Make Your Own Insect Repellent

by Daisy


This is an insect repellent for the skin. I’m not going to misrepresent–for me, it isn’t the holy grail of natural repellents which would last indefinitely and be 100% bugproof. I keep a bottle in my back pocket and reapply frequently and I still get the occasional bite. I do like it, though. In a weird way the fact that it fades after about half an hour can be an advantage because by the time I go back inside the odor fades in time and I don’t end up smelling like bug spray for the rest of the day. If I’m out for longer I just keep spraying if I see the need. With other sprays (or Skin-So-Soft bath oil) I had to wash if off immediately even if I was only outside for a few minutes.

It may perform better or worse depending on your body chemistry, the kind of bug conditions you face, and other factors.

In a competitive market manufacturers of insect repellents aim for maximum efficacy. Understandable. Without being overly alarmist, I sometimes wonder whether the line between safety to humans and repellence to bugs is somewhat thin. The question here for me becomes a matter of weighing the relative risks. Before West Nile, mosquitoes in my part of the world were mostly an irritation–itchy welts and possible allergies were the results of being unprotected. With West Nile, mosquitoes have become more than an inconvenience. The possibility of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from ticks is another thing to worry about. Personally, I use this spray, cover my ankles, etc., and try to stay out of the worst parts of the yard during insect feeding time (dusk to dawn).

Homemade Insect Spray

1 cup vodka
2 T. aloe vera juice
2 tsp. favorite conditioning liquid oil (soybean, olive, castor, etc.)
1 1/2 tsp. essential oil blend (I use this preblended one)

Combine in a spray bottle and shake before each use. These oils have less staying power than chemicals such as DEET so they need to be reapplied about every 30 minutes or as needed.

You can buy a blend or create your own blend from these oils found to have insect repellent properties.

  • Catnip Oil–mosquitoes
  • Cedarwood Oil–lice, moths
  • Cinnamon Oil–ants
  • Citronella Oil–mosquitoes
  • Clove Oil–mosquitoes
  • Eucalyptus Oil–mosquitoes
  • Geranium Oil–flies, mosquitoes
  • Lavender Oil–mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, flies
  • Lemongrass Oil–mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, flies
  • Litsea Cubeba–mosquitoes
  • Patchouli–gnats
  • Peppermint Oil–lice, spiders, ants
  • Rosemary Oil–fleas, ticks
  • Tea Tree Oil–mosquitoes, lice, ants

Although found in many lists of repellents, I avoid pennyroyal because of its potential toxicity.
All essential oils are best used in dilution. Don’t apply them directly to the skin in full strength.


Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

nancy June 19, 2009 at 6:48 am

TL – once again your timing is impeccable. What is the shelf-life for this? I see it only makes about a cup at a time, but will it last a week in the bottle if we don’t use it up? And I have found that if you do get bit – my dd is the most delicious thing says the mosquito – ice is an excellent anti-itch. We use the little ice pack that goes in her boo-boo bunny. Keep that on the bite for several minutes and it really relieves the itch.

Thanks for this – I’m almost out of the other stuff. Now to buy vodka =)

Shauna June 19, 2009 at 7:24 am

AWESOME! I made the deo and it’s great! Here’s another use for my tea tree oil! WHOOHOO!! Thanks!

Raquel June 19, 2009 at 7:34 am

Thank you so much for this information. I try to avoid chemicals as much as possible. This is perfect for it.

Mother Hen June 19, 2009 at 7:59 am

We’ve tried lots of different factory make and homemade mosquito repellent and have had the best success with apple cider vinegar and water, mixed @ 1 part each. Cheap, easy, effective. And we only smell like pickles for the first minute or so after spraying.

TL June 19, 2009 at 11:08 am

Hey Nancy–It seems unaffected after at least a couple of weeks, although I usually use it up by then. It is kind of refreshing, too. Not as much as an ice cube, though–have to give that a try, thanks!

Vilke June 19, 2009 at 11:22 am

What if Vodka is not an option? Would filtered water be ok?

TL June 19, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I haven’t seen a recipe yet that uses just water, but many substitute oil for the vodka, or use isopropyl rubbing alcohol. I think these help to carry the properties of the essential oil. But never say never–try it in a small amount if you like and see if it works for you!

TL June 19, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Hope you like it, Raquel!

TL June 19, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Tea tree to the rescue again!

Adica June 19, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Ooohh, this looks really nice. It’s funny, because I just read an article on WebMD yesterday debating the chemicals vs. natural bug repellent debate. It said that soy based products and oil of lemon eucalyptus are nearly or just as effective as DEET in repelling insects, with certain soy based products lasting longer than some DEET products.

Sherri June 19, 2009 at 8:46 pm

We just found a product called Mosquito Barrier and it’s main ingredient is garlic oil/juice…. It’s organic and I have to tell you, it works AWESOMELY… We had a REAL problem with skeeters in the moby gardens… it was dreadful. You don’t use much, like 2-3 oz for a gallon of water in a garden sprayer. You just spray it all over, grass, veggies etc. We even put a about 1/4 ounce into a small pint sprayer and use it on us if we’re really going to be out long. But it reduced the skeeters EASILY by 75%. I am SO sold on the stuff. They say after the first time or two, you only need to reapply like once a month. Our old evergreen was a haven for them, and it’s almost fun to spray it and see the swarm take off and scream out of the area!!!

And it’s fun with the garlic and vampire connection…. hahaha!


TL June 19, 2009 at 9:08 pm

That sounds great. I didn’t know they hated garlic that bad. Awesome.

TL June 19, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Yes, use soybean oil for the oil. And then toss in all the best essential oils. And actually smell good instead of chemically.

Alexandra July 30, 2009 at 7:29 pm

I made a similar formula earlier this summer and you know, it works! Mine was heavy on the citronella and neem oil. BTW, this stuff works well as a natural deodorant on really hot days as well.

Pam August 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I have done alot of research for my dogs. All three of them have terrible reactions to fleas and have a horrible experince with dog sprays. I have now come to the conclusion that something drastic needs to take place with these animals exspecialy due to their age. I need help with finding something, a remedy, to spraying my yard and my dogs against mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks that is nontoxic to them. Their skin can not handle the alcohol content any longer. It dries their skin out which causes them to itch even more. I have read that a coconut emulsifier is good to use but can not find out if it’s a coconut alcohol emulsifier. If not an alcohol, where can i find this product to buy. Also, I have read that lemon eucalyputs is the most effective mosquito repellant through the CDC and that juniper oil is good for fleas. Is orange oil better than juniper oil? I would perfer not to use orange oil due to it acidic contents. I need help in determing what is the best oils to mix and how to mix them to get what I need to help my dogs. Can you help me in the conquest?

Tomato Lady August 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Pam–According to the resource (, the best oils for flea repellents are citronella, cedar, peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and lavender.
Essential Wholesale ( has a blend of cypress, cedar, citronella, lemongrass, lavender, and tea tree oils that might make it easier (and cheaper) than buying separate bottles.
For your yard, you might look at this product:
I have never used it myself so I can’t give a testimonial.
Have you searched the forums at Dave’s Garden? They have a discussion on just about every topic.
You might also have some luck with neem oil. It’s a sort of cure-all in some people’s estimations, and generally good for repelling pests while being antibacterial on the skin.
Best of luck with this frustrating problem.

Pam August 15, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Thanks Tomato Lady. I will look into those web sites. I’ll let you know what I find.

Tomato Lady August 15, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Pam–Please do. I’d love to hear if you find something that works.

Mike Tinghitella January 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Try Nutri Shield, it’s properly formulate, all natural, garlic based but doesn’t smell like garlic and considered to be as effective as the best chemical repellents. It just won an award on

Niche Topics February 26, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Thanks for the recipe! I’ll definitely give it a go. I usually rub a bit of olive oil on exposed skin to keep the mozzies away but that only last me about 1-2 hours.

Ashley May 6, 2010 at 5:32 am

For those who don’t always have the time (or all the ingredients) to make their own insect repellent, there is another option. I did some research and learned that Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) is the only plant based ingredient approved by the EPA and Center for Disease Control for insect repellent. It is proven to work as well as DEET but with out all the harmful effects. Cutter and Repel both make an OLE product. I have tried the Cutter product (Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus) and think it works great!

ryan June 9, 2010 at 4:03 pm

I’m going to try this and see how it works.

I liked the reviews of mosquito traps on this blog.

Sometimes it’s nicer to have something permanent, instead of something on your skin.

RobinBird October 13, 2010 at 9:45 am

I live in the high desert of Northern New Mexico, and I am wanting to make an essential oil mixture to spray around my house and sunroom, ans also on my houseplants, for gnats and fruitflies. I had something in the trash recently that attracted a hoard of tiny flying insects, and though what attracted them is long gone, the gnats or whatever just won’t go away!!! Can anyone help? How the u-know-what do I get rid of these little nasty buggers? And, why are they so attracted to my plants and cuttings rooting in my windowsills? Anyone? I’d really appreciate some help!

crystal December 7, 2010 at 12:13 am

A half full canning jar with sugar water in it for the gnats??? Just don’;t let it sit too long as it will ferment.

crystal December 7, 2010 at 12:13 am

or do i mean rot?

Jessica August 28, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I am so bookmarking this! My husband and I get eaten up by mosquitoes every summer and I hate using those chemical filled sprays!

Jelaine Zastrow September 5, 2011 at 5:12 am

Excellent article on a common problem for most people that doesn’t threaten to kill people as well. With that said, I am going to be proactive and get a head start on the scare of bedbugs if the occasion arises. I am looking for homemade, natural products that will erradicate them in a timely manner. I’m told that once they are present is not the time to consider finding a “cure”. Thank you very much. I will watch this website for any news about bedbugs.
Jelaine Zastrow (aka) mirrohero

Raquel March 23, 2012 at 9:35 am

I can second the garlic Mosquito barrier. I had an outdoor wedding in the deep South in early Summer. My father in law sprayed with the garlic just a or so before. I had to stand outside of the “garlic zone” while waiting to walk down the aisle, and the mosquitoes were swarming around me. The second I reached the garlic zone, I didn’t even see one for the rest of the night– and the wedding went right through dusk. It’s amazing stuff.

Raquel March 23, 2012 at 9:36 am

Also, although the smell is strong when spraying, it goes away in an hour or so.

Raquel March 23, 2012 at 9:37 am

Oops, I mean to write “a week or so before”. Also, although the smell is strong when spraying, it goes away in an hour or so. It’s great stuff!

Mike Corbeil May 22, 2012 at 2:50 am

Fine list of essential oils for making insect repellents, but as some readers commented, there’s also garlic. I seached the page to see if there was any mention of some other natural plant sources that can be used and that I’m aware of, but there’s no mention of these, so I’ll add them.

Thyme – I read over the past week that thyme is an effective insect repellent, or the essential oil is anyway. And after having just done a little more Web searching about this, it seems that both thyme essential oil and sprigs can be used. The article in which I read about the sprigs is about using them like we can use cedar wood, which I think is from red cedar, from protecting stored clothing, linens, ….

White cedar – Definitely works for mosquitoes, though I don’t know if it would for other biting insects. Walk into a woodland and if there’re white cedars, which aren’t real cedars, just take some of the leaf, enough to fit between the palms of your hands, and it doesn’t have to be several layers thick, a little will do a lot. Rub with good pressure between the palms and then spread the oil on yourself. It has an excellent aroma and is highly effective. Many people use white cedar to decorate and border their home properties, in southeastern Quebec, Canada, anyway. But trees of white cedar are also found growing in the wild.

Pine oil – I don’t know how it’s obtained, or even if it has to be obtained for only one or a subset of species of pine, but pine oil does work when having the right one(s).

Birch tar – According to readings on the Web over the past few hours, birch tar is extracted from birch tree bark and is effective against mosquitoes, gnats, as well as gastropods (snails & slugs).

Tobacco – I read several years ago that soaking tobacco leaf in water for either several hours or maybe some days will produce a liquid that is an effective insect repellent. People would need to search to learn the details, for I don’t grow tobacco, don’t have access to tobacco leaf, and I read about this several years ago, never since then.

Deer flies :

Very nasty! According to an page I got the link for in the Wikipedia page for “Deer fly”, “citronella” and/or “geraniol are affective” repellents of or for deer flies, which, according to Wikipedia, are in the same family as horse flies, though the latter are more difficult to keep at bay.

Ticks :

According to some of the readings last evening, eucalyptus and peppermint oils are also effective against ticks. There’s also some information about about some rose-related oil, but like for the rest of this post, people need to do the Web searches, since I’m not going to try to provide all of the links, because websites usually refuse to accept such posts. has quite a number of pages on repellents and some seem unacceptable to me, even goofy, but I began to get some based on another Web site’s recipes for tick repellent and the recipes at eHow for this seemed quite ok. For ticks, I’ve, so far, gathered, that essential oils from eucalyptus, peppermint, lavendar, some rose-related oil, and citrus oils are all effective. And I’ll guess that there are probably more. And one article at says that vinegar alone can be used to ward off ticks, just that using only vinegar leaves us stinking of vinegar, so adding some herbal essential oils that have good aromas is helpful.

It’s very simple to do the Web searches. F.e., for ticks, simply using tick and repellent for search terms will turn up plenty of links.

DEET or at least permethrin are also highly effective, but very poisoness, permethrin, if not both, is harmful to both harmful/nuisance insects as well as beneficial ones and we must protect and employ the beneficial ones, and these products aren’t herbal-based, products that’re “natural”, say, anyway; and I want herbal-based deterrents. It’s how Nature has always worked and it’ll work for us as well. We just need to learn what the natural remedies for natural problems that affect us are, say. In wild nature, plants provide protections for each other and it’s one of the great benefits of non-monoculture environments. With the forest exploitation industry in Canada it was learned that the former way of doing replantings was basically disastrous, for replantings were monoculture when the exploited natural forest wasn’t monoculture. This lead to a correction by making sure that replantings were non-monoculture. Without that, problems from harmful insects and diseases can skyrocket, and it surely will happen.

“Sacred Balance” – concept of David Suzuki.


A funny aspect, sometimes anyway, is like with the white cedar. Mosquitoes will land on these trees, but as soon as the essential oils are sensed (whatever the expression should be), then these insects take off as fast as bats trying to get out of hell (if you can imagine a bat finding itself in hell anyway). 🙂 ZERO tolerance for the oil. The mosquitoes can be in very large numbers, but the second you apply this oil to yourself, you’ll wonder where all of the mosquitoes have disappeared to. Blink your eyes and you won’t have time to see them scram, at the speed that they depart. 🙂 I loved that experience.

Again, the oil is essential for repulsion of insects with white cedar and apparently some other plants that have oils that repulse insects. White cedar evidently isn’t a problem for mosquitoes until they get sent of the oil, but I’ve read that some plants, whole form, while still growing, provide repellent qualities. It’s a lot of information and apparently isn’t all available at any particular website. There’s a lot of variance. Information doesn’t seem to be complete at any website I’ve read at or from, so it takes hours of searching. You’ll find some Web pages at some websites saying there’s little insect repellence quality with the white cedar, some, but little quality; but I experienced its effectiveness in a forest in Ontario, Canada, and it was very effective at least against mosquitoes, and any other flying biting insects in that woodland that we spent a day in. I saw the effect with mosquitoes, but they were gone faster than bats can try to fly out of hell, and I didn’t see another flying insect for the following hours that we were there. It might not be published information in any formal way, but I know what I experienced and that suits me fine enough.

In southeastern Quebec, Canada, anyway, a lot of people with houses, also apartment buildings, have what’s commonly called cedar hedges and I recently learned that these are actually white cedar. What the commonly called cedars are growing in Quebec forests, now that’s something I wonder about. Is it all white cedar, or are there real cedars here? According to Wikipedia, cedar is not native here. There would be trees called cedars, but not cedrus, not natively anyway.

Doesn’t matter. Many wild plants have antibacterial, antifungal, anti-insect, … properties. And that has been a great benefit to multi-culture wilderness.

How do we repel horse flies though? There’re apparently ways to repel deer flies, which are of the same biological family, but horse flies are more difficult to repel. I’ve had few encounters with them, but when they’re around, it’s nice to be someplace else. No wonder horses and cattle don’t like these flies. Deer flies are also nasty, but, and while I’ve been bothered by them more than hose flies, I prefer to deal with the deer flies. Sneaky buggers though. They land on your skin and it’s in stealth fashion. You don’t notice they were there, until they take off. Nasty. My immune system has stood up well against them, but my brother got stung, or whatever it’s called with deer flies, in an eye lid, and his eye area swelled up so much that I don’t think he could see through that eye anymore. It was massive swelling. I’ve never had that kind of extreme reaction to insect bites and have been bitten, stung, … whatever by far more than he has been, so I’ve been lucky. Still, horse flies, deer flies, mosquitoes, gnats, black flies, …, we definitely aren’t going to become friends, that’s for sure. But they won’t prevent me from outdoors even if I have no repellent, unless I was going to go to heavily infested areas. In those cases, I would definitely be using protective repellent, or else I wouldn’t be there for more than few minutes; seconds, in the very worst areas.

Ever hear of the deer fly trap? One can be fitted on top of a cap we wear on our heads, even. Doesn’t really or seriously work for horse flies, but apparently works for deer flies. Seach the Web for deer fly trap and be entertained while learning about this method of protection. There’s a page at, and related, enough, info. at, plus the short, but related page at Wikipedia, the page for “Deer fly”.

Adebola Fajimolu July 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Does anyone have a do it yourself remedy for roaches that work? I will greatl appreciate it. Tired of. Spending too much money on sprays that don’t work.

Mike Corbeil July 30, 2013 at 12:03 am


Did you try a Web search? If not, then it’s the first thing to do, for it often provides answers much more quickly than waiting for people to reply to questions posted in comments sections of websites.

I just tried a Web searching using cockroaches, repellent and natural for search terms, and the first link returned for me is for the page entitled, “Natural Insect Pest Control”, at At the top of the page there’re links to jump to different parts of the page, each part being for a different insect and one is for cockroaches. The tips provided are simple and surely things most people can readily do.

The “Role as pests” part of the Wikipedia page for cockroach provides some tips.

“Natural Cockroach Control – Keep them Out with Essential Oils!” at provides a very simple recipe consisting of cypress and peppermint essential oils plus salt water, though I wonder if peppermint wouldn’t be enough. I’d probably try a diluted solution made of water and Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint soap, which is in concentrated liquid form.

“How to get Rid of Cockroaches in the Kitchen Naturally and for Good” at says that washing floors with vinegar provides a temporary solution but also says that “Vinegar is an extremely effective roach repellent”.

“Cockroaches – The Environmentally Friendly Pest Control Series” is a PDF at, which is the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. It’s a short article by Dr. Robert Stauffer and provides tips I’d definitely want to try.

I’d probably give Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint soap, the concentrated liquid one, a try and Dr. Stauffer’s PDF provides simple instructions for how much of this soap to add to water, 3 oz. per gallon of water. If it’s like it was when I tried it around 1995, then beware, for peppermint is very strong and this soap needs to be diluted. Use it for body wash with caution, diluting it even more; unless you like to feel like you’re on fire. It’s a great disinfectant, so it’ll make a good dish soap, but if washing dishes with bare hands, then the soap needs to be properly diluted. For washing around the house or appartment, this soap, diluted, will work, but vinegar would be much less expensive and would work.

One thing I wonder about is the use of lemon peel, including the pulp. An aunt used this back in the 1970s at her cottage that was being invaded by small ants and they couldn’t stand the presence of the lemon peel. She just removed the peel, cut it into halves or quarters and placed some on her kitchen counter top where ants were found. They were gone in no time and I wonder if this might work for cockroaches.

Kirsten Mcculloch September 15, 2013 at 11:23 pm

Hi Daisy,

Where you say “1 1/2 tsp. essential oil blend (I use this preblended one)” there’s no link to the preblended one… What do you use these days?

Daisy September 16, 2013 at 5:16 am

Kirsten Mcculloch–Yes, looks like they’ve completely redone their website. Here is the link:
Thanks for pointing it out!

Kirsten Mcculloch September 16, 2013 at 6:52 am

Thanks Daisy, I appreciate it 🙂

Gracies Mom May 18, 2014 at 9:31 am

What is safe to use on cats, they are awful carriers of unwanted pests too. In fact when my dogs have brought in fleas from outside to my indoor cats, I had a worse time getting rid of the fleas on my cats than I ever did my dogs. Thanks.

Kay-Marie May 27, 2014 at 8:41 am

We used this in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during a biting fly season that cleared out 2 campgrounds. One of the rangers was so impressed he asked for the recipe because we were hiking alone with out the torture of those nasty little pests. We used 1 teaspoon 0f citronella I tablespoon of lemongrass oil, (We tried using less, but the biting flies are Very tenacious and aggressive, I tsp cedar wood, (For chiggers that burrow under your skin, and last, but not least, rosemary oil for ticks. (Ticks are carriers of Lime Disease.) I know this is a strong solution, but we are talking the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan, where the insects can be industrious, and aggressive. We love “Da UP, and thank God for this spray because now we can really enjoy the rugged and wonderful Porcupine Mountains.

Daisy May 27, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Kay-Marie–That is potent! It probably even scared away the bears! Good for you!

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