Healthy Living Blog

Natural Insect Repellants

Tina Miller, MS RDN Meijer Healthy Living Advisor,

A relatively mild winter can mean more mosquitoes and pesky bugs in the spring and summer. While there are many insect repellents to choose from, natural plant-based repellents are becoming more popular in lieu of synthetic alternatives. Natural repellents smell better, are more eco-friendly, and safer than synthetic repellents. Some insects may carry viruses, such as West Nile, Zika or Lyme Disease, and it’s important to make sure your repellent is effective and long-lasting.

Lemon eucalyptus is one effective and well-researched plant product1 used to repel insects. Derived from the leaves of the tree, Corymbia citriodora, PMD (or para-menthane-3,8-diol) can repel mosquitoes as effectively at DEET for up to eight hours. In fact, CDC advocates use PMD-lemon eucalyptus in disease epidemic areas because of its proven clinical efficacy to prevent malaria.

Citronella oil is another effective and familiar repellent. Citronella-based repellents will protect from mosquitoes for about two hours, requires frequent reapplication and isn’t as effective as lemon eucalyptus. Other essential oils that may help repel insects include lavender, peppermint, citrus (lemon and orange), patchouli (mint family), tea tree, cedarwood, rose geranium, garlic, clove, and camphor.

And don’t forget your furry friends! Cedarwood, eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree and orange (citrus) essential oils can be used to fight off fleas and ticks.

Essential oils are very concentrated and should not be used directly on your skin or on your pet’s fur. Small amounts can be mixed with carrier or base oils such as jojoba, almond, grape seed, or avocado oil (organic is recommended). Adding a few drops of vitamin E oil can help protect essential oil blends and extend shelf life. For the elderly, pregnant women and small children, use more dilute essential oil blends.

You can also make your own natural bug sprays. Mix essential oils with distilled water and a little alcohol (rubbing alcohol, witch hazel or vodka) to help keep the oils emulsified and extend shelf life. Then, you can mix in a darker colored spray bottle and shake before use. Protect your essential oils from breaking down by storing oils and blends away from heat and UV light sources.

Homemade Bug Repellent:

  • 1/2 cup distilled water
  • 1/4 cup witch hazel
  • 1-2 teaspoons alcohol (rubbing alcohol or vodka)
  • 15 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 10 drops lemon or citrus blend essential oil
  • 5-8 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 5-8 drops lavendar essential oil

Optional: 5 drops clove or cinnamon essential oil

Add water, witch hazel and alcohol to a dark-colored spray bottle; shake gently to mix. Add oils one at a time; shake well and spray.

Don’t let pesky insects get in the way of your spring and summer!

More ideas on Making your own bug spray. If you prefer to stay away from pesticides, DEET containing bug sprays may not be on your summer shopping list. But, by using a mixture of essential oils as an alternative bug spray, you’ll detract mosquitoes and smell a whole lot better. Find recipes here.

To make your own bug spray you will need:

  • A 16 oz. spray bottle
  • Distilled H2O
  • Essential oils of your choice

Mosquitoes hate essential oils. We’ve provided a list of popular essential oils used in natural bug sprays and a sample recipe that shows you how to combine them.

  • citronella
  • eucalyptus
  • tea tree
  • lavender
  • peppermint
  • vanilla
  • cypress
  • rose geranium
  • bergamot
  • lemon

Combine the following in a 16 oz. bottle:

  • 15 drops lavender essential oil
  • 15 drops citronella essential oil
  • 3 Tbsp. of vanilla extract (organic, non-GMO)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • Fill the rest of the bottle with distilled water

Shake your mixture until everything is blended. Store in a dark place.

*Bonus tip: Get crafty and make your own candles using citronella oil for your next picnic or around the yard.


1American Botanical Council,,