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Easy Homemade Bug Spray

Affiliate Disclosure | in DIY Beauty | by | with 102 Comments

  Homemade Bug Spray - Safe for kids and pregnant/nursing mamas

Jack Frost skipped us this winter . . .

And you can guess what that means! Oh yes, instead of dying off, the mosquitoes from last season are establishing rotary clubs, swimming pool kiddie programs, and regular appearances at the state fair. Plump, hungry mamas are scuttling their babies to the juiciest joints in search of a quick meal. Commando-inspired teens are planning ambushes just outside your back porch. Wise, energy conserving grandmosquitos are retiring to local parks where the living is easy.

It would almost be sweet if they weren’t planning to dine on YOU. No worries, though! I have a few suggestions for keeping the skeeters (and other bugs) at bay this year. But first, there a few things we need to cover:

Should I mix my essential oils with oil or water?

It’s really up to you. Water-based formulas can be sprayed on skin or clothing without causing oiliness. On the other hand, oil-based formulas require fewer applications than water-based versions because they last longer. Lotion lasts longer than water-based formulas and is less oily than oil-based formulas, but it’s not as easy to apply. I’ve included options for all three below.

Are these recipes safe for kids?

Yes, these recipes are safe for kids over two. Also, though I don’t apply them directly to my 16-month olds skin, I do spray his clothes when we are going to be in an area that has lots of bugs.

What about pregnant and nursing moms?

Yes, these recipes are safe to use during pregnancy and nursing. However, many experts urge women to be cautious about application during the first trimester. If it were me, I’d probably opt to just spray my clothes during that period.

Special note on dilution ratios: For general use, a topical dilution of 1% is usually recommended during pregnancy – the typical dilution suggested for adults is 2.5%. However, there are instances when a higher dilution ratio is considered appropriate, such as to repel bugs. The recipes below range in dilution from a little under 2% for the water-based formulas to just over 3% for the oil-based versions. If I were pregnant/nursing and using these everyday I would probably either dilute them more or just spray them on my clothes. However, if I was just using them occasionally I would go with the recipe as it is.

Homemade Bug Spray (Easiest Version)

This recipe is super easy because it uses a pre-made essential oil blend formulated especially for repelling creepy crawly things. It’s cost-effective, too, because you only need to buy one bottle of essential oils rather than four or five. I spritz this blend on my little ones when they play at dusk, because that’s when the skeeters come out.

Water-Based Spray Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces apple cider vinegar, witch hazel or vodka
  • 2 ounces water
  • 40 drops ban-the-bugs essential oil synergy (specially formulated for children ages 2-10, but also good for adults)
  • Optional – one squirt of castile soap to help distribute the oil better (about 1/4 teaspoon)

To Make

Because essential oils don’t mix well with water, start by adding them to the apple cider vinegar, witch hazel or vodka. Add a squirt of castile soap if desired and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes before giving the mixture a stir. This will disperse the essential oils in the liquid. Add water and pour into a spray bottle, preferably one made of glass or PET plastic. (Essential oils can leach chemicals from some plastics, and we don’t want that!)

Store in the fridge when not in use. Should last 2-3 months.

To Use

Shake well before use. Spray on skin or clothes before going outside.

Oil-Based Spray Recipe

  • 2 ounces liquid oil such as jojoba (which is non-greasy), olive, etc.
  • 35-40 drops ban-the-bugs essential oil synergy (specially formulated for children ages 2-10, but also good for adults)

To Make

Mix oil and essential oils together and add to a spray bottle, or better yet an oil mister that is less likely to clog. Store in a cool, dark area when not in use. Should last 2-3 months. (Is this shelf life correct, Lea?)

To Use

Spray directly on skin before going outdoors.

Bug Spray Recipe - Safe for kids and pregnant/nursing mamas

Homemade Citronella Bug Spray

This version is also considered safe for children over two and pregnant/nursing mamas.

Water-Based Spray Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces apple cider vinegar, witch hazel or vodka
  • 2 ounces water
  • 15 drops citronella essential oil
  • 15 drops cedarwood atlas or cedarwood virginia
  • 10 drops geranium
  • Optional addition (NOT for kids – just adults who are not pregnant or nursing) 2 drops catnip essential oil*

*According to researchers, “nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip that gives the plant its characteristic odor, is about ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET — the compound used in most commercial insect repellents.” (source)

To Make

Because essential oils don’t mix well with water, start by adding them to the apple cider vinegar, witch hazel or vodka. Add a squirt of castile soap if desired and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes before giving the mixture a stir. This will disperse the essential oils in the liquid. Add water and pour into a spray bottle, preferably one made of glass or PET plastic. (Essential oils can leach chemicals from some plastics, and we don’t want that!)

Store in the fridge when not in use. Should last 2-3 months.

To Use

Shake well before use. Spray on skin or clothes before going outside.

Oil-Based Spray Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces liquid oil such as jojoba (which is non-greasy), olive, etc.
  • 15 drops citronella essential oil
  • 15 drops cedarwood atlas or cedarwood virginia
  • 10 drops geranium bourbon essential oil (where to buy it)

To Make

Mix oil and essential oils together and add to a spray bottle, or better yet an oil mister that is less likely to clog. Store in a cool, dark area when not in use. Should last 2-3 months.

To Use

Spray directly on skin before going outdoors.

Homemade Patchouli Bug Spray

Water-Based Spray Recipe

  • 4 ounces apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, or vodka* OR a dry oil such as jojoba
  • 15 drops patchouli essential oil
  • 15 drops cedarwood atlas or cedarwood virginia
  • 10 drops geranium bourbon essential oil (where to buy it)

To Make

Because essential oils don’t mix well with water, start by adding them to the apple cider vinegar, witch hazel or vodka. Add a squirt of castile soap if desired and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes before giving the mixture a stir.  This will disperse the essential oils in the liquid. Add water and pour into a spray bottle, preferably one made of glass or PET plastic. (Essential oils can leach chemicals from some plastics, and we don’t want that!)

Store in the fridge when not in use. Should last 2-3 months.

To Use

Shake well before use. Spray on skin or clothes before going outside.

Oil-Based Spray Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces liquid oil such as jojoba (which is non-greasy), olive, etc.
  • 13 drops geranium bourbon essential oil (where to buy it)
  • 13 drops cedarwood atlas or cedarwood virginia
  • 13 drops patchouli essential oil

To Make

Mix oil and essential oils together and add to a spray bottle, or better yet an oil mister that is less likely to clog. Store in a cool, dark area when not in use. Should last 2-3 months.

To Use

Spray directly on skin before going outdoors.

Other Options For Pregnant Women

Peppermint is okay for pregnant women, but is not recommended for nursing mamas because if a baby breathes it in while close to mom it can cause respiratory distress. Tea tree and lemon can also be used while pregnant or nursing, but lemon can cause photosensitivity so don’t use it if you are going to be in direct sunlight.

Got Ticks?

I have a recipe specifically geared toward repelling ticks here.

Do you a natural bug repellant recipe or tip?

Please share it below!

* some vodka is made from genetically modified corn. If you plan to use vodka and want to avoid GMO’s, organic is best.

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102 Responses to Easy Homemade Bug Spray

  1. Nicole Rice via FB says:

    How many ways does mommypotamus rock? Let me count thy ways!

  2. Kimberly Culver via FB says:

    Do you have a way to pin this on pinterest?

  3. Awww shucks, Nicole Rice! Honestly, though, the credit goes to my cousin Jen. I never research personal products anymore . . . I just ask her!

  4. Kimberly Culver – Definitely! There is a little “Pin It” icon just above the photo. Pin away!

  5. Kimberly Culver via FB says:

    Hmm didn’t see it. Will look again” thanks!

  6. Maure Eichelberg Creager via FB says:

    Thanks! Do you have a recommendation for a non-toxic bug repellent for indoors? I would like to help the spiders and ants not want to come inside..

    • Sandy Arthur says:

      I don’t know about spiders, but we have HORRIBLE ants! I’ve found they don’t like clove, peppermint, cinnamon essential oils. I just drip oil of choice on a qtip and run it along where they’ve been coming in and over their trails. It only works for a couple days though. They also don’t like stepping across chalk and I’ve heard diomaceous earth also works well.

      • Cindy says:

        To keep spiders and ants out, also small rodents, use Wormwood. It doesn’t smell bad to me but this is what I use at our cottage, on a shallow lake, infested with crawly things. Wormwood is one of the herbs used in the “rushes” on castle hall floors to keep bugs down.

  7. angie h says:

    Is this safe to use on dogs? I know animals have different sensitivities to essential oils then we do. Thanks!

  8. Nicole Rice via FB says:

    LOL- isn’t the internet a wonderful thing though? So much info at your fingertips! I’m making “hairspray” today! Who would have thought that was even possible???? If I like it- I’ll post it :-D

  9. LeeandMaia Forde via FB says:

    Is it the peppermint oil that makes the last not good for use during pregnancy or the potency? Just wondering. ;) I have peppermint oil, although I haven’t used it this pregnancy. :)

  10. Tori says:

    So do you just rub this on as you would spray on repellent?

  11. Connie says:

    Great information to know, but because you have catnip essential oil in one of your recipes, I felt it important to note that essential oils can very quickly become toxic to cats because they lack the enzymes to properly metabolise them.

    http://essentialoilworld.com/essentialoilreviews/pet-health/essential-oil-safety-with-cats

  12. Leah says:

    We’ve used vodka as a base in our insect repellent instead of water. I always assumed that this would help it keep longer, but I’d definitely prefer the cheaper route of purified water! Do you know the shelf life of your recipes?

  13. Mosquitos are always awful by our house and I’m afraid this year is going to be even worse, so we are going to build a bat house! It’s not exactly a bug repellant, but I’ve heard that it can really help control the population of bugs. *crosses fingers*

    • Lori B. says:

      We used to be covered in mosquitos in Georgia. Bats, ponds filled with frogs, make a habitat that birds like, keep gutters clean & remove any english ivy you may have. Mosquitoes love that stuff.

  14. LeeandMaia Forde via FB says:

    Thanks! Bummer! I’ll have to wait until August for that one! ;)

    • Alexis D says:

      Do you have a link of all the essential oils we have to avoid during pregnancy? Because I was not aware that peppermint oil was off limits!

  15. Natalie says:

    That’s awesome! THANK YOU!!! I was cringing thinking of having to put bug spray on my kids this summer. I wonder if it repels ticks, they are supposed to be real bad this year.

  16. Natalie says:

    I was just reading that ticks hate Lavendar oil, eucalyptus oil and Rose geranium essential oil if anyone wants to add on.

  17. bethany says:

    Perfect timing! Goodbye bug bites. :) Just curious..do you have any suggestions for non-toxic weed killer? Our weeds are almost as out of control as the mesquitoes since the grass never died this last “winter”.

    • Cat says:

      Great article. I’ve been looking for a recipe for a natural bug repellant. We were almost eaten alive the year before last when we went camping. I too was wondering if recipe #1 would be safe for dogs. My poor little chihuahua had a miserable time with the mosquitoes.

      To Bethany: From what I have read, one of the best natural and kid/pet safe weed killers is white vinegar. I’m excited to try it in our front yard this year. It was over run with weeds last summer, so I can’t wait to see if it works.

    • Elissa says:

      Non-toxic weed killer- Try white vinegar and spray or pour onto the weeds. This will kill other plants too so be careful.

  18. Nathalie says:

    Thanks, great article… I wonder, does it work against ticks, too? and what essential oil would work the best against ticks?

  19. donna says:

    hi
    i use purified water with a few drops of each of the following- some of which are specifically for repelling ticks…as well as other bugs…lavender- neem- rose geranium- tea tree and peppermint..it stinks but it seems to work…lol….i also learned another trick last year for repelling ticks around the yard…hang old stockings stuffed with a bar of irish spring ( or knock off of same) around play and recreational areas as well as around the perimeter of your property from tree branches…ticks ( and some other bugs) hate the smell….i don’t blame them ;-)

  20. Deborah says:

    why is peppermint oil not recommended for use by persons with epilepsy/seizures?

  21. Thank you for this post.

    I just discovered your blog and have now promptly added it to my blogroll (see here: http://www.wholenewview.com)

    Helga

  22. amanda says:

    are essential oils safe for babies, or what is age appropriate for the use of essential oils? i am having a tough time figuring this out with out help. is there a list i can refer to some where?

  23. Alina says:

    Hi Heather,
    I was wondering, if catnip is the anti mosquito oil why not use only this oil? It would definitely be cheaper that way. What role do the other oils play?
    Thank you.

  24. Peppermint is used with caution for nursing moms because it is thought to decrease milk supply., but clinically I haven’t really seen this to be true. Personally, I drank tons of catnip tea after my second was born. It helped to keep be emotionally grounded post partum (read: not yell at my husband), and my baby was a perfect angel with no health issue. My point is that warning labels for herbs are usually extremely conservative, especially when the application is topical. They shouldn’t be ignored, but If I were pregnant or nursing and in a swarm of mozzies, I wouldn’t hesitate to dump a bottle of the first recipe all over myself – but that’s just me. ;)

  25. […] Heather, the Mommypotamus, has a few great recipes for homemade bug repellent! […]

  26. […] for a season of chiggers and mosquitoes with this homemade bug repellent – secret ingredient: […]

  27. Rachael McCoy via FB says:

    Lauren Elizabeth Mach (Jill) here ya go!

  28. i just made a recipe very similar to #1 except the recipe i had also included witch hazel, i’m going to have to remember catnip for the next batch!
    question: why are some of the essential oils listed not safe for nursing mothers?

  29. Katrina Vinsonhaler – Some may have side effects that are not good for pregnancy/nursing. However, I think this comment from Emily at Holistic Kid is a pretty balanced way to look at essential oil safety:

    “Peppermint is used with caution for nursing moms because it is thought to decrease milk supply., but clinically I haven’t really seen this to be true. Personally, I drank tons of catnip tea after my second was born. It helped to keep be emotionally grounded post partum (read: not yell at my husband), and my baby was a perfect angel with no health issue. My point is that warning labels for herbs are usually extremely conservative, especially when the application is topical. They shouldn’t be ignored, but If I were pregnant or nursing and in a swarm of mozzies, I wouldn’t hesitate to dump a bottle of the first recipe all over myself – but that’s just me.”

  30. thank you! i am nursing and i dont want to use anything that could be harmful.. i wouldn’t be using it often, but i would think that these natural recipes would be a considerably less harmful vs commercial spray that contain DEET and other chemicals? however, that is just an assumption..

  31. I’m with Emily, Katrina Vinsonhaler. Given the choice I would definitely go for essential oils over DEET even though I’m nursing.

  32. I’m with Emily, Katrina Vinsonhaler. Given the choice I would definitely go for essential oils over DEET even though I’m nursing.

  33. Stephanie Craig Weilnau via FB says:

    Are these okay for younger children? DD is 10 months and DS is 3 years and I would like to try the second recipe (still nursing).

  34. Stephanie Craig Weilnau via FB says:

    Are these okay for younger children? DD is 10 months and DS is 3 years and I would like to try the second recipe (still nursing).

  35. Jennifer Ashe via FB says:

    Thank you!! I’m camping tomorrow and I’m pregnant and have been searching for a good bug repellent! Perfect timing :)

  36. Literally thought this morning “I should check Mommypotamus for a home made bug repellant… she’s bound to have a good recipe.” Thanks!

  37. Stephanie Craig Weilnau – Yes I believe they are ;) I’m not an expert, but based on what I’ve read I feel comfortable putting these formulas on my littles.

  38. Awesome, Jennifer Ashe! Have fun this weekend!

  39. Lol, Janice Ebel Leverenz!!!

  40. Liz says:

    I drink a tsp or so of apple cider vinegar every morning and I don’t get beg bites anymore. It has worked for two summers so far. I just put the vinegar in my water and sip on it all morning.

  41. kirsten says:

    thanks for the information..
    I was wondering if there is anything to keep the wasps and hornets away from our property. Those things are everywhere.

  42. Chris says:

    Do you have a remedy for roaches and ants, both a problem in Hawaii, that is non toxic to our bug consuming geckos?

  43. […] homemade insect repellant before our first camping trip of the year. Mosquitos are particularly fond of Farm Boy 3! Poor […]

  44. ashley says:

    I stocked up on my essential oils and cannot wait to test out this recipe for my trip to the U.P, Michigan! I have terrible reactions to mosquito bites and can’t stand the smell of DEET, so really happy to stumble on this recipe! Also, do you have any for repelling ants indoors? my little Chihuahua is very curious and therefore I don’t want to put any toxic ant traps around…but I am in need of something because this beautiful warm weather brings the ants inside!

  45. […] we have some camping planned this summer, I think this homemade bug repellent will come in quite […]

  46. ashley says:

    Why do you have to avoid #3 if you have epilepsy?

  47. Kim says:

    How does the first recipe smell? It seems like an interesting combination. I hate the smell of store bought bug spray!

  48. […] and carrots. So, I’m looking forward to testing out this all-natural, fabulously-effective Easy Homemade Bug Repellant from […]

  49. Christina says:

    Think any of these woud work for midges as well?

    • Heather says:

      Hi Christina! I wish I knew, but I had to google midge just to try to get up to speed! No helpful info out there unfortunately, but if you try it I’d love to know how it works for you :)

      • Christina says:

        Thanks anyway. My daughter is getting eaten up at our new house. They go through the screens! Just can’t bring myself to invest 100$ in essential oils. But I have to come up with something.

  50. susan says:

    my daughter’s house is run over with fleas and her 6 yr. old daughter gets dozens and dozens of bites all over her every time she goes home for the weekend; she stays with me during the week while her mom is at work. she and her 4 yr. daughter get very few bites. do any of you know if these recipes will keep the fleas off while we are trying to get rid of them? also, any non-toxic ideas on how to kill flea infestations. we’ve done the lamp, shining on a white bowl of soapy water sitting on the floor. this works well she may just not be doing it enough, also, vacuuming everyday helps lots, but not enough. thanks!

    • Amy says:

      We had a terrible time with fleas once. What finally worked was sprinkling Borax and vacuuming! I remember lifting all of the mattresses and furniture to make sure I got EVERY ONE of the fleas and eggs. Can’t remember if I had to do once or twice but that was the end of the ankle-biting!

  51. Jeannette says:

    FYI, just found part of your blog post here. http://cspearsmassage.com/my-blog/?p=272 Not sure if his blog is related to yours or not.

  52. Lucy says:

    Wonderful recipes! Is lemon oil ok to use on a child with eczema? My daughter has reactions to citrus and I was wondering if it would give her the same type of reaction.

  53. Kellie says:

    This is awesome! Thank you!

  54. Jake says:

    I invented a formula with a botanical chemist for Dogs AND it works for humans too! Check it out at http://WWW.ruffmart.com There is no water and no alcohol. It contains 11 essential oils and they make up 30% of the formula. The carrier oil is fruit based and also has insect repellant properties.

  55. Ann says:

    Do you add water to dilute it? What is the vodka for? Are these the best prices for essential oils you have found? TY

    • Heather says:

      The vodka helps the essential oils retain their potency longer. I most often use organic Plant Therapy oils, but I haven’t compared prices lately.

  56. […] good friend passed along this recipe she got from Pinterest. This recipe is from mommypotamus.com, and she swears by this recipe and that it really works! It’s time to try it for myself, […]

  57. Hannah says:

    Have you had stinging with recipe #2 when you spray it on your legs? My sister and I tried it on our legs and my nephew’s and it sting for us all. It was fine when we sprayed it on our arms.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Hannah! I haven’t, but I do know that lemon oil can sting when applied at higher concentrations. If it were me I’d dilute the solution a bit and see how that works.

  58. I have a bug spray that I use with my kids made with essential oils. http://maggielane.wordpress.com/kitchen-2/herbs/.

  59. Nicole says:

    I don’t understand where the water comes in. Do you mix the oils with the vinegar (or vodka or witch hazel) AND water? I re-read the recipe but don’t see mention of mixing it with water but I noticed a few people mentioned that in the comments. Can you mix with water instead of the acv or witch hazel? Thanks!!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Nicole! Originally this recipe called for water instead of witch hazel, etc. However, I found that the potency of the essential oils was preserved better with a different medium so I changed it. Hope that helps!

  60. I was looking at the list of essential oils that are considered safe for children, but only the lemon oil was on the list, lol. I have a 2.5 year old…he is super allergic to mosquitoes (he gets a rash called papular urticaria). I was using California Baby Bug Repellent, which wasn’t doing the job. I would like to try the Recipe #1, do you think it’s safe enough for kids? He doesn’t have any other allergies, that I know of, anyways. Should I dilute it a little?
    Which brings me to the second question: how do I dilute it? Just add less drops of oils to the same 8oz of witch hazel? Or do you mix it with water?

    Thanks!!!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Stephanie! I use recipe on my kids, who are almost 3 and 5. I spray it mostly on their clothes so don’t worry about diluting. Regarding the safety of each oil, all I can say is that **I** am comfortable using it. I am not an essential oil expert, and unfortunately even they don’t agree on which oils/dilutions are safe/ideal :)

  61. […] good friend passed along this recipe she got from Pinterest. This recipe is from mommypotamus.com, and has been proven effective. Protect your family, avoid the harmful chemicals and apply […]

  62. Pamela Delgado P via FB says:

    Alfredo Perez

  63. Margaret Ham via FB says:

    Whitney Distefano

  64. Cindy Davidson via FB says:

    Does this help against ticks as well? I have friends in upstate NY dealing with a tick infestation. Many have family members and friend dealing with Lyme disease or the new disease the ticks seem to be carrying in that area. They are using deet because they feel like they have no other choice.

  65. Charity Paolini via FB says:

    Lisa Nicole Smith check it out

  66. Isabella Kantek via FB says:

    I make mine with rubbing alcohol and a handful of cloves. The longer it seats the stronger.

  67. Lisa Latai Tonga-San Juan via FB says:

    Any natural remedies for allergies? I’m breastfeeding with terrible Spring allergies…

    • Heather W says:

      We recently got a good air purifier for the bedroom (about $100 on amazon) and it has made a HUGE difference in improving my allergies!

  68. Erin Alexander via FB says:

    This works well, thank you!

  69. Lea says:

    Hi Heather! Just whipped up a batch, and just in time for West Nile season. You mentioned that depending on the child’s age, some oils need to be diluted. Do you know offhand if the concentrations in your recipe are suitable for a 21-month old? Thanks!

  70. Casey says:

    Hi Mommypotamus! Thank you for these recipes. I have a 7 month old and I have been thinking of ways to protect her from bugs when we take her out to the park or beach this summer. I saw somewhere in the internets that cutting a lime in half and sticking a bunch of cloves in it will help ward off mosquitoes but then I came across your recipes, which sound more promising. I have a few questions:
    I’m assuming recipe#1 is the strongest since it uses five different essential oils. Is is possible to make this recipe cutting out 2-3 of the oils (for economic reasons) but still get an effective repellant?
    You mention that you spray the clothes, not your skin directly- do you spray clothes before putting them on? Does one application last all day or does it have to be reapplied?

  71. […] recipe is targeted specifically toward ticks, but is also helpful with mosquitos. Like my all-purpose homemade bug spray, it’s safe for children over two and pregnant/nursing mamas. (Note: Though I don’t […]

  72. […] we love our homemade bug spray when we’re hiking or working on our farm, I prefer these candles for outdoor meals because […]

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