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A guide to natural bug repellent with essential oils

When we need to send those pesky bugs a clear message they’re not invited to our party, we like to use essential oils to make natural bug repellent. This post will tell you why we like natural bug sprays, which essential oils to use, safety considerations to be aware of, and (of course!) some great […]

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When we need to send those pesky bugs a clear message they’re not invited to our party, we like to use essential oils to make natural bug repellent. This post will tell you why we like natural bug sprays, which essential oils to use, safety considerations to be aware of, and (of course!) some great recipes to make DIY natural bug repellent that smells amazing!

Why use natural bug repellent?

When we need to protect ourselves from itchy bites, stings, and insect-borne illnesses, natural bug repellent offers a safer alternative to the chemical-laden bug repellents on the market. Here’s what we like about using natural bug repellents:
  • Non-toxic ingredients are safer on your clothing and skin
  • No scary chemicals to inhale, compromise your immunity, or stir up your allergies
  • They work!

How do natural bug repellents work?

Plants have natural defenses to protect themselves from harmful invaders like fungus, bacteria, and insects. The naturally occurring oils contained in the leaves, stems, bark, wood, and flowers of some plants help to keep the plants healthy. These are the essential oils! These oils also have potent properties that we can use to our advantage. When used safely and applied properly, essential oils can repel insects just as effectively as any commercial insect repellent. Here’s how we can use them:
  • Repellent spray for your clothing or skin
  • Diffuser to repel insects in an entire room or space
  • DIY beeswax candles to repel pests from your outdoor areas
  • Lotion for a diluted skin-safe application
You can get creative with your own ways to defend your summer fun from insects. We’ve included a few recipes at the end to help get you started!

Which essential oils to use in natural bug repellent

If you want to use natural bug repellent with essential oils, you need to know which oils are the most helpful. Here are some of our favorite oils for discouraging insects!
Best essential oils for natural bug repellent
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How to make DIY bug spray with hydrosols

Sometimes, you might not want to use essential oils in your natural bug spray. Maybe the essential oils are too strong for your nose, or you’re going to blend for children or pets and don’t want something so highly concentrated. (We’ll talk more about that below, in the Essential Oil Safety section.) For now, allow us to introduce you to hydrosols! What’s a hydrosol? When an aromatic plant is steam distilled, it’s placed in a still with water. Then the still is heated. The heat releases the plant’s essential oil . . . and the water itself becomes infused with therapeutic, aromatic properties. The steam becomes the hydrosol! Hydrosols are very gentle, and yet rich with therapeutic properties. They are just right when we don’t want to use essential oils! Here are a few hydrosols we love for natural bug repellent recipes!
  • Catnip Hydrosol (Nepeta cataria)
  • Eucalyptus Hydrosol (Eucalyptus globulus)
  • Rose Geranium Hydrosol (Pelargonium spp)
  • Lavender Hydrosol (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Peppermint Hydrosol (Mentha × piperita)
  • Thyme Hydrosol (Thymus vulgaris)
Here’s how to use hydrosols in your natural bug repellent:
  • Mix a couple of hydrosols from the list above in a (PET) plastic or glass bottle with an atomizer for a repellent spray that can go with you.
  • Boost your hydrosol with a few drops of essential oil. Try our Solubol dispersant to help dissolve the oils into the hydrosol, and keep your blend skin safe. Follow the recommended dilution ratios here.

Essential oil safety

This part is important! Let’s go over a few safety considerations for using essential oils on your skin, for children, and for pets.

Skin

Some essential oils might cause skin irritation, sensitization, or phototoxic reactions. Look for dilution recommendations, potential phototoxicity, and medication contraindications when you’re purchasing your oils.
  • Use oils that may cause skin irritation or sensitization in low dilutions. 6 drops in 1 oz. of carrier is a 1% dilution, and that’s a good place to start.
  • Phototoxic oils should be highly diluted if applied to skin exposed to sunlight. A “phototoxic” oil can cause skin reactions if it’s applied topically, and then that skin is exposed to sunlight or a tanning bed. Many citrus essential oils are phototoxic.
You can find safe dilution ratios in the “Safety & Shelf Life” sections of the product pages. For easy reference, here are some safe drop counts for the following phototoxic oils:
  • Lemon Oil (Citrus limon) — Use 12 drops or less per 1 oz of carrier
  • Bergamot Oil (Citrus bergamia) — Use 1 or 2 drops or less per 1 oz of carrier (Bergamot is VERY phototoxic!)
  • Grapefruit Oil (Citrus paradisi) — Use 24 drops or less per 1 oz of carrier
  • Lime Oil (cold-pressed) (Citrus aurantifolia) — Use 4 drops or less per 1 oz of carrier.
(Please note that only cold-pressed lime is phototoxic. Our lime essential oil is steam distilled, which removes the phototoxic components. But be sure to check the production method of your lime oil, and be careful with any lime essential oil that has been cold pressed!)

Using essential oils for children

Little kids are . . . well . . . little! Their systems are smaller and more responsive than grown-ups’. When we’re using essential oils for children, we like to be very selective about using gentle essential oils. We also reduce the dilution ratios, so kids don’t get overwhelmed with too much essential oil. We suggest using essential oils for children who are at least five years old. For younger kids and babies, we like to stick with hydrosols. A few of our favorite essential oils to reduce bug bites for children are:
  • Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
  • Eucalyptus Citriodora Oil (Eucalyptus citriodora)
  • Cedarwood Oil (Juniperus virginiana)
Start with a 1% dilution, which is 6 drops of essential oil in 1 oz. of carrier.

Protect your pets from bugs!

We all want to protect our furry friends from pests! However, we can’t recommend using essential oils for animals. Research is still ongoing in that area. But there’s good news! You can use hydrosols for dogs and cats! When using hydrosols for your beloved pets, less is more. Use them in low dilutions, as animals are far more sensitive to their effects than humans. Here are a few tips! Tips for using hydrosols for pets
  • Use hydrosols with caution. Some animals react differently than others.
  • Let your dog or cat choose the hydrosols by smelling them first. If they pull away and react like they do not like the smell, choose a different hydrosol.
  • Start small! Use just a few sprays, and observe your pet’s behavior to ensure they don’t have any adverse reactions.
  • Try using the hydrosols around the animal (instead of on the animal) to give your pet the ability to get away from the hydrosol if it is bothering them.
  • Making a natural bug repellent diffuser blend or a homemade citronella candle is an excellent option if your pet doesn’t like the hydrosols. Again, be sure your pet is free to leave the area if the scent gets overwhelming for them.

Which hydrosols are safe for pets?

We like these hydrosols to help repel mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks for our dogs and cats:
  • Catnip Hydrosol (Nepeta cataria) (Cats LOVE this hydrosol! Just a spritz or two is enough to send them into kitty heaven!)
  • Peppermint Hydrosol (Mentha × piperita)
  • Lavender Hydrosol (Lavandula angustifolia)
NOTE: Do not use hydrosols on dogs or cats younger than 10 weeks old.

When you get bit: Natural bug bite relief

In spite of our best efforts, sometimes bug bites happen. Thankfully, many essential oils and hydrosols can calm itchiness, and restore a feeling of cool comfort around painful bites and stings! These are our favorites:
  • Blue Tansy Oil (Tanacetum annuum)
  • Chamomile Roman Oil (Chamaemelum nobile)
  • Helichrysum Italicum Oil (Croatia) (Helichrysum italicum)
  • Lavender Oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Peppermint Oil (Mentha × piperita)
  • Rose and Geranium Oil (Rosa × damascena/pelargonium × asperum)
  • Spike Lavender Oil (Lavandula latifolia)
  • Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Add any of these oils (or several, to enhance the effect) to a carrier oil of your choice such as aloe vera gel, coconut oil, jojoba oil, marula oil, or unscented lotion. Try adding 6 drops of some of these oils to 10 ml of jojoba in a roller bottle. Now you have a portable applicator that can go anywhere with you to ease the itch!

Five natural bug repellent recipes

Save your summer activities from aggravating insects with your own DIY natural bug repellent with essential oils! Below are some recipes to help you get started, but don’t hesitate to try your own blends. (If you do, let us know what they are!) And remember, some essential oils can leave oily spots or stains on clothing, so use your best judgment when spraying them on your clothes. We suggest trying them on dark-colored clothing first.
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