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Everyone knows about citronella to keep the bugs away , but did you know there are many more essential oils to repel those pesky insects? There are three main types of uses for essential oils vs. the insect world:
- repelling the flying insects (e.g. mosquitos)
- repelling the crawling insects (e.g ants, spiders)
- and soothing your skin if you do get bitten.
Using essential oils against mosquitos and flies:
In general lemongrass and citronella are the top essential oils for repelling mosquitos. Other choices include lavender, eucalyptus and lemon eucalyptus. Research done at Iowa State University found that catnip oil was 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET. Additional studies have found it to also be an effective repellent for flies (Source). Catnip should be used with some caution as it can be a skin irritant and is not advised for use with pregnant women or young children.
There are many ways to use essential oils to deter insects. Indoors, a diffuser will fill the air with scents. You can also place a few drops of essential oil in a bowl of steaming water, or an oil warmer. Outdoors, a simple oil warmer may help to keep your immediate area bug free or a portable ultrasonic diffuser.
A cool product I discovered recently is the Patio Egg Diffuser. This is a ceramic egg in a macramé like basket that you can hang anywhere. It comes with an oil containing Geraniol (which is one of the major components of rose, palmarosa and citronella oil) (Source). Of course, if you are intrepid like me, you are not confined to using the oil that comes with it. I might put a bit of Plant Therapy’s Nature Shield or the Kid Safe Shield Me in it instead. The advantages of a hanging ceramic diffuser is you can use undiluted oils in it (which will make a stronger scent in the great outdoors) and you can hang it out of reach of pets and children. As a DIY alternative, crafty souls could make a terracotta disc or two to hang outside.
Mosquito Room Spray Recipe
You can also make a room spray that can be used indoors or outdoors.
You will need:
- A dark glass bottle with a spray attachment—for indoors use a fine mist sprayer, for outdoors, one with a larger spray nozzle works well or you’ll be pumping forever!
- 4 tsp. of vodka or grain alcohol
- 4 oz. of water
- 30 drops lavender essential oil
- 15 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil
- 15 drops lemongrass essential oil.
Using the funnel, pour the 4 tsp. of vodka into the glass bottle. Add the essential oils, put the lid on and swirl around to mix the oils and alcohol. Open the lid and add 4 oz. of water. Attach the spray nozzle and shake a few times. Be sure to give it a little shake before each use.
If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute 4 oz. of witch hazel for the water and vodka.
This spray is a 3% concentration of essential oils, if using for indoor use only, you can reduce the essential oils by about 1/3rd to get a 2% solution. You should not spray this on your body at 3%.
On your person, you can use diffuser jewelry to carry scent with you.
You can also dilute essential oils in a carrier oil at a rate of 6-12 drops essential oil to 1 oz. of carrier oil and rub it on your body, or spritz on a homemade perfume. While the above oils deter insects, Valerie Worwood in the The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy suggests that Lavender is the best essential oil to apply to your body to keep the insects from landing on you.
Anti-bug Body Oil Recipe:
This body oil is simple and effective, and is safe for children if you half the amount of essential oils.
12 drops lavender essential oil (use 6 drops for children)
1 oz. Fractionated Coconut Oil
Blend together and apply to exposed body parts.
Using essential oils against ants, spiders and crawlies:
The most effective essential oil against ants and spiders is peppermint oil. Its cousin, spearmint oil, is a good deterrent as well. Other oils that repel ants include clove, orange, and lemon. The same oils work well to deter spiders. Roaches are repelled by eucalyptus, thyme, cinnamon, and cedarwood.
To use essential oils against crawling insects, one popular method is to apply some oil to a cotton ball and leave them near points of entry. Of course if you have curious children or pets, this is not an ideal solution. Wiping a little oil along door frames or window frames may be an alternative, however I recommend doing a spot test as some oils react with metals (especially aluminum) and plastics. You may also consider wiping essential oils along entry points from the exterior of your home where it will be away from kids and damage from oils less likely.
Ant Killer Spray
Clove, lemon, and orange oil are all toxic to ants so you could spray them directly. Make a spray like the mosquito bug spray above, but use 15 drops each of Clove, Lemon and Orange Essential oils in 2 oz. of water. This is a strong spray, and should be used on bugs only, not people.
Using essential oils to ease bites:
No bug deterrent, natural or otherwise is 100% effective all of the time (especially if you are mosquito bait like I am). When you do get bites, Lavender is the go to oil. You can dilute it in carrier oil, some lotion, or with some aloe vera gel. For a specific purpose like bug bites, you can use up to a 3% dilution for adults. Use 1% on kids.
If you want to make a blend, a hint of peppermint may help with itching (analgesic) and chamomile can be soothing. Apply your diluted blend directly to the bite.
Bug Bite Blend (2.5% blend in 1 oz of lotion, carrier, or aloe vera):
8 drops Lavender
4 drops Chamomile
2 drops Peppermint
I live in the Pacific Northwest, and thankfully ticks have never been a problem. The danger with ticks is when they bite and burrow into your skin and can transmit diseases, most notably Lyme disease. Removal can be tricky, therefore the best offense is defense—we want to deter them from biting in the first place.
Several studies have been done to evaluate essential oils as an alternative to DEET in repelling insects. The most promising oils are oregano, clove, thyme, vetiver, sandalwood, cinnamon, cedarwood, and peppermint oils. (Source)
Aromatherapist Sue Pace wrote a well researched, comprehensive article on the subject that I highly recommend if you really want to dig into the subject of ticks. Scroll to the bottom of her post for an infographic with a great tick repellant blend.
I made a little infographic to recap all of the information in this article. Feel free to save a copy for yourself, or share it with your friends.