Natural Mosquito Repellent

Choosing Natural Mosquito Repellents – Repelling Plants & Nifty Recipes

Mosquitos are my nemesis! They don’t make me squeamish, they actually make me ANGRY. Which seems a little dramatic… But, try being me or any of the other “sweet blooded” individuals. I don’t even know what that term means. I’ve spoken to other’s with so-called sweet blood and I can’t find the connection. We have different blood types, diets, and ethnicities.

Regardless, if you’re hanging out with me, you can expect me to attract 90% of the mosquito bites.

UNLESS I’m using nifty natural mosquito repellents!

No joke! On any given day, if I’m not prepared, mosquitoes find me particularly attractive and feast like there’s no tomorrow.

A few years ago, I traveled to SE Asia for a two-month vacation between University and Naturopathic Medical School. It was summer, AKA monsoon season. Which also means, mosquito season! As you can imagine, I was less than thrilled for my biggest vacation ever to be accompanied by copious amounts of my nemesis. But, I survived!

In anticipation, and admittedly a bit of fear, I brought along a small squirt bottle of DEET. Yikes! I know… but we all do things when we’re scared. Especially when the nemesis not only threatened to swarm me but also is known to carry many terrible diseases I had no intention of contracting – especially right before embarking on the next step to achieving my dream of becoming a Naturopathic Doctor.

Here’s what I knew at the time: DEET was (and is) an effective mosquito deterrent. I had some knowledge that DEET could be “bad” for you, but I didn’t know too much or which sources to believe. Especially since DEET is recommended by so many large governing organizations like the CDC and EPA.

At the beginning of my trip, I visited Grandma J and Grandpa Greg in Cambodia (actually, my partner’s grandparents). J & G have spent decades traveling and living in rural countries and informed my naive self about BETTER options. This how I learned that natural mosquito repellents can be just as effective or MORE effective than DEET! What?!?!?!

This post is to inform you of the wonders of natural bug repellents. If you’re interested in learning more about the toxicology of DEET, take a look at my post from August 5, 2019.

Reasons to try a natural mosquito repellents

  1. They are less toxic to humans and the environment
  2. They can be just as or MORE effective than synthetic bug repellents
  3. Mosquitoes are common carriers (or vectors) of many infectious diseases including but not limited to Zika Virus, West Nile virus, Yellow Fever, Malaria, and Japanese Encephalitis. Although it is rare to come across a dangerous disease from mosquito bites here in Central Oregon, it can be nifty to know your options if you travel to high-risk areas, especially Asia and Africa.
  4. Mosquito bites are painful and itchy, they can cause significant swelling in some people and they take days to go away.
  5. Ain’t nobody wanna get bit. My blood is my blood, let’s keep as much of it in me as possible.
  6. To varying degrees, you’ll not only repel mosquitoes but also repel other bugs such as ticks, fleas, biting flies, and chiggers.

How do natural mosquito repellents work?

Natural mosquito bug repellents block the mosquito’s sense of smell, making it harder to land on you! So cool.

What does a natural mosquito repellent have in it?

Most natural mosquito repellents will use a combination of essential oils from multiple botanical sources. (Yay plants!) You can either buy products at your natural health stores or you can buy them online.

Citronella, lemon eucalyptus, clove, lemongrass, catnip, basil, neem, eucalyptus, thyme, and peppermint essential oils all have mosquito repellent activity. Their effective times vary as well as the types of other bugs they repel.

  1. Catnip (Nepeta cataria): 10 times more effective than DEET!
  2. Eucalyptus: protection against mosquitoes for 4 hours
  3. Lemon Eucalyptus: 3 hours of protection from mosquitoes and recommended by the CDC.
  4. Lemongrass: 2.5 hours of mosquito protection
  5. Peppermint: 2.5 hours of protection from mosquitos
  6. Citronella: In the short term, citronella works as well as DEET. Repel against mosquitos for 2 hours
  7. Basil: up to 6 hours protection, depending on the species of mosquito
  8. Clove: Provides 96 minutes of protection
  9. Thyme: 80-90 minutes
  10. Neem: 20% neem oil provided 70% protection for 3 hours

There are many other natural and safe (non-toxic) mosquito-repelling ingredients available. The ones I’ve listed were from a study comparing the length of repellency time and effectiveness. I chose to display these because they were compared under similar conditions which makes the information more reliable and the comparison more credible. 😉

Which store-bought mosquito repellents are natural?

You can find several brands of natural mosquito repellents in natural grocery stores or online. The ingredients are what matters. Make sure the ingredients are organic and well processed.  My advice is to only put on your skin what you would be willing to put in your mouth, because checking on each commercial companies processing is tedious, time-consuming, can be hard to find, and can be difficult to understand (technical terminology). If you wouldn’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t put it on your skin. Remember, your skin absorbs what you put on it.

Note: I wouldn’t knowingly consume essential oils by themselves. This is why bug sprays need oil, alcohol, water or other substances to dilute the essential oils.

Here are some common brands of safe, natural mosquito (bug) repellents in my local natural foods store:

  • Buzz Away by Quantum Health
  • Skeeter Screen
  • Kids Herbal Armor by All Terrain
  • Anti-Bug by Badger
  • Anti-Bug Spray by alba Botanica

Recipe for homemade essential oil mosquito repellent

You can change the quantities and types of oils using any of the 10 plants listed above or other plants known to be mosquito-repelling (there are many!). I have adapted this recipe from wellnessmama.

Ingredients:

30 drops citronella essential oil
20 drops catnip oil
20 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil
20 drops basil essential oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil
1 TBSP vodka or rubbing alcohol
½ cup natural witch hazel
½ cup water (or vinegar)
1 tsp vegetable glycerin (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Combine essential oils in a glass spray bottle. Add vodka or alcohol. Shake well to combine.
  2. Add witch hazel and shake to combine.
  3. Add ½ the vegetable glycerin if using. It helps to keep the ingredients combined but you can skip this step and be sure to really shake the bottle when you need to use the spray.
  4. Add water and shake to combine.
  5. Shake well before each use, separation is natural. Apply topically and avoid eyes, nose and mouth when spraying.

A variation is to use a carrier oil (like coconut or soybean oil) instead of the vegetable glycerin and rubbing alcohol. While I love this method, it doesn’t absorb as well.

Recipe for dried herb mosquito repellent variation

You can also make a dried herb variation. This includes dried herbs (same ones as above) and witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. It’s more affordable since essential oils can be expensive, but less potent.

Instructions:

  1. Boil 1 cup of water and add 3-4 tablespoons total of dried herbs.
  2. Mix well, cover (to keep the effective oils in) and let cool.
  3. Strain the herbs and mix the remaining water with 1 cup of witch hazel or rubbing alcohol.
  4. Store in a cool place. Use as needed.

Remember to test any homemade or commercial product on a small area of skin to avoid significant skin reactions. Essential oils can be harsh to the skin and other mucosal tissue (i.e. moist tissue). It’s important to dilute essential oils before applying or consuming them directly.

Note: Essential oils are made of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which just means they evaporate quickly into the air. This reduces their effective time, so make sure to reapply more frequently!

Bonus Tip

If you’re wanting to create a lovely outdoor oasis but don’t want the threat of mosquito bites, consider planting mosquito-repelling plants like lemongrass, thyme, catnip, basil and peppermint throughout your outdoor space.

Disclaimer

If you plan to travel to countries where mosquito-borne diseases are of significant concern, it’s not a bad idea to carry synthetic mosquito repellent as a back-up. But, as I mentioned previously, when I traveled through SE Asia, I relied primarily on natural mosquito repellents and sleeping under mosquito nets. We carried DEET but never needed it.

The safety statement by the CDC, the EPA, and many research studies is very few people experience notable health complaints directly related to “appropriate” use of DEET. In my research, this seems to always be carefully stated. So, should you choose to use DEET, always use as directed by your product. I will personally stick to the natural stuff!

The CDC recommends people use EPA-registered mosquito repellents containing at least one of the following ingredients:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • IR3535
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-methane-diol (PMD)
  • 2-undecanone

Dr. Lexie Ching
Naturopathic Doctor Bend
(541) 797-0167
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Resources:
Keith, Sam, et al. “Toxicological profile for DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide).” (2017).
American Chemical Society. “Catnip Repels Mosquitoes More Effectively Than DEET.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 August 2001.
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325337.php
https://malariajournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2875-10-S1-S11
https://wellnessmama.com/2565/homemade-bug-spray/

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