Homemade Bug Spray Recipes

How to make natural insect repellents that work

June 16, 2020
Homemade Spray
Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock

Yes, there are natural insect repellents that work. Here are four all-natural homemade bug sprays that can kick those pesky insects to the curb. If you don’t like the idea of spraying too many chemicals on yourself or your children, these recipes take seconds to mix up and really work for everyday sprays.  

Know Thy Enemy

As soon as we step outside, bugs have a way of finding us. Some use the CO2 we exhale to locate us, others go by scent, body heat, vibrations, or even the colors we wear. For example, deerflies are attracted to CO2, warmth, motion, and dark colors. One way to make yourself less attractive to insects is to avoid using fragrant soaps, lotions, perfume, hairspray, or aftershave. Instead, use scents that block their receptors, making you harder to find.

  • Mosquitoes hate citronella, lemon eucalyptus, cinnamon, geranium, and catnip.
  • Ants and flies dislike mint, basil, and bay.
  • Tiny gnats (such as No-See-Ums) are repelled by citronella, lemongrass, and rose geranium.
  • Ticks and lice avoid lemon eucalyptus and geranium.

Learn more about plants that repel mosquitoes and other insects here.

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Make an All-Purpose Insect Repellent

Since different scents repel different bugs, you can target specific ones or use a combination of oils to make an all-purpose repellent.

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Here are four simple homemade bug sprays you can make using essential oils, based on your scent preference:

  1. 2 cups witch hazel, 11/2 tsp. lemongrass or citronella oil, and 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar.
  2. 1 cup isopropyl alcohol, 1 cup water, 1/2 tsp. catnip oil.
  3. 1 cup alcohol or witch hazel and 10-20 drops of essential oils such as lemongrass, peppermint, or lemon eucalyptus.
  4. 1 qt. vinegar, 1/2 tsp. pennyroyal oil, 1 tsp. lemon eucalyptus oil, 1 tsp. orange oil, and 1 tsp. citronella oil.

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Herbal Bug Spray

No essential oils on-hand? Use dried or fresh herbs instead. If you can make tea, you can make these concoctions. Keep them in the fridge for a cooling spray.

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Here are two herbal recipes:

  1. Steep 2 tbsp each of chopped fresh mint, basil, and lavender leaves in 1 cup boiling water until cooled. Strain, add 1 cup witch hazel and shake.
  2. Boil 1 cup water, add a few cloves and 3-4 tablespoons of dried herbs including peppermint, catnip, and lavender. Mix, cover, cool, and strain. Add 1 cup witch hazel or isopropyl alcohol.

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Words of Caution

  • Be aware that some herbs and oils can be harmful or irritating. Lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under the age of 3 or pregnant or nursing mothers.
  • Pregnant women should also avoid pennyroyal.
  • Test any homemade bug spray for possible allergic reactions before using it liberally.
  • Sprays made with vinegar may sting and smell a bit pickle-y until they dry.
  • Oils may stain clothing.

Label your mixture with its ingredients and store in a dark-colored bottle or keep in a dark spot to prolong its effectiveness.

Do you have a recipe for an effective natural bug repellent? Let us know about it!

Related Learning

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.

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