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8 Essential Oils That Can Help Repel Bugs

by Bella Martinez August 20, 2020

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 ofessential 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.[1] Up until recently, people exclusively employed natural resources to battle nature’s pests.

In this short guide, we’ll cover our favorite eight natural essential oils that can help repel mosquitoes, spiders and other bugs. 

1. Pest Defy

Pest Defy synergy blend combines potent Citronella with several other beneficial essential oils:

  • Cedarwood – 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 anyessential oil blends.[2]

  • Lemongrass – 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.

  • Geranium – Fresh Geranium is toxic to mosquitoes and can deter their bites.[3]


2. Repel

Repel synergy blend combines potent Catnip and Citronella with several more sweet, soothing oils. These include:

  • Lemon Eucalyptus

  • Cedarwood

  • Ylang Ylang

  • Nootka Tree

  • Litsea

  • Arborvitae

  • Vanilla 

When you’re out in the woods, Nootka Tree can help to repel fire ants, while sweet Ylang Ylang can act as an insecticide against mosquitoes and flies.[4] 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

Similar to Repel in ingredients,Shoo Fly synergy blend is specially designed to keep pesky bugs away. Part of our OK For Kids line, it’s an effective and safeessential oil for kids.

Shoo Fly contains:

  • Catnip

  • Lemon Eucalyptus

  • Nootka Tree

  • Cedarwood

  • Patchouli

  • Vanilla 

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 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.[5] 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.

5. Catnip

One of the most powerful and fearless defenders of unbitten skin isCatnip essential oil.

  • Catnip 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.[6]

  • 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. 

6. Cedarwood

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. 

7. Hemp

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 thatHemp essential oil can kill insect larvae, too, suggesting its efficacy as an insecticide.[7] 

With calming and anti-inflammatory properties, this is a great oil to apply to skin that’s already received a bite or two.

 8. Citronella

Citronella 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:[8]

  • Citronellal

  • Citronellol

  • Geraniol

  • Citral

  • α pinene

  • Limonene

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:

  • Diffusing  Citronella incense outside continually can help to repel mosquitoes

  • Mixing  Citronella with Vanilla and other large-molecule natural essential oils can help to lengthen time to evaporation

When applied topically, Citronella is typically used at concentrations of 5-10% to avoid skin irritation.

How To Use Essential Oils As A Natural Insect Repellent

Despite these oils’ promising attributes in repelling insects, 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 using essential oils to repel bugs and 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.

  • Most studies declare that essential oils should not be replaced with DEET in areas where insects carry deadly viruses. 

  • We also don’t recommend replacing essential oils with DEET if you are allergic to biting insects.


  1. 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 
  2. 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 
  3. 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 
  4. Pavela, Roman et al. “Insecticidal activity of two essential oils used in perfumery (ylang ylang and frankincense)” Natural Product Research (2020). 
  5. Ibid.
  6. “Catnip Repels Mosquitoes More Effectively Than DEET.” Science Daily. 28 August 2001.https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/08/010828075659.htm?fbclid=IwAR08OSGTsOvNJADYIz2oe08XsnC0dGiTkjIcHHUosY2WEcsKkHzDor2QEd0 
  7. 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
  8. 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/

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1 comment

Jacqueline Del Campo

September 16, 2020 at 8:41 am

I needed an oil for centipiedes and just found out peppermint is the one.Five drops to 1 cup of water