Many of us love the outdoors. Whether you enjoy getting out of the city to go hiking, or stepping out to your back porch to bask in your garden, the months from April to October are some of the best in the year for outdoor enjoyment.
But there’s a problem. Those months are also when bugs start to crop up in utterly outrageous numbers. It can be tough to get away from those bugs and stop them from pestering you and your guests during a backyard cookout.
Fortunately, there are plenty of bug repellents that use natural ingredients to drive away mosquitoes and the like without putting toxic chemicals on your skin or in your yard.
Natural Plants and Plant Products
We have access to natural bug repellent ingredients from all over the world--these days, it’s not hard to find plenty of natural plants and their corresponding products to either be used by themselves or as ingredients in other bug repellent solutions.
Essential oils are used in all sorts of home wellness solutions, ranging from aromatherapy to itch relief and much more. Keep in mind that if you plan to create your own bug repellents from essential oils, you need to combine those essential oils with carrier oils. Essential oils by themselves are too intense and can cause skin irritation if you ever touch the stuff directly.
Excellent natural bug repellent essential oils include:
- Lemon eucalyptus oil, which has been used since the 1940s as a mosquito repellent, even by organizations like the CDC.
- Lavender, which comes from crushed lavender flowers. In addition to the fragrance being enjoyed by many, the oil is particularly good at repelling mosquitoes and similar bugs. It can also be used to soothe the skin when combined with a carrier oil.
- Cinnamon oil is another great choice, and not only for its strong scent. Cinnamon oil is particularly good at getting rid of bug eggs and driving new bugs away.
- Thyme oil can be used either as a solution by itself or through burning thyme leaves. The oil inside the leaves will turn into smoke and serve as an effective repellent for any flying bugs.
- Soybean oil is a little less common than the other types, but it provides long-lasting protection against a variety of bugs, including mosquitoes and ticks.
- Citronella is a common essential oil that’s perfect for repelling mosquitoes, ants, flies, and more. It’s normally made by mixing other herbs together and can be used in sprays, candles, or in aromatherapeutic devices.
- Tea tree oil, which originates from Australia, is most well known for its antimicrobial and soothing benefits. It’s also a great insect repellent, particularly against bush flies and mosquitoes.
- Geraniol is a type of alcohol that can be used as a flavor or fragrance, and it’s derived mainly from other essential oils like lemongrass and citronella. It lasts for between two and four hours if combined with a decent carrier oil.
There’s no single essential oil that’s best for all bugs. We’d recommend you try a handful of these to see which works best. In many cases, bug repellent candles or other natural bug sprays use essential oils as active ingredients.
For instance, Green Goo’s Bugs Be Gone spray uses a variety of active essential oils including geranium, lemon eucalyptus, lemongrass, peppermint, and lavender essential oils, plus a few additional helpful ingredients, to keep bugs away from a certain surface or room. It’s also a great choice since it can be used to deodorize the air--can’t you just smell that amazing scent already?
Alcohol is used in so many chemical products that people often mistake it as a synthetic ingredient. But, alcohol is indeed a natural ingredient like the essential oils described above.
Specifically, you can use regular rubbing alcohol to repel insects if you don’t have a dedicated bug spray or any other essential oils on hand. It doesn’t repel bugs in the same way as many essential oils, however.
Alcohol is a very dehydrating and drying solvent. If you spray it on a given surface, any insect that nears will detect the scent of rubbing alcohol and recognize the danger. If insects come into contact with rubbing alcohol, their bodies dry out rapidly.
But, while rubbing alcohol can be a good insect repellent for some regular surfaces (be mindful it is harsh and may strip color or finishes), we wouldn’t recommend it to be used as a spray on your skin. You’ll dry out your skin, and that can lead to other issues, like skin irritation or itchiness. We recommend that you leave skin protection to Green Goo Bugs Be Gone or similar insect repellent sprays.
What if you want to repel insects from your yard instead of keeping them off your skin or away from your table? In that case, planting the correct botanicals can have a wonderful effect on your entire property.
Certain insect-repelling plants create fragrances that can repel mosquitoes and other bugs. They’re perfect picks for planting near a patio or backyard sitting area, where you don’t want bugs buzzing around all the time and bothering you and your guests.
- Lavender is a favorite choice, and it’s no surprise since lavender essential oil is good for repelling insects as well. This is a phenomenal pick for many since it’s drought-resistant and fairly tough, so it's easy to maintain, and should last for a long time.
- Marigolds are another good alternative. As flowers that grow anew every year, they’re ideal for getting rid of mosquitoes, aphids, certain types of beetles, whiteflies, and tomato hornworms.
- Citronella grass is a good choice as well, as it’s very low-maintenance and is perfect for warmer climates (though don’t plant it if you live in a climate with harsh winters).
- If you have a cat, consider planting some catnip to give them a nice treat every now and again and to get rid of annoying insects. Just be careful since it’s an invasive plant that can spread throughout the rest of your garden or yard without careful attention.
- Sage is another well-known choice, especially if you regularly start fires in a pit in your backyard. Burn a little bit of sage and the resulting earthy smell will get rid of most of the bugs in no time!
- Mint is both a wonderful herb for its aroma and bug repellent properties. It can be grown in small pots, so you don’t need a very large garden or yard to grow enough to flavor your tea and get rid of bugs.
- Bee balm is perhaps the best choice out of all of them since it attracts helpful bugs like bees, which can pollinate the other flowers and plants in your garden, while it simultaneously deters harmful bugs.
Food Ingredients and Items
If you want to keep bugs away, you can also eat certain foods or mix them with your favorite meals--you can read more about this here in addition to continuing on below!
How Does Food Repel Insects?
Depending on the ingredient in question, some foods repel insects because of their aroma while others change the flavor of their primary target – you! This is particularly true for mosquitoes, which may stay away when your diet changes.
- Certain fruits like grapefruits and oranges are very good choices if you want to repel insects over the long-term. In a nutshell, both fruits have something called nootkatone, which insects hate. The above two fruits are the best for this purpose, although other citrus fruits share the same effect.
- Beans and lentils are rich in vitamin B1, also called thiamine. This ingredient is distasteful to most types of bugs. You can also find vitamin B1 in tomatoes, vegemite, and marmite.
Sometimes it’s easier to add particular bug-repelling ingredients to your favorite dishes than to alter your diet altogether. Here are a few good options:
- Chili peppers can drive some bugs away, though they are admittedly not the most effective. Still, most people like a little bit of chili pepper flavor, so what’s the harm?
- Lemongrass can be added to curry, tea, and more to repel bugs due to a particular type of oil that it excretes.
- Onions and garlic both contain something called allicin, which is a compound that repels bugs effectively. While you can eat these raw, adding them to meals is already something most people do, so now you have an excuse for adding a bit more!
Why Use Natural Bug Repellents Over Chemical Pesticides?
While chemical pesticides and bug repellents may be effective at their advertised purpose, they can also cause numerous health problems for both you and your yard. Most popular repellents contain something called DEET. There’s some evidence to suggest that DEET causes long-term health side effects to those who are exposed to it repeatedly.
Plus, many chemical insect repellents include other synthetic insecticides that can damage the skin, kill plants, and even kill off helpful bugs that make your garden flourish, like bees and earthworms.
For the best results, combining a few of the above bug repellent solutions will go a long way toward maintaining a great-looking, bug-free environment! If you want to make sure your body and yard are as healthy as can be, you’ll want to stick with natural bug repellents whenever you can. Natural insect repellents are just as effective as the chemical stuff without all of the negative side effects. We think they're the obvious choice!