Warm weather always brings with it the need for a good mosquito repellent. Some of us prefer homemade products to potentially-unsafe chemicals like DEET, especially for small children, who can’t resist scratching mosquito bites when they have them. We’ve included here a few options for all-natural, homemade bug spray recipes to use as an alternative.

What’s Wrong with Commercial Bug Spray?

While the EPA’s 1998 and 2014 determinations about DEET indicated that “it does not present a health concern to the general population, including children,” their list of warnings and precautions is extensive. N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, the typical ingredient for commercial bug spray, has been shown to affect muscle control, strength and coordination in studies performed on rats. According to Dr. Abou Donia, DEET caused “neurons to die in regions of the brain that control muscle movement, learning, memory and concentration” (source). Children are at a higher risk for such effects because their skin absorbs the chemicals more readily.

Additionally, as of 2018 the EPA has not completed an endocrine disruptor screening on DEET, so the effects of the chemical on our bodies’ hormone systems remain unknown. Natural recipes are the inexpensive, safe alternative—and you can make them at home.

Homemade Bug Spray Recipes

The following all-natural homemade bug spray recipe takes almost no time to mix up and is adjustable based on what ingredients you have available. Try whichever variation you have the ingredients for.

Essential Oil Recipe

The best homemade recipe uses highly effective essential oils for natural insect protection. It may be better for clothing and gear than direct skin application, because there are concerns about applying these oils to the skin, particularly on children.

Citronella, clove, eucalyptus, cedar, catnip, geranium, lavender, mint, lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, and cajeput are all essential oils that have insect-repelling properties. Any combination will work; 100 drops total of essential oils is enough. If you don’t have some of these oils you can leave them out and add more of the others. Here is one suggestion for an effective essential oil recipe.


  • 30 drops geranium
  • 30 drops citronella
  • 20 drops lemon eucalyptus
  • 20 drops lavender
  • 10 drops rosemary
  • 1 TBSP vodka or rubbing alcohol
  • ½ cup natural witch hazel
  • ½ cup water (or vinegar)
  • 1 TSP vegetable glycerin (optional)


  1. Place essential oils in a glass spray bottle. Add vodka or alcohol and shake well.
  2. Add witch hazel and shake.
  3. Add 1/2 TSP vegetable glycerin if using. This helps everything stay combined.
  4. Add water and shake again.

Make sure you shake before each use as oil and water naturally separate when left still. Keep the bottle by the external door you most frequently used, and perhaps another in your first aid kit for camping and hiking.

Herbs Recipe

You can use dried herbs and witch hazel or vinegar instead of essential oils for an all-natural homemade bug spray recipe. This variation is typically less expensive but not as potent as the oils. The ingredients include:

  • Distilled water
  • Witch hazel or rubbing alcohol
  • Dried herbs: peppermint, spearmint, citronella, lemongrass, etc. At least one mint herb is recommended for repellent.


  1. Boil 1 cup of water and add 3-4 TBSP dried herbs in any combination of the above. We suggest 1 TBSP each of peppermint, spearmint, catnip and lavender, and add in a couple of dried cloves.
  2. Mix well, cover and let cool. Covering will keep the volatile oils in.
  3. Strain herbs out and mix water with 1 cup witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. Store in a spray bottle in a cool place such as the fridge.
  4. Use as needed.

This recipe smells great, and can be adjusted to make it even more effective by preparing the herbs in an alcohol mixture (rather than boiling water) instead and using the spray immediately after straining out the herbs.

Vinegar Tick and Insect Repellent Recipe

Though smelly when wet, this inexpensive recipe works extremely well and is the best option for traversing deep woods or other tick-infested areas. Bonus: you probably already have the ingredients in your kitchen!


  • 1 32oz bottle of apple cider vinegar
  • 2 TBSP each of dried sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme, and mint
  • Quart-size or larger jar with airtight lid


  • Add vinegar and herbs into large glass jar
  • Seal tightly and store on counter, or somewhere you will see it daily. Shake well each day for 2-3 weeks.
  • Strain the herbs out and refrigerate in spray or tincture bottles
  • Use as necessary

This recipe is very strong and has antiviral and antibacterial properties, so it can be used as a tincture for illnesses. 1TBSP for adults in water several times a day; 1 TSP for kids in water several times a day.

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