8 Essential Oils That Can Help Repel Bugs
Ticks and mosquitoes and gnats, oh my! These fearsome three, along with other insects, are kryptonite to the outdoor-lover. And with warmer temperatures on the horizon, people are searching for solutions to repel insects without using harmful chemicals.
Is there a natural way to keep bugs at bay? Yes—essential oils.
The use of essential oils and aromatics as a natural repellent is nothing new—natural insecticides have been around for centuries. In fact, DEET has only been used since 1946. Up until recently, people exclusively employed natural resources to battle nature’s pests.
In this short guide, we’ll cover 8 of our favorite essential oils that repel bugs.
1. Pest Defy
Pest Defy synergy blend combines potent Citronella with several other beneficial essential oils:
Sharp, woody Cedarwood has insecticidal properties of its own. Studies show that it can kill common house flies as well as some beetles, making it a helpful addition to any essential oil blends.
Like Citronella, Lemongrass essential oil contains citral and citronellal. As an added bonus, it has a green, sweet and lemony aroma that helps counterbalance more pungent aromas.
Fresh Geranium oil is toxic to mosquitoes and can deter their bites.
Repel synergy blend combines potent Catnip and Citronella with several more sweet, soothing oils. These include:
When you’re out in the woods, Nootka Tree can help to repel fire ants, while sweet Ylang Ylang can act as an insecticide and help with repelling mosquitoes and flies. Likewise, Arborvitae and Litsea have their own insect-repellent properties. And while you may not think Vanilla is a natural choice for a bug repellent, as we noted, it can help prevent evaporation.
As an added bonus, this blend has a wonderful, bright, herbaceous and subtly sweet aroma, making it a great choice to wear to an outdoor gathering like a summer wedding.
3. Shoo Fly
Shoo Fly contains:
In this oil, sweet, aromatic Patchouli helps balance Catnip’s strong aroma. This oil is great to use topically, or it can be sprayed on screen doors, window sills and around the house to deter insects from entry. Just be sure to dilute it before using it as a natural insect repellent.
4. Lemon Eucalyptus
Lemon Eucalyptus is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for repelling insects and since the 1960s, researchers have been studying the science behind its effects.
With 85% Citronellal, Lemon Eucalyptus oil has some of the same beneficial effects as Citronella.
Lemon Eucalyptus also contains trace amounts of a compound called para-menthane 3, 8 diol (PMD), which does not evaporate as rapidly as other essential oil components. This is an incredibly effective insect repellent when found in sufficient concentration.
PMD is actually more abundant in lemon eucalyptus hydrosol than in the essential oil itself. However, this oil still has helpful insect-combatting properties. Its bright, lemony aroma makes it a great addition to your bug-fighting blend.
One of the most powerful and fearless defenders of unbitten skin is Catnip essential oil.
Catnip oil contains a compound called nepetalactone that may be as effective as DEET. Researchers placed mosquitoes in glass tubes with both substances—and Catnip drove mosquitos away just as effectively as did chemical DEET.
Mosquitos may die instantaneously upon contact with the essential oil, making Catnip a force to be reckoned with.
Applied topically, Catnip works at a 2% concentration.
Cedarwood, acts as a natural insect repellent to help keep seasonal and outdoor annoyances away.
As an added bonus Cedarwood is known for its woody aroma of pencil shavings which makes it a great oil for masculine blends.
Not to be confused with the drug, Hemp essential oil contains no psychoactive properties. However, like Catnip, can be used as a natural mosquito repellent.
A recent study shows that Hemp essential oil can kill insect larvae, too, suggesting its efficacy as an insecticide.
With calming and anti-inflammatory properties, this is a great oil to apply to skin that’s already received a bite or two.
Citronella oil has historically been used for repelling mosquitoes and is currently a registered insect repellent with the Environmental Protection Agency.
A 2011 review of plant-based insect repellents in Malaria Journal states that Citronella contains the following bug-repellant compounds:
Thanks to these powerful components, researchers have found Citronella to have similar effectiveness to DEET. The only limitation is that it evaporates rapidly. This can be overcome in a few ways:
Citronella incense outside continually can help to repel mosquitoes
Citronella essential oil with Vanilla and other large-molecule natural oils can help to lengthen time to evaporation
When applied topically, Citronella is typically used at concentrations of 5-10% to avoid skin irritation.
Other essential oils for bugs that may have repelling properties include Peppermint oil, Tea Tree oil, Cinnamon oil, Lavender oil, Clove oil and Rosemary oil.
How To Use Essential Oils As A Natural Insect Repellent
Despite these being the best essential oils to repel bugs, there are a few limitations. Essential oils are volatile and many studies show that they did not last long on the skin.
However, carrier oil is non-volatile. Not only does it make an essential oil more compatible with the skin but also keeps the essential oil from rapidly evaporating.
Some carrier oils even have insecticidal benefits of their own. Neem carrier oil has also been used historically in places like India to ward off pests.
We have a few additional notes on essential oils that repel bugs and help avoid insect bites:
Dilute your essential oil to potency of 3-5% before applying topically. As an alternative, you can buy a pre-diluted roll-on for bugs.
Reapply your EO to your pulse points every few hours for optimal effects.
You could also add your blend of choice to an essential oil bracelet for all-day diffusion.
Most studies declare that essential oils should not replace DEET bug spray in areas where insects carry deadly viruses.
We also don’t recommend replacing DEET insect repellent with homemade bug spray or essential oils if you are allergic to biting insects.
This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on November 4th, 2020
- Maia, Marta Ferreira. “Plant-Based Insect Repellents: A Review of Their Efficacy, Development and Testing.” PubMed Central (PMC), 15 Mar. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3059459
- Singh, D. and Agarwal, S. K. “Himachalol andβ-himachalene: Insecticidal principles of himalayan cedarwood oil.” Journal of Chemical Ecology 14 (1998): 1145–1151. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01019342
- Ali, A. et al. “Insecticidal and biting deterrent activity of rose‐scented geranium (Pelargonium spp.) essential oils and individual compounds against Stephanitis pyrioides and Aedes aegypti.” Pest Management Science 69 (201): 1385-1392. doi:10.1002/ps.3518
- Pavela, Roman et al. “Insecticidal activity of two essential oils used in perfumery (ylang ylang and frankincense)” Natural Product Research (2020).
- “Catnip Repels Mosquitoes More Effectively Than DEET.” Science Daily. 28 August 2001. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/08/010828075659.htm?fbclid=IwAR08OSGTsOvNJADYIz2oe08XsnC0dGiTkjIcHHUosY2WEcsKkHzDor2QEd0
- Park, Sang-Hyuck et al. “Contrasting Roles of Cannabidiol as an Insecticide and Rescuing Agent for Ethanol–induced Death in the Tobacco Hornworm Manduca sexta.” Scientific Reports 9 (2019). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-47017-7
- Maia, Marta Ferreira, and Sarah J Moore. “Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing.” Malaria journal 10 (2011). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3059459/