Bug sprays come with a host of problems and questions — 1) the chemicals used and the proven dangers of these chemicals, and 2) the packaging being the chief concerns for most people. But on the flip side, you can’t very well just let the mosquitoes dig in, leaving you itchy, red and perhaps even with a communicable disease as a result! Hence, options like this do-it-yourself insect repellent recipe.
The ideal balance is to use a repellent that works for you. Results vary from person to person for each formulation, as our unique body chemistry affect how attractive we are to mosquitoes and how certain bug spray ingredients work. Ideally one that has as few harmful chemicals as possible and can be carried in a refillable container so you can avoid sending a bottle to the recycling plant (or landfill).
Thankfully, it’s not too hard to tick all these boxes, especially after a little bit of experimenting. Of course, there will be times when the hard-hitters (ie. chemical sprays in canisters) are needed. You can limit the use of these sprays by using them only when truly needed. Relying on gentler options (as well as clothing coverage, and shelter) the rest of the time.
How to Make this DIY Insect Repellent
When it comes to making an insect repellent for your own personal use, you will likely have the most luck with essential oils that have been shown to be disliked by mosquitoes.
Please note: very few essential oils have been clinically tested to repel mosquitoes. All essential oils should be safely diluted before applying to your skin.
- Spray bottle (125 mL or 250 mL)
- Distilled water
- Witch hazel (optional)
- Emulsifier such as Polysorbate 20 (optional)
- Essential oils (up to 72 drops for a 125 mL bottle or double that for the 250 mL bottle) — choose any from the list below
A simple mix of distilled water and essential oils will work just fine, but the optional ingredients could improve your spray. The emulsifier will keep your essential oils dispersed in the liquid — without it, you’ll simply need to shake your bottle well before each use. Meanwhile, witch hazel has anti-inflammatory properties and so if you do get mosquito bites, when you reapply your bug spray, the witch hazel can actually calm the itch.
Our favourite blend is equal parts water and witch hazel, with emulsifier and essential oils.
Directions for this Do-it-yourself Insect Repellent:
Start with your clean, dry spray bottle.
Count your drops of essential oils into the bottle. You will use up to 72 drops in total in a 125 mL bottle or up to 144 drops in total in a 250 mL bottle, if the spray will only be used on people over the age of 12. If you’ll be using the spray on children or the elderly, or anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding, we recommend you play it on the safe side and stick to 24 drops in the smaller bottle or 48 in the larger bottle. For more details on safe dilution of essential oils, you can check the dilution guide on the Apothecary in Inglewood website.
Once you have added your oils, add roughly the same amount of emulsifier (it’s fine to eyeball this, and you can use a little more emulsifier with no negative effects). Swirl the bottle to blend the oils with the emulsifier.
Finally, add your water and/or witch hazel in roughly equal parts (or any ratio you like), up to the shoulder of the bottle — don’t fill all the way to the top as the tube on the mister lid will cause the level to rise a bit. Screw the cap onto the bottle and shake gently to finish mixing. If you have used emulsifier, your spray is ready to use. If not, shake well before each use.
OPTIONAL ADDITION: For extra protection, you can consider adding neem oil (which is not an essential oil) to your spray. You don’t need to include this in your essential oil calculations, but do keep it to no more than 10% of the total solution — so in a 125 mL bottle, add 12.5 mL or less. Keep in mind that it doesn’t smell good! But as a known repellent, neem oil can definitely mean fewer bites.
Oils That Bugs Hate
It is important to remember, essential oils may not be as effective as repellents containing DEET. However, there are plenty of times that they will be sufficient for your needs. Below you will find a list of essential oils known to repel insects. Try one or any number of the oils listed, in any combination you like. You can use many oils specifically known to repel mosquitoes. You may consider lavender, neem and geranium oils as these are also known to repel ticks.
Essential Oils That Bugs Hate — Use in Any Combination Up to The Total Recommended Number of Drops
- Lemon eucalyptus
- Lemon balm
- Tea tree
NOTE: The Apothecary in Inglewood also sells a grounding, woodsy synergy blend of oils called Take a Hike that includes a number of these listed. It would be suitable as a pre-mixed option to use in a spray.
For more tips on waste-free outdoor fun, be sure to read our comprehensive blog on Low-Waste Camping.
About this blog
This post was supplied by our friends and the team at The Apothecary in Inglewood. As Calgary’s original refillery, The Apothecary in Inglewood is also a premier destination shoppe for zero waste home; pure, therapeutic essential oils; wellness; and natural body care. Their refillery opened in 2017 and they are proud to be the innovator in Calgary for this concept. The Apothecary is also the named sponsor of our 2nd annual, Zero Waste Festival, this year online!
The Apothecary in Inglewood also carries over 100 therapeutic essential oils and custom blends, along with skincare, make up, and other wellness products.
For more information on how fragrance can affect your outdoor experience, check out The Apothecary in Inglewood’s blog post of Summer Fragrance Tips.