9 Essential Oils That Can Help Repel Bugs

by Jenna Jones May 20, 2022

Pest Defy, Shoo Fly and Citronella synergy blends outdoors

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. Essential oils that repel insects can be incredibly effective and powerful.

In this short guide, we'll cover 9 of our favorite essential oils that repel bugs.

#1 Peppermint

Refreshing and minty, Peppermint essential oil is known for its many versatile properties, including repelling insects and bugs. It's a popular ingredient in many mainstream mosquito repellents. Plus, there's actual research to backup its bug-fighting power.

A 2011 study found that Peppermint oil offered 100% protection against mosquito bites for up to 150 mins when applied topically. When you apply essential oils to the skin, always dilute them with a carrier oil, like Fractionated Coconut Oil, to avoid irritation.

#2 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 for pest control. Studies show that it can kill common house flies as well as some beetles, making it a helpful addition to any essential oil blends .

Lemongrass

Like Citronella, Lemongrass essential oil contains citral and citronellal. As an added bonus, Lemongrass oil has a green, sweet and lemony aroma that helps counterbalance more pungent aromas.

Geranium

Fresh Geranium oil is toxic to mosquitoes and can deter their bites.

#3 Repel

Avoid pesky bug bites with this complex synergy blend. Repel synergy blend combines potent Catnip and Citronella with several more sweet, soothing oils. These include:

Eucalyptus- Lemon

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 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.

#4 Shoo Fly

Similar to Repel in ingredients, Shoo Fly essential oil blend is specially designed to keep pesky bugs like fruit flies away. Part of our OK For Kids line, it's an effective and safe essential oil for kids .

Shoo Fly contains:

Catnip

Eucalyptus- Lemon

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.

#5 Eucalyptus- Lemon

Eucalyptus- Lemon 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, Eucalyptus- Lemon oil has some of the same beneficial effects as Citronella.

Eucalyptus- Lemon 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.

#6 Catnip

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.

#7 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.

#8 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 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.

#9 Citronella

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:

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 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 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 oils are non-volatile. They make an essential oil more compatible with the skin and keep the essential oils 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 a 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.

Essential Oil Bug Spray DIY

As the weather continues to heat up and you spend more time enjoying the outdoors, it might be time to safeguard against pesky insects and bugs. If you're looking to avoid harsh chemicals, try this simple Essential Oil Bug Spray DIY.

Ingredients:

4-5 oz Glass Spray Bottle

2 oz of Distilled Water

1.5 oz of Witch Hazel

.5 oz 190-Proof Grain Alcohol

50-70 drops of Repel, Pest Defy, or Shoo Fly (or the essential oil of your choosing)

.5 oz of Fractionated Coconut Oil (optional)

How To:

Fill your spray bottle with Distilled Water, Witch Hazel, Grain Alcohol and then add your chosen Essential Oils. To help moisturize the skin, add .5 oz of Fractionated Coconut Oil or Neem Oil. Close your spray bottle and shake thoroughly before each use. Spray onto the skin or clothing. Be sure to avoid eyes, nose and mouth. Reapply as needed. Store in a dark, cool place. 

This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on May 20, 2022.

Sources:

  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. Sarita Kumar, Naim Wahab, Radhika Warikoo, Bioefficacy of Mentha piperita essential oil against dengue fever mosquito Aedes aegypti L, Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine,https://doi.org/10.1016/S2221-1691(11)60001-4 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2221169111600014)
  9. 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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8 comments

Edens Garden

May 24, 2022 at 9:17 am

Hi Joy! Because they are oftentimes disease-carrying, we don’t have a recommendation for ticks at this time.

John Hite

May 24, 2022 at 8:30 am

Good article. I have done a good bit of reading on this subject and your article is quite good. Mosquitoes find me quite yummy, much preferred over my wife. It used to be the other way around.

I have found Thayer’s witch hazel to be much better than the cheaper alcohol blends.

Sandra

May 24, 2022 at 8:30 am

Thank you for all the great information. Last summer we had bats in our chimney and I had my husband use peppermint oil soaked cotton balls and it drove them out. Now we keep it cotton balls wit peppermint oil in our attic and wen have not had any more bats or mince. When eating outside I bought baby socks from $tree and stuffed them with soaked cotton balls and put them around it our eating area we had not flies, Mosquitoes, or even fruit flies. I then rubbed the sock on my exposed skin had no problems. I also have peppermint planted around our deck and we don’t have problems with mosquitoes, nats, flies or any other pest.

Joy

May 24, 2022 at 8:30 am

Your first opening sentence mentioned ticks, but then I didn’t see a specific essential oil to repel them as most of these oils mentioned mosquitoes or flies. Is there a specific oil you recommend? A friend once mentioned rose geranium, and I was wondering if you have heard any benefits from that? Thanks!

Sally Dike

August 9, 2021 at 7:49 am

Sounds like we need

Edens Garden

August 6, 2021 at 11:34 am

Hi Margaret! We recommend checking with your vet on essential oils for your pets.

Margaret Bishop

August 6, 2021 at 11:32 am

Are there any oils that can be put on dogs to repel fleas?

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