How To Make Homemade Natural Bug Repellent!


I love it when natural products work as well or better than their less healthy synthetic counterparts. Last year I was thrilled to find that natural bug repellent worked well for our family, as much as we anticipate spring we do not love the mosquitoes that come with it! But the bug repellent that I purchased was pricey, and one of the kids got the lid unscrewed and dumped a good half of it just as we were going into summer.

This year I looked up ingredients that are thought to repel bugs, and made my own concoction. We’ve now tried it and I can report that it does work wonderfully! It smells strong while you’re making it but I don’t find it to be overpowering when it’s on your skin.

I did find that I had to make sure I applied it well, and it may need to be reapplied often when out in the buggy weather.

All together the ingredients are a little expensive, but this recipe makes nearly half a gallon- plenty to share with friends! I purchased 6-ounce bottles so that I had some to share, and could keep a bottle in each truck as well as near the back yard.  All ingredients and bottles are purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs, which I have found carries great quality essential oils and herbs at a fraction of what they sell for at the health food store.

Homemade Natural Bug Repellent Recipe

Makes approx 1/2 a gallon

  • 2 cups loose dried catnip
  • 5 cups water

~ Make catnip into a strong tea.

  • 16 ounces aloe vera juice
  • 4 ounces neem oil (mine had a small amount of olive oil in it)
  • 1 ounce citronella essential oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon eucalyptus essential oil
  • 1 teaspoon tangerine essential oil
  • 30 drops lavender essential oil
  • 30 drops peppermint essential oil

Make the catnip into a strong tea, steeping for half an hour.  Catnip essential oil is very expensive, but good for repelling bugs, so I decided to try the less expensive tea instead.  Strain tea through a sieve.  Combine all ingredients, including the tea, in a large jar. Shake to combine.  Place in containers (I used containers with lids that can allow drops out, like a shampoo bottle) and label.  Store the unused bottles in the refrigerator, as there are no preservatives in this!

I’m sure this isn’t the only way to make natural bug repellent! If you have most but not all of these ingredients, you might try using what you have and see how it works. Good thing about mosquito season is that you can get immediate feedback on your creation!


This bug repellent is perfect for working in the garden- as the day gets cooler and the air gets more still, the bugs come out in force! Use this natural bug spray (and perhaps grow some aloe and catnip!) to keep gardening without itching! Disclosure: I wrote this post while participating in the Sowing Millions Project by Real Food Media on behalf of Seeds of Change. I received product and exclusive content to facilitate my post. However, my thoughts and opinions are my own and not of those of Real Food Media or Seeds of Change. Visit them on Facebook and share about your garden!


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  1. says

    I love this recipe, Cara. So simple and the natural ones at the store are so expensive!

    I’ve also found – on a side note – that eating a low sugar/low grain diet full of traditional foods etc results in tons fewer bug bites when we are in a group of folks eating the standard american diet. The bugs go right to those people first .. probably because they can smell their sweat more easily I’m thinking? Sometimes, we get away with no repellent at all if we are going to be in a group of folks outside because our good diet “cloaks” us from the bugs! LOL

    • Cara says

      Great point! yes, we went out this past weekend and the bugs caught us by surprise and my son (who occasionally gets grains and sugar) got way more than my low carb GAPS daughter :)

  2. Dina says

    How does this feel when applied? Are you sticky? What is the constency of the finished product? This is definitely interesting as I refuse to use the chemical bug repellant so we use nothing. My son who does not eat grains or sugar gets bitten a zillion times more than any of us who do. I think there are too many factors that go into who gets bitten.

    • Cara says

      I don’t mind the feel at all, have you ever had aloe vera on before? it’s kind of like non greasy lotion, with just a little of the essential oils.

  3. says

    Hi Cara, I wanted to say great job on the natural insect repellant! Oh how I wish people would give up their deadly chemicals!! This topic is close to my heart since our move to this new location; we’re in a mosquito swamp! LOL

    If you don’t mind a suggestion, I have found that lemongrass EO is pretty effective at repelling mosquitoes (if you can grow lemongrass plants around your house, that drives them nuts!). A synergistic EO blend of thyme, lemongrass, lavender and peppermint should be effective and can be rubbed directly onto the skin. Also, have you tried the Vinegar of the Four Thieves recipe with garlic? That’s good for multiple types of bugs. I like the recipe that uses lavender, peppermint, rosemary, rue, sage and wormwood + garlic. You simmer the herbs in ACV for a few hours and then strain and bottle.

    Thanks again for a great post! Cheers, Gabi

  4. says

    Hi Susan, I hope Cara does not mind if I reply to you…I have bugs on the brain since spring started here, Ugh! LOL

    Ticks can be tricky and I have found that geranium rose EO and also the herb tansy (made into an oil or rub or spray) can repel them.

    I’d love to hear Cara’s thoughts on ticks…

    Cheers! Gabi

  5. says

    I tried the natural repellent too and was amazed at how well it worked. Two days later though, my son came down with a rash in every area he was sprayed with it. I may get these oils and test each one to find the culprit, then see if I can make it without the offending oil. We have a lot of mosquitos here and I would love to find something natural that works. Thanks for posting this.

  6. says

    Thanks so much for posting this! Do you know if it would repel chiggers as well? Or fleas? I appreciated the question about ticks!

    I saw some citronella bracelets in the store the other day and wondered if it might be too strong for children (it was marketed for children).

    I love the idea of lemongrass. I planted a few citronella plants near our back door last season but it didn’t really make a difference that I could tell. I may see if lemongrass (or citronella) around the perimeter of the veggie garden would help – I seem to keep mosquito hours because of the heat.


    • Cara says

      I’m not sure, but I’ve heard that tea tree oil is also good for repelling unwanted bugs so maybe a few drops of that would help?

    • says

      Be sure when you are outside to rub your Citronella plant a little, it will bring the oils to the surface of the leaves making it more effective.

  7. says

    Catnip! Wow, I will have to give that one a try! I had no idea that was a good bug-busting ingredient. I’ve made some homemade bug sprays that haven’t quite stood up to the tropical skeeters we have here. But this seems like a great mix! I’ll definitely give it a shot. Thanks, Cara!

  8. Jane says

    I have used a homemade product for a few years now that seems to contain a few of these ingredients from your recipe. Its great. My daughter seems to get the black fly bites around the nape of her neck and behind and IN her ears so I drop essential oils onto a mini-coil type clip made of a porous plastic i think, that pins to the back of her shirt. She is 2 and can’t reach it and I don’t have to worry about the oils being too strong since they are not in direct contact with her skin. j

  9. says

    Ticks and tea tree…that’s a great suggestion. We are beginner goat keepers and we had a goat with a tick on her…my hubby dropped some tea tree oil directly on the tick. The next day, the tick was just gone…so I’m sure using tea tree to repel them on people would be a great idea!

  10. Denise says

    I just wanted to add an FYI- neem oil isn’t safe for pregnant women or women trying to conceive. Even natural products can have harmful properties.

  11. marion says

    pennyroyal is great too, wehen I was little we used to have a plant, and when the critters came out we’d just crush a few leave and rub on exposed skin, works wonders!

  12. daisy says

    Darn, can you invent an alternative recipe for us allergic folks? We’re allergic to both citronella and eucalyptus. After bite we use a mix of cosmetic facial mud, and MSG. And maybe squeeze a little benadryl out of a liquid capsule for bad ones.

  13. says

    Hi! I wanted to share that peppermint oil isn’t good for pregnant women. It can burn. Also, it’s an oil that makes the skin more susceptible to sunburns. Tansy is not safe for livestock nor pregnant women. It causes violent reactions. Avoid it’s oil and don’t plant it unless contained as it’s very invasive and poisonous to livestock.

    We were given emergency custody of my niece and two nephews who had lice (which I didn’t know) and I sprayed our entire house and care with neem oil. It worked (I also used a natural lice killing shampoo as EVERYONE but DH got it.) So, everytime I smell that neem oil stink I gag and get the heebie jeebies. How can you stand the smell of it?

    One thing I’ve found helpful and safe for us is a simple eucalyptus mixed with lavender and tea tree oil. I add it to a cotton ball which is swiped down arms,legs,etc. I also will give them the used cotton ball for shirt pockets and I’ve done a quick bit of needle work and sewn one to the back of my youngster’s shirt. I’ve found dropping the used cotton ball down into my bra keeps things away and prevents the OHM’GOSHOHM’GOSHOHM’GOSH! dance when something flies down there. It’s quick and easy and can be reapplied as needed.

    I highly recommend planting lots of highly scented herbs around your property and garden but avoid RUE It’s a HUGE irritant…where do you think they got ‘you’ll rue the day’ from? ;) But if you don’t have children or cats as they can carry the oils on their fur from rollin’ in it it’d be nice but… :)

    Again, I’d love to hear if the other oils mask the neem ’cause it’s an amazing plant and deterrant/killer. By the way…if you’ve gophers a bit of straight neem in the holes will send ’em packin’.


  14. says

    I found out by mistake, when my old-fashion Dr. had me take regular old garlic pills ,pure garlic,not only did it help my chelostrol, but it drove bugs nuts. they don;t like the smell in your sweat but you can’t smell it.

  15. Anna says

    Just had a thought about the catnip. I’ve been looking at some different DIY bug repellant recipes, and several said to put the essential oils in ACV, vodka, or witch hazel. I am a Young Living member but they don’t sell Catnip EO, however I have a bag of the dried herb in the freezer. I’m thinking I could tincture it in ACV or vodka, then use that as the base for the rest of the ingredients.


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