatedly this summer and those buggers are running rampant. Help!

  8. Alisa says

    Just wondering, why did you suggest soybean oil? Isn’t it very bad (toxic) for consumption and skin? I thought rancid oils, like soybean oil, cause cancer and all that…

    • Kresha says

      Alisa,

      Yes, soybean oil is typically one of the oils I most adamantly and vehemently avoid (and recommend others do too). However, in this case I’m okay with it because it does have compounds that naturally repel insects, so it boosts the potency of the homemade potion just slightly. And in the amounts we’re working with here, the exposure is quite minimal, so for me, I’ve decided the benefit outweighs the cost. Plus, if you happen to have soybean oil in your cupboard that you need to use up, this is great way to do so! :-)

      Hope that helps.

  9. Ashita says

    Thanks for the recipe. How often do you suggest re-applying Kresha? I have two kids and we take hikes often that last at least a couple of hours. I am a mosquito and bug magnet. So we probably need it by the gallon :) Just made a batch of this ( albiet a little tweaked due to paucity of ingredients!) No vodka but used rubbing alcohol and not all EOs were there so used what I had at hand. Citronella, clove and sweet orange. Hopefully it works well since I am already sporting bites from the last couple of days!

    • Kresha Faber says

      Well, it all depends on your skin, how much you’re sweating, how many bugs are around, etc. Typically I reapply whenever I can’t smell it anymore or the bugs seem to be around more than they were, which can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.

      I don’t know if that helps, but good luck!

  10. Antonia says

    I have some citronella growing, and I would really like to try saving some of the leaves. does anyone know if I can put them in vodka and make a citronella oil? thanks so much!!

  11. Lynn says

    Re: Deet – (see below)

    My background: First I ended up almost dead from various chemical sources (post building fire illegal renovations in NYC) and at various work sites. I have a background in biochemistry, chemistry of arts (all arts chemicals are trickle down from industry) and was obtaining my MA (NYU) for OT. Other degrees so on. My mother was in traditional medicine but at the age of 18 (when I could control my health care) I went entirely holistic – avoiding open heart surgery at the time and recovering from my above experience. (took decades as I was broken down greatly). I am a growing part of the 29 to 35 million people with chemical injury (MCS) it is not a “sensitivity” but a phenomenon of the cell’s biology (like getting punched, first time not so much damage, repeat and arm bloodied and bruised then only a little tap causes great damage).

    Many of the chemicals post fire (floor strippers so on) are as well in your everyday household and personal care products. Perfumes are now made out of left over oil sludge from the refineries – petro chemicals. Ditto for all synthetic “fragrance” products – many are made by the pharmaceuticals, and they are fighting to not have to disclose this – as a “trade secret”.

    Just be aware that the pharmaceuticals are now “corporate” America (background in City Government) and if you do not live in a Medical Freedom state – you will find this out when you decide to choose your health care verses what the Rx companies decide for you (forced chemo therapy on children for example).

    Learn to read a MSDS (material safety data sheet) get the OSHA standards booklet where you can see the real effects of these highly toxic chemicals verses what media and Corporations tell you is safe (many on Wall Street, health care go on to work for Government, see FDA, EPA so on). Harvard for example has their medical schools funded in part by the Pharmaceuticals – and if a Doctor decides (in a non medical freedom state) to do otherwise from what he is “allowed” to do, he can and often does lose his/her license.

    Even Thalidomide is not back on the market!!!

    As well, I did my research paper for Psychology (where one studies Rx and their toxicity effects for one year) on lab testing – horrific. All of the chemicals are tested in the eyes of rabbits (draize rabbit test, eye and vocal cords cut so no one can hear then scream, 50/50 tubes down beagles and same pesticides, chemicals pumped down until 50% die horrific deaths) and on and on. There is no need anymore (skin, computer models and many repeated again and again) as it’s a billion dollar industry (equipment, funded by pharma’s so on).

    http://stoptestinghouseholdproductsonanimals.com/info/draizetest

    So many, many reason to go holistic MHO of course.

    Dr. Ziem is a Doctor out of the Vietnam era that treats chemically injured. The children of the Vietnam vets had facial deformaties, brain damage so on, yet or Government told them “it’s all in you head”. (just as they do with chemical injury) a way to not have to pay for the damage.

    I give this background to state my knowledge of DEET. (I have a research background but easy to find now on the www).

    ……………………………………………………………………………………………

    DEET – I would never use this on any child. Teen or even adult. I used to douse myself as a teen before hiking in Oregon with OFF – full of DEET! The skin is the largest organ and it just allows these toxins right into the blood stream to damage delicate enzyme systems, molecules, organs so on.

    Originally formulated for the US Army, this chemical is now used in one-third of American households and was used during the Vietnam War alongside the now banned chemicals Agent Orange and DDT.

    The chemical, N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, or DEET, was used as a bug deterrent for soldiers serving in the jungles of Vietnam. Now commercially available, DEET is coming under scrutiny for causing acute toxicity, allergic reactions, scarring, and even brain swelling that leads to death.

    DEET’s number one manufacturer, Morflex Inc., estimates that over 200 million people now use the war-time chemical in their household bug repellents.

    Agent Orange herbicides more readily absorbed in the presence of DEET
    Herbicide 2,4-D, one of the main components of Agent Orange, acts as an endocrine disrupter in humans. 2,4-D is more readily absorbed by the body in the presence of DEET. It was the chemical 2,4,5-T that led to the banning of Agent Orange, but it is DEET that makes Agent Orange more pervasive in the human body.

    DEET passes through placenta of rabbits, pervasive in US water streams
    In EPA field tests, DEET was found at small concentrations in 75 percent of water streams tested in the US. The chemical breaks down in sunlight but breaks down very slowly in soil. On tests involving rabbits, DEET entered the mammal’s skin and even passed through the placenta of the pregnant rabbits!

    Many commercial bug repellents contain a dangerous Vietnam war chemical
    509
    5
    1

    bugrepellant

    Originally formulated for the US Army, this chemical is now used in one-third of American households and was used during the Vietnam War alongside the now banned chemicals Agent Orange and DDT.

    The chemical, N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, or DEET, was used as a bug deterrent for soldiers serving in the jungles of Vietnam. Now commercially available, DEET is coming under scrutiny for causing acute toxicity, allergic reactions, scarring, and even brain swelling that leads to death.

    DEET’s number one manufacturer, Morflex Inc., estimates that over 200 million people now use the war-time chemical in their household bug repellents.

    Agent Orange herbicides more readily absorbed in the presence of DEET
    Herbicide 2,4-D, one of the main components of Agent Orange, acts as an endocrine disrupter in humans. 2,4-D is more readily absorbed by the body in the presence of DEET. It was the chemical 2,4,5-T that led to the banning of Agent Orange, but it is DEET that makes Agent Orange more pervasive in the human body.

    DEET passes through placenta of rabbits, pervasive in US water streams
    In EPA field tests, DEET was found at small concentrations in 75 percent of water streams tested in the US. The chemical breaks down in sunlight but breaks down very slowly in soil. On tests involving rabbits, DEET entered the mammal’s skin and even passed through the placenta of the pregnant rabbits!

    The American Academy of Pediatrics is concerned about DEET being used on children and warns parents not to expose young ones less than two months old to the chemical.

    DEET’s adverse reactions include brain swelling that leads to death
    The National Institutes of Health warns that even adults, especially military personal and game wardens, can develop severe skin reactions including blisters, burning and scars. Long term use in these careers may elicit mood changes and insomnia.

    In some documented cases, DEET has caused death after eliciting certain adverse reactions. The EPA warns that DEET can cause acute liver problems and brain swelling in individuals with ammonia metabolism problems. In these urea cycle disorders, which occur in about 1 in 20,000 births, an individual’s brain may swell when exposed to DEET, causing death.

    Seven companies distribute more than 225 DEET products in America
    In the US, there are at least 225 products containing DEET. Just seven companies pump the market full of the chemical, with SC Johnson, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon leading the way. The 225 bug sprays are really a corporate illusion of choice that mass distributes the same toxic chemical. The good news is – there are other safe options for bug deterrents that do not pose a threat to human health.

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