DIY Natural Mosquito and Insect Repellent
Who else hates being driven insane by itchy mosquito bites but equally hates being covered in sticky, smelly, toxic insect repellent all summer? I feel you and that’s why this summer I was driven to make my own all natural insect repellent at home.
My husband and I are fortunate to live where we do – just minutes’ walk to the ocean and native wetlands. The only unfortunate thing about it is the mosquitoes, midge flies, and sand flies come early evening. Within seconds of being outside past 4 pm I am literally covered in bites, and heaven forbid one makes its way into our bedroom. A few days after moving into our beautiful waterside home I looked like I had chicken pox!
I am very susceptible to insect bites and react to them badly. It doesn’t take much for my body to shoot up inflammatory markers and end up with infections.
As much as I hated chemicals, I raced out and bought insect repellent and sprayed myself with it before going outside but it was awful. I got the most disgusting chemical filmy taste on my tongue and it was making my dog sneeze and cough. I don’t even like too many chemicals in my makeup so I hated the idea of being coated in DEET every night or going to bed with it on to avoid being bitten whilst I slept.
I decided to DIY my own natural insect repellent with my existing arsenal of essential oils, dried herbs, and pot plants (and a decent stash of vodka, which I don’t drink). I was skeptical about its effectiveness, but I have been putting it on for the last two weeks and I daresay it has worked as well for me as store bought repellent.
The resulting liquid smells heavenly, feels lovely on the skin, doesn’t leave a film or residue and is chemical free, so it’s perfectly fine to even put on before bed to ward off those annoying stowaway bedroom insects.
All Natural Mosquito Repellent
I largely based my recipe on the excellent resource over at Wellness Mama, but I made a few tweaks based on what I had available in my pantry, medicine chest, and garden. Here’s what I used:
30 drops lemon eucalyptus oil (this active ingredient does a lot of the heavy lifting)
20 drops lavender oil
20 drops tea tree oil
10 drops lemongrass oil
10 drops geranium oil
A few fresh citronella leaves
A decent spoonful of cloves
A tablespoon of rosemary
The contents of a peppermint tea bag
A tablespoon of sage leaves
1 tbsp vodka
½ cup witch hazel
1 tbsp white vinegar
½ - 1 cup water
How to make it
Boil 1 cup of water and add the citronella, cloves, rosemary, peppermint and sage herbs. Boil for about 3-5 minutes, until your kitchen is filled with a delicious fragrance and your husband asks what witch’s brew you’re concocting now.
Cover and allow to cool completely.
Strain out the herbs.
Now pour ½ cup of this strained mixture into an empty spray bottle. Choose dark if you can as this helps the oils “keep”.
Add the oils, witch hazel, vodka and vinegar, put the lid on and give it a good shake.
Pop in the fridge so that the mixture lasts. It’s also deliciously refreshing to spray cold on your skin on a hot summer’s afternoon. Shake it before use.
I find the mixture, like all insect repellents, tends to wear off after three hours, so reapply if you’re going to be outdoors over an extended period of time.
If you are travelling to a country or live in a region where harmful mosquito-borne diseases are present I do still recommend following the advice of your healthcare professional about proper insect protection and precautions. This article is for general reference purposes only and not to be used as a substitute for medical or other professional advice.
Always, always spot test each ingredient on a small area of skin before using this spray.
Other tips to repel biting insects
Some friends of mine swore by taking vitamin B supplements in summer to ward off bites. Medical literature completely poo-poohs the idea, though I’ve found this incredibly effective myself. Even if it’s a placebo, it works. It’s no good just popping a vitamin B right before going outside though. Take a good B-vitamin complex daily (provided your doctor says it’s okay) and build your levels over about two weeks.
Side note, it turns out you can get sick from mosquitoes even without taking into account mosquito-borne diseases. I got so many bites one summer, even coated 24/7 in insect repellent, that I got sick. My body’s immune system became compromised and I had a lymph reaction. As part of my treatment regime, my doctor put me onto garlic tablets and told me to cook with a lot of garlic. He said that this would help to repel further bites – and he was right. Helps with all the vampires too.
Some of us really are just legit snacks …
We all have that one friend who is literally the only one getting eaten by mosquitoes at a gathering (I am that one friend). For some of those people, there’s absolutely nothing they can do about it because O blood types will attract mosquitoes more than types A or B.
There is also some research that shows people who exhale more carbon dioxide (due to recent exercise, higher metabolic rate or conditions like obesity or pregnancy) attract more mosquitoes than others.
Don’t sweat it
Mosquitoes can smell sweat and perspiration a mile away. You smell irresistible to mosquitoes after a workout or a game of sport. They also prefer to sink their suckers into warm bodies. Taking a cold shower and washing your “sweat zones” before going outdoors in the late afternoon may work wonders. I also like to apply a roller ball of peppermint oil or lavender oil to my underarms and forehead before heading outdoors for added protection in a mosquito prone area.
Because mosquitoes are attracted by movement someone standing still will apparently attract far less mosquitoes than someone who is wildly gesticulating, or moving around a lot.
Get rid of bacteria
The reason mosquitoes seem to bite you around your feet is kind of gross. Certain types of bacteria on the skin smell as good as fresh pizza to mosquitoes. This kind of bacteria is most often present on the feet, which is why we tend to get lots of bites there.
Lay off the booze
Here’s the really bad news. You’re not the only one who likes a Pinot Noir at the end of a long day. Drinking alcohol makes you tastier to mosquitoes. Studies have shown that consuming three standard drinks makes you 30% more likely to get bitten. We’re not really sure why, but it’s thought to be due to mosquitoes liking to drink from warm bodies, and alcohol raises your body temperature. Also, mosquitoes have been known to feast directly on fermented fruit and handle alcohol vapor concentrations of up to 60% so they can apparently handle their sauce.
Mosquitoes are very visual. Bold, bright colours like navy and red act like a flashing neon “buffet” sign to mosquitoes. They are also more attracted to dark colours. Wear white or light colours when going outside in the afternoon/early evening.
Where it is comfortable to do so (not always possible in summer), choose long sleeved clothing before going outdoors.
Make your yard less mosquito friendly
We had an unbearable amount of mosquitoes in our yard when we first moved in but have honestly noticed a big difference since we brought my beloved citronella plants onto the deck. Within a few days, the number of mosquitoes and sand fly bites dropped significantly.
Mosquitoes can breed in millimetres of water, so don’t allow any standing water in your yard. Keep your gutters clean, empty catchers under flower pots, drain kiddie pools when not in use, store buckets face down, and make sure your yard drains properly.
Whilst I don’t recommend burning this indoors because of the harmful effects of smoke, when relaxing outdoors I burn eucalyptus, lavender and sandalwood incense and have found it effective at keeping the biters at bay. If you’re using coils, only ever burn them outdoors, choose natural varieties, and use a diffusing cover like this one which doubles as a decor item.
Home Remedies for Breakthrough Bites
If you do get a few bites despite your best efforts, the old remedies are still the best.
My nanna, a nurse, used to swear by dabbing mosquito bites with vinegar to remove the skin. It takes away the itch in seconds.
Apply a little heat – like a hot shower right after, or carefully heat a spoon with hot water (make sure it’s not too hot first) and apply to the bite.
Aloe vera is as close to a natural topical panacea as you can get. I snap off a piece and apply it right to a bite to take out the sting instantly. But if you can wait, keeping a stalk in the fridge and applying it cold gives it extra soothing magic.
I love this Ouch! Spray as a portable all rounder for stings, bites, and sunburn. Infused with natural ingredients, it helps to soothe a sting at once. I keep it in the fridge and pop it into my bag before heading to an outdoor event. It stops me from scratching and scarring my skin.
With any luck this recipe and additional tips help keep your skin mosquito bite free. Do you have any favourite natural mosquito repellents that you swear by? What are your favourite remedies for healing an itchy bite? I’d love you to share in the comments below.