Using natural products to repel insects and create a natural medicine cabinet and remedies arsenal is big on my list and one of my main passions.
We do a lot of camping and outdoor activities here on our homestead and living in the Pacific Northwest, we've got our fair share of mosquitoes. Back in the day, I used Deet based bug sprays all the time, because nobody likes mosquito bites and it's what everybody used (it's okay, I'm cringing as I write this, too).
Listen in to the newest episode of the Pioneering Today Podcast, inspiring your faith and pioneer roots with old-fashioned skill sets and wisdom in a modern world. Learn about homemade herbal remedies to keep you and your family safe while embracing the natural items while you're mucking out the barn, working in the garden, cooking up supper, or driving in your car… or any task you're doing, we're happy to be there with you!
But I quickly noticed if I sprayed the DEET containing bug spray on my face or got it on my lips, my lips would go numb and tingly for an hour or so. My younger brother started working in the woods and used a strong percentage DEET bug spray and the arms of his glasses melted. Yes, the plastic on his eye glasses melted from the bug spray.
According to Wikipedia mosquitoes don't like the smell of DEET and DEET has also been used as a pesticide. DEET shouldn't be applied to broken skin, washed off as soon as possible, and may cause breathing difficulty, burning eyes, headaches, associated seizures, with long term exposure from employees at the “Everglades National Park were more likely to have insomnia, mood disturbances and impaired cognitive function than were lesser exposed co-workers. I don't know about you, but this was enough for me to decide not to use it.
But mosquitoes do carry diseases and the bites aren't any fun to deal with either.
We're going to talk about natural herbs and essential oils, but just because something is natural doesn't mean it's safe. What? I know, what's a person to do.
We're going to talk essential oils and herbs for repelling insects, with some safety information as well. Heads up, I'm not a certified medical professional. These statements haven't been approved or evaluated by the FDA and none of this should be considered for treatment or diagnosis, it is for informational purposes only.
Essential oils with insect repelling properties
- Lemon Eucalyptus *use with caution in children under 3
- Peppermint *use with caution in children under 3, see this chart
- Lemongrass *can attract bees
Plants that Repel Insects
- Citronella Grass
- Lemon Balm* bees love this one
It's easy to create your own bug repellent stick or balm. I used to make a spray but the essential oils aren't strong enough to act as a preservative to keep bacteria from growing in a water based spray so I now prefer a bug block stick or balm.
My friend Renee from HardLotion.com is on today's podcast episode with me sharing her story and recipe for making their homemade Bug Block Stick-and how to make sure they were EPA compliant.
Resources for Safety and Essential Oil Use
This is a really big book, talking over 700 pages with tons of sources and studies, but it's the most complete resource you'll likely ever come across, it's Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals 2nd Edition by Robert Tisserand
I recently found Plant Therapy and fell in love when I placed my first order. They staff certified aromatherapists (meaning people who are actually trained in the use of essential oils) and they place a KidSafe label on all of their oils that are indeed safe to use with children.
After seeing their dedication to safety and that <strong>they have third party lab reports listed on each essential oil </strong>as well as certified organic in many of the varieties. Big thank you to Plant Therapy for being a sponsor and offering a great deal.
Some of my favorite and most used essential oils are Lemon, Lavender, and Peppermint all combined for you in this special starter kit.
Free Essential Oil Caution Guide– know which oils are photo-sensitive, which aren't safe for children, and if an oil interacts with certain medical conditions. Get your free copy here–> Essential Oil Safety Guide and Chart
Bug Repellent Bar Recipe (from Renee's book My Buttered Life)
In the summer 2009 my two older boys and I spent evenings at the local farmers’ market selling our Beesilk hard lotion bars. The setting sun brought out the mosquitoes and somehow, it just didn’t feel right to spray OFF! while encouraging shoppers to try out our all-natural lotion. Knowing that citronella essential oil wards off the mosquitoes, I created a bug repellent bar to keep us bite-free. It worked!
Feel free to experiment with various essential oils for a scent-ful, bug-free summer.
3 1/2 oz Beeswax
3 oz Shea Butter
3 oz Coconut Oil
0.6 oz Citronella Essential Oil (or choose from list below)
Total Weight 3 bars of 3 oz each
1. Place beeswax, shea butter, and coconut oil in double boiler.
2. Melt and stir with a wooden skewer.
3. Remove from heat, wait a few minutes, and add essential oil(s).
4. Stir with wooden skewer and pour into molds.
Bug repelling essential oils (optional substitutions or additions): Lemon, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Clove Peppermint, Cedarwood, Rosemary, Neem, Lemongrass
Purpose- Repels bugs, deer flies and mosquitoes while nourishing your skin with natural oils and butters.
Don't want to make one or want to test it out first? Here's a link to Renee's store.
Additional Ways to Naturally Protect Against Insects
- Wear light layers (assuming you're in the summer or warmer weather months) of clothing in light neutral colors, mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors.
- Use herbs and/or citronella candles that are known insect repellents (see list above)
- Use a natural bug repellent with essential oils suited for you and your families age/health conditions
I love to add the addition of plants like basil and anything in the mint family spreads like crazy, so having it in a few different pots you can take with you on a picnic or camping (and to also pinch some of those leaves for cooking with fresh herbs is a bonus).
Do you know if any of these repel ticks? Wood ticks have become a real problem this spring. I hate putting harsh chemicals on my dog … and then still finding ticks embedded in him! Plus, as the weather gets nicer we’ll be spending more time outdoors. We’ve already had to start daily tick checks 😛
I’m allergic to nuts, what can be used instead of shea butter?
All I need here in WI is some Absorbine to keep the Gnats at bay. A few drop on a hat and they’re gone. I’m told Vanilla works too.
Thank you for such a great post! This is the best post I’ve seen on the DIY bug spray topic, and I have searched for a few years. Do you know if there is any risk of sunburn or severe burn while wearing the essential oil bug stick recipe? I saw on the news recently where a person wore essential oils outdoors and somehow unwittingly got a third degree burn wherever she had placed the oil. I love eseential oils, but am concerned about using them in sunlight on my child. Thank you enormously! I found the post super helpful!!! Love your work and site!
SO glad you enjoyed it Casey. You want to make sure you don’t use any of the photo-sensitive causing essential oils (lemon and lime juice can do the same thing). Citrus are the main culprits with photo-sensitivity.
Thank you, Melissa! I cannot tell you what a help this is! God bless you!
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Great Podcast Melissa thank you. I want to share a little story about Lemon Balm Essential oil, one day I decided to mop my house with some Lemon Balm in the Bucket, so here I was happy with the beautiful scent of this EO, suddenly I noticed a lot of insects on the window screens ( I had all the windows open for fresh air) I was horrified!! so as I came closer to the window I noticed that they were actually bees a whole lot of bees and they covered all the window screens in my living room,kitchen and Balcony door, I had no idea then that Lemon Balm scent was attracting them, but after a few minuets it kinda crossed my mind that that scent might be the reason. I obviously researched the issue and it was just as I expected. I only thank God that I had all the screens closed that day 🙂
Wow, that would have been scary without the screens. My aunt had something similar happen to her but unfortunately it was in a balm she put on and she got stung outside.