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Essential Oils to Repel Insects

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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? Essential oils can be used for:

  • repelling flying insects (e.g. mosquitos)
  • repelling crawling insects (e.g ants, spiders)
  • and soothing your skin if you do get bitten.

Best essential oils for repelling insects:

Let’s start with a quick list of the best essential oils to use for insects:

  • lemongrass
  • citronella
  • lemon eucalyptus
  • catnip
  • peppermint or spearmint
  • clove
  • eucalyptus
  • cedarwood
  • sweet orange
  • lavender
  • geranium
  • patchouli

Some of these oils are better for certain types of insects, so let’s take a look at some specific uses.

Essential oils that repel 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 (affiliate link, Amazon). 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 limited 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 (affiliate links) 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.

Homemade Mosquito Repellent Recipe

You can also make a repellent spray that can be used indoors or outdoors.

Mosquito Bug Spray for Outdoor Use

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 (affiliate link, Amazon) works well or you’ll be pumping forever!
  • Funnel
  • 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.

Using Diffuser Jewelry to Repel Insects

On your person, you can use diffuser jewelry to carry scent with you. Put a few drops of essential oils in the list above on your necklace or on a bracelet.

A small diffuser charm or lava bead can be attached to an anklet to prevent the mosquitoes from nibbling at your ankles.

Using a Diffuser to Deter Bugs

Running a diffuser is another way to repel bugs in the immediate area–both indoors and outdoors.  Try one of the following blends in your diffuser:

Diffuser blend titled "bugs be gone" with lemongrass, lavender and geranium
diffuser blend titled "insects away" with peppermint, lavender, and patchouli

Bug Repellent Body Oil Recipe:

You can also dilute essential oils in a carrier oil at a ratio of 6-12 drops essential oil to 1 oz. of carrier oil and rub it on your body.

While any of the above listed oils can be used to deter insects, some need to be used with caution on the skin such as clove and lemongrass (use less than 1% dilution).

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.

Bug Repellent body oil that is kid safe when dilutions are adjusted

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.

Essential oils that repel spiders, ants, and other 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 like doorways and windows.

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.

DIY Ant Killer Spray

Clove, lemon, and orange oil are all toxic to ants so you could spray this on them directly.

Make a spray by combining 15 drops each of Clove, Lemon and Orange Essential oils in 2 tsp. of alcohol in a 2 oz. glass spray bottle.  Top with water and shake before each use.

This is a strong spray, and should be used on bugs only, not people.

DIY Essential Oil Ant Spray Recipe

Using essential oils for bug bites:

No insect repellent, 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 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.

DIY Essential Oil Bug Bite Recipe

Bug Bite Blend (2.5% blend in 1 oz of lotion, carrier, or aloe vera):

8 drops Lavender

4 drops Chamomile

2 drops Peppermint

Combine the essential oils in a small, dark glass bottle.  Add to 1 oz. of carrier oil (e.g. fractionated coconut oil), a lotion, or aloe vera gel.  Apply to bug bites.

Essential oils to repel ticks

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 to deter ticks 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.


There are lots of essential oils that you can use and diffuse for insects. Some oils work better against certain insects that others. I made a little infographic to recap the best oils to use for different insects. Feel free to save a copy for yourself, or share it with your friends.

What essential oils to diffuse for insects

Post last updated June 5, 2019


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