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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:
- lemon eucalyptus
- peppermint or spearmint
- sweet orange
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. 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 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.
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 nozzleworks 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Post last updated June 5, 2019
Will chammommile and Apple essential oil repel Bed bug ants and spiders.Thanx very Much for your reply
Chamomile will help soothe bites, but it not known for repelling insects. Apple oil would be a fragrance oil and not an essential oil so I wouldn’t think so. If possible, I would stick to the oils mentioned in the article as they are the ones that come up in multiple resources.
There is no recipe within the article. How many drops of each should be added to the diffuser to repel mosquitos, flies, spiders?
I would follow the recommendations of your diffuser. Many ultrasonic diffusers recommend 5-6 total drops added to the water basin. You can use any of the oils listed alone or in combination. I would use Lemongrass or citronella for mosquitoes and flies, and peppermint for spiders. If you are trying to repel all three with one blend, perhaps try lemon eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint 2 drops of each.
Great article, thank you. I recently moved into a friend’s home which had a major ant problem. I cleaned everything with strong pickling vinegar, all surfaces and cupboards, all the floors, etc. I had a bottle of NOW Essential Oil, Nature’s Shield. I put it in a spray bottle, a few drops in water, then sprayed all over the house. It smells wonderful and the ants are few and far between. Borax is also good to sprinkle behind stoves, fridges, anywhere away from pets or kids that you think the ants will be. Borax is toxic to them.
Great tips Nancy, thanks for sharing!
What would be a pleasant smelling mixture for mice and roaches. I have small children and pregnant with morning sickness
Hi, that is a tricky question. I actually think that herbal plants (e.g. a mint plant) or dried herbs in sachets might be the best choice. I have read that mice don’t like bay leaves or mint leaves. Leaving these out in areas where mice are spotted would be an idea–although that depends on your young children and how prone they are to getting into things! Mice supposedly don’t like onions, but with morning sickness that may not be an option right now. As for essential oils, spearmint is kid safe and is on Plant Therapy’s pregnancy safe list https://www.planttherapy.com/blog/2016/12/27/pregnancy-and-nursing-safety-part-1/. Lavender is another oil that is both kid and pregnancy safe. Bonus that both are helpful for nausea. I personally like lavender and mint together and would probably mix them 3 parts lavender to 2 parts spearmint. (Note: peppermint is not kidsafe for young children). As for roaches, I thought it was interesting that coffee grounds seem to make an effective repellant https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/06/how-to-get-rid-of-roaches_n_965145.html. That said, I am not a doctor and more importantly not your doctor–I will always err on the side of caution during pregnancy and suggest you clear any essential oils you plan to use with your health care provider. Again, in this case I might explore other natural options and maybe even ones that don’t involve using odors to repel. Good luck and congratulations!
I always appreciate when people share useful articles. It is actual theme in summer! I have been using oregano oil for almost every day. It has been my own natural home remedy.
Thanks for the compliment! Oregano essential oil was one of my first oils. As a caution, I stopped using it regularly when I read in Kurt Schnaubelt’s Advanced Aromatherapy, “..use of oregano oil should be limited to treating acute conditions. The French aromamedical literature advises that the long-term use of this oil, or generally oils with a high phenol content, can lead to undesirable changes in the liver metabolism.” (pg.83). And to be clear, this is for the essential oil, not oil of oregano.
I have been using oregano for almost every day. It has been my own natural home remedy. For flu and cold, I diffuse oregano oil mostly in the evening before going to bed.
I love essential oils and use them daily. Thanks for sharing useful recipes! I tried mosquito room spray recipe – it is so effective and awesomeness spray!
Thank you! Glad you liked it 🙂
recently i have wondered if using a diffuser around my houseplants would help keep spider mites and fungus gnats off of them have you heard anything about that? i have heard that you can clean the leaves with essential oils i just wondered if the diffuser could be utilized for the application.
Interesting question! I had not heard of cleaning leaves with oils, and actually don’t think I would want to try it. There has been a lot of research into using essential oils on crops and foods as a natural pesticide. One article I found described spraying leaves with an essential oil solution causing brown spots and death to the leaves. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4015406/ On the flip side, I don’t think diffusing would be concentrated enough to deter pests directly on the plants but it wouldn’t hurt to try and see what happens! For plants, I think a botanical based natural pesticide would probably have the best combination of effectiveness while not harming your plants.
This insect repellent smells amazing and works like a charm, insects can are a real pest in the summer especially.
great idea, and great use of oils thanks for sharing.
I was wondering how often I would have to apply the oil around my doors and corners of the house to keep spiders away. I just moved into a beautiful house but it is infested with spiders and I don’t know what to do.
Oh no! Spiders don’t like the smell of mint or citrus, but the scents of these oils fade fairly quickly. You would probably need to do it every day or two. But–since some oils are solvent like I would be careful about wiping it on my nice new house so you don’t peel the paint. Personally, I would monitor the area for any signs that the oils are affecting the surface you are using them on. I also recommend taking a look at this article at the farmers almanac for several other natural spider control ideas.
I have a lemon oil and eucalyptus but I can’t seem to order lemon eucalyptus. Do you think I could divide the drops between the 2 and mix them in order to make the recipe in your post?
Hi, in terms of the major constituents, citronella would be the best substitute for lemon eucalyptus. You could also just substitute with eucalyptus since you have it. Hope that helps!
Tank you for your article, but you didn’t mention about Galbanum essential oil, which is, i think stronger than these oils for insect repelling.
Yes Galbanum is also a good insect repellent, thanks for mentioning it. I do tend to stick to more common oils in my posts–ones that people are likely to have.
Hi. Which carrier oil do you recommend to help the essential oils from evaporating? Olive oil? Thank you.
Hello, to prevent essential oils from evaporating too quickly, I would add a little of a base note essential oil like Cedarwood or Patchouli to the blend. These essential oils will help to “anchor” the lighter essential oils that evaporate more easily. You can use any carrier oil, but if you are making an insect repellent to wear I would choose something that will absorb without being too greasy. Fractionated coconut oil or jojoba would be good. If olive oil is what you have, I think that would be just fine too.
Marvelous tips and insights. Thank you!
For the Ceramic Egg – what recipe did you use? The product it comes with an oil using 95% Geraniol and 5% Lemongrass oil. I know this is not Essential Oils, otherwise that little bottle would cost an arm and leg and then some. lol!
So I was thinking of some carrier plus EOs, but I cant think of a good carrier that isnt too oily for the ceramic.
Hi, geraniol is a component of essential oils and is a primary component of some less expensive oils like citronella or palmarosa so it’s possible. I usually just put oils straight onto ceramics without a carrier. It only takes a few drops.