Natural Insect Repellents

Learn about these simple homemade natural insect repellents and nontoxic recipes for soothing bug bites to keep pests at bay.

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by Superzoom

Learn about these simple homemade natural insect repellents and nontoxic recipes for soothing bug bites to keep pests at bay.

Being outdoors during the summer months will inevitably lead to encounters with flying and crawling insects. Both desirable and undesirable bugs are constantly battling it out in our yards. All gardens have bugs that help and bugs that harm. Some of the beneficial ones that can be found in your garden are dragonflies, ladybugs, and ground beetles. They feed on plant-destroying critters, such as aphids, caterpillars, and spider mites. This is nature’s way of keeping our environment well-balanced.

Bugs can also bug us. We all know how irritating a hungry mosquito is or how destructive a colony of ants can be.

While many insect repellents are on the market today, most of which contain synthetic chemicals and fragrances, functional alternatives also exist, including homemade options.

Insects use a multitude of inputs to locate their targets: carbon dioxide gradients, colors, and scents. You can use this information to make your body and home less enticing to flying and biting pests: Keep your home clean; dress in light, bright colors; and use scents that are unattractive to bugs, such as citronella, lemon, eucalyptus, and cinnamon. Many repellents are based on these scents, so if you’re sensitive to strong smells, try spraying fabric and doorways rather than your body. You could also light candles away from where you’re located to lure bugs toward the carbon dioxide the candles emit. Try tucking fresh herbs inside floral arrangements; mint, lavender, and basil are good options.

A little boy holding a plant wearing a white t-shirt.

Finally, you’ll want to check your garden and yard for standing water. Mosquitoes are especially attracted to moisture, which is where they reproduce. Even a small amount, such as a puddle or an overwatered flower pot, will attract them. As a preventative, dump any and all standing water.

Plant-Based Natural Insect Repellents

Here are some popular natural and effective repellents you can try in your own home and garden.

Citronella. One of the most popular and common natural insecticides is citronella. It’s sold in candles, incense, lotions, and oils. Extracted from citronella grass, which is in the lemongrass genus (Cymbopogon), the oil has a lemony scent that repels insects. You can purchase citronella essential oil and add a few drops to your favorite sunscreen or body lotion. You can also purchase citronella-scented plants at your local garden store and plant them in your yard or in containers next to doorways.

Eucalyptus. Many flying pests, such as flies and mosquitoes, don’t like the scent of these trees. They’re often planted around fruit orchards to act as natural windbreaks and insect repellents. If you don’t have a eucalyptus tree in your yard, you can purchase eucalyptus essential oil or fresh-cut greens from your local health food store. Mix a few drops of essential oil into a cup of water to create a lightly scented spray for your hair and skin. You could also use this spray around your garden to eliminate flying pests.

Mint. Mint is another fresh, clean scent that wards off ants and flies. It’s easy to grow or to find at your local market. Basil and bay leaves also work equally well.

Cloves and coffee grounds. Ants can’t stand the scent of either cloves or used coffee grounds, so sprinkle used coffee grounds around your plants and outside your doorways. This will also help your garden grow, as most plants like a bit of acid added to the soil. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, check with a local shop and ask them to set aside some of their used grounds for you.

Clove oil is also a safe and effective way to rid your home of ants. You can make your own clove oil by soaking a few clove buds in a small amount of natural oil. You may also purchase more concentrated clove essential oil at your local natural food store.

Bug Bite Soother

If you do get bitten by an insect, you can soothe yourself and your skin by making a paste of baking soda, water, and a little lemon juice. This old-fashioned remedy is especially helpful for bee and wasp stings.

Lemon and a bowl of baking soda on a table

Egg white applied to the skin should also relieve the itch of insect stings and bites, as should a poultice made of plantain (Plantago major).

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Simple, Homemade Bug Spray
Herb-Infused Bug Spray
Insect-Repelling Essential Oils
Bug-Off Skin Balm

Janice Cox is the author of Natural Beauty at Home. She has been making her own cosmetic products out of simple home and garden ingredients for more than 40 years. She’s turned her passion for DIY beauty into a full-time career and is a well-known natural beauty expert. She lives in Medford, Oregon.