Homemade bug repellent that works

Homemade bug repellent using apple cider and lemons and vinegar.
Photo by ThamKC/Shutterstock

We’re in the thick of it now: the dreaded bug season.

We humans love to go outside on hot, late-summer days, but the bad news is, so do mosquitos. And ticks. And black flies. And all manner of other tiny, irritating insects. Unfortunately, the thick clouds of bugs hovering in the hot summer air leave us with a decision to make: either spend the rest of the season hiding indoors with a book and the A/C blasting, or douse ourselves in foul-smelling chemicals to keep from being sucked dry.

Fortunately, there is a third option. While DEET (the active ingredient in OFF!) is the most well-known bug repellent, there are plenty of other substances that repel insects, many of which you can actually make yourself. Though bugs are notoriously impolite, they are sensitive creatures, which means there are lots of natural substances that will irritate them into leaving—and which won’t irritate your skin or make you smell like a toxic chemical factory.

Here are a few homemade repellents that you can make yourself that will keep the bugs away so that you can play outdoors.

Essential oil bug lotion

Many essential oils are quite effective in repelling bugs, including peppermint, lemongrass, lavender, and tea tree oil. We like eucalyptus oil, which is considered by many to be as good as over-the-counter bug spray (studies have even shown its effectiveness.) Making your own insect repellent with essential oils is quite simple. First, choose a base oil to mix your essential oil into (something light like coconut oil or almond oil works great). Mix the two together, using one part essential oil to ten parts base oil, shake, and voila: bug-repellent oil that will also keep your skin hydrated. Just rub it onto your exposed flesh, and watch the mosquitos cower.

Essential oil spray

Spray-on repellent is almost as easy to make as lotion. First, get an 8 oz spray bottle. Next, put in 6 tablespoons of boiled or distilled water and 4 tablespoons of your chosen essential oil. Finally, add four tablespoons of alcohol (vodka works!) or liquid witch hazel (you can buy it online or at many natural food and body-care stores). Shake it all up, and spray at will!

Mosquito-repelling lotion bars

Here’s a bug lotion you can put in your bag without worrying about leaks. This bar-form bug repellent is a bit more work-intensive to make, but the results are totally worth it. You’ll need beeswax, shea butter, coconut oil, and a bug-repelling essential oil. Create a double-boiler by boiling water in a large pot, and putting an empty smaller pot into the boiling water. Then, melt in the smaller pot two ounces of beeswax, two ounces of coconut oil, and four ounces of shea butter. When they’ve all melted together, remove from the heat, and add two tablespoons of your essential oil. Finally, pour the resulting liquid mixture into a bar mould (a rubbery ice cube tray works too) and let it cure for 24 hours. When you remove the pieces from the mould, you’ll have a convenient bar-form bug repellent.

Vinegar-based bug spray

This one takes some time, but the result is a supercharged spray that will send all the bugs in the vicinity running (well, flying). It starts with a bottle of every DIYer’s favourite thing: apple cider vinegar. Put 32 ounces into a big, sealable jar, then add a few tablespoons each of sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme, and mint. Next step: wait. In two or three weeks, the herbs will have steeped into the vinegar, and then you can strain them out. This substance is so strong, you should actually dilute it with water, one part to one part. Spray it on, then get outdoors and enjoy the summer.

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