Friday, June 28, 2013

Better Safe Than Swarmed: Homemade Bug Repellent

You're never truly alone outdoors, there are nearly always some flying friends ready to grab a bite with you...
As I was writing the blog on the Little Grand Canyon in Illinois, I couldn't help but revisit the hike in my mind. Seeing my wife and daughter enjoying the outdoors with me, hearing the gentle gurgling of the water as it flowed to the canyon floor slowly cutting through the sandstone and feeling the sting of the swarming mosquitoes, ravenous for my sweet, sweet blood!

Anyone who has been outdoors will tell you, bugs can make your excursion an absolute nightmare, even if your journey is only as far as your front porch to enjoy a sunset. Those same folks, particularly if they've been out in the woods with mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers, would most likely recommend a bug spray that contains DEET (short for N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, say that five times fast...) which is some pretty powerful stuff. Developed following the jungle warfare of WWII, DEET is very effective at keeping bugs (especially mosquitoes and ticks) at bay during your outdoor fun. Unfortunately, DEET may also have many health side effects which may include: seizures, severe rashes, insomnia, impaired cognitive functions, mood disturbances and I've personally watched it melt rubber from a flashlight in my hands. But, I have to be honest, this is my "go to" insect spray for outside (albeit in concentrations no greater than 30%, which has been shown to give approximately 3-6 hours of protection from insects), but I thought, what if I could make a cheaper, safer, more environmentally friendly recipe?

There are a lot of good things about making your own bug repellent, for one, you know everything that is going into the batch, so if you have allergies or find that particular scents make you ill, you can easily change it up. You can also change how concentrated the repellent is by adding or removing water from the concoction and, you may even want to cackle maniacally as you fully enter your "mad scientist" mode as you mix, children LOVE this part (so practice your BWAAH, HA, HA's). My guiding principal, as I channel my inner Dr. Doofensmirtz, is to stick to ten to twenty drops of essential oil mixed with around two tablespoons of "carrier" oil or alcohol, and I do like it straight, no chaser, no water. But if you're looking to add water, substitute it for no more than half of the "carrier" oil or alcohol. Want an even cooler pro tip? Want to make all of your friends say "Oh, wow, you're so smart?" Well, just add some aloe vera gel to any recipe to make it into a lotion.
Not even our buddy "Hypno-Toad" could have eaten all the mosquitoes, but I'm sure he enjoyed the buffet!
Plus carrying a toad in your pocket is strange... or some I'm told.

My Macho Mosquito Mix

  • 2 tablespoons of Vodka (bring out the cheap stuff for this)
  • 15-20 drops of Cinnamon Oil
Mix the two ingredients together in a small spray bottle, shake vigorously (not stirred...) and apply. Good for about an hour of protection and you can drink the leftovers! "Spray for you, spray for me..."

Don't feel like spraying it directly into your mouth? You can substitute or even combine other essential oils such as citronella oil (great for mosquitoes and easily found), rose geranium (found to be pretty effective against ticks) or even some eucalyptus oil (repels ticks, mosquitoes and lice). A further list is available below in the next recipe.

Are you looking to "get off the sauce", don't want the kids spraying your macho concoction into their mouths or fear a contact buzz coming on? You can substitute soybean oil (shown to be an insect repellant in its own right), any other cooking oil (olive and sunflower are recommended), rubbing alcohol or witch hazel (see below) for the vodka.

World Wide Witch Hazel Blend

  • 2 tablespoons of Witch Hazel
  • 2 tablespoons of water (if you want to dilute the mixture)
  • 10-20 Drops of any one of the following or make your own concoction:
    • Eucalyptus Oil (ticks, mosquitoes & lice)
    • Cinnamon Oil (mosquitoes)
    • Citronella Oil (mosquitoes & biting flies)
    • Orange Oil (fleas)
    • Rose Geranium (ticks & lice)
    • Vanilla Extract (biting flies & gnats)
    • Cat Nip (stir a teaspoon or so in to combat mosquitoes)
Just mix the ingredients above in a small spray bottle, then shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it like a Polaroid picture and apply. It should be good for about an hour of protection. Now, I can't officially vouch for this recipe, as I haven't yet tried it, but this (or multiple variations) recipe is red hot on my Facebook feed and the internet boards, so I figured I'd hop on the train. The recipe above will differ from many of the other online versions as I included a list of some essential oils and the insects they most effectively repel. I do not claim any responsibility for any warts that may appear on your nose, the sudden turning of your skin to green or any overwhelming desires to cruise about the skies on a broom resulting from the use of pure witch hazel.

Gnarly Gnat Gnabber Blend

This has been the year of the gnat in Southeast Missouri. Buffalo gnats have made any foray, even a simple expedition to the mailbox, a mix of flailing arms and muffled curses. After my local store ran out of a miracle mixture called "Buggins", I had to take to the internet and unleash my inner chemist for this quick and easy recipe, it's a very hard recipe to remember, so take notes... Ready?
  • Pure vanilla extract
That's it... It rubs the extract on its skin or else the gnats return again (horrible, horrible reference) or you can place it in a spray bottle and spritz away. It will work fantastically for about 30 minutes of pure gnatless bliss, before you'll need to reapply. For an added punch, add a bit of citronella oil (1 part citronella to 3 parts vanilla extract) to keep mosquitoes at bay too.

Where To Find Ingredients

As for where to find essential oils, look at your local Wal-Mart (they carry some), Hobby Lobby, or local craft store. Many of these are used in soap making or loaded into those scent warmers you see in nearly everyone's home. If you still can't find any, well, you obviously have the worlds largest shopping mall at your fingertips... Type in Essential Oils for sale into Google and BOOM! To lazy to type? Then click HERE...

Please Share Your Results, Recipes And Thoughts With Us

Please let me know if you have any secret family recipes you may be willing to share or let me know if these concoctions work for you. Of course, be sure to test the essential oils on a small patch of your skin, you may have an allergy you aren't even aware of, so check before spraying this stuff all over your nether regions and beyond! Finally, when using these homemade remedies, keep one thing in mind, they will not work as well as that Deep Woods Off! with the 25% DEET in it, but they will work and most likely, better than you think!

Thanks for reading!


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for reading, I hope you find it useful! Happy (and bug free) trails to you!

  2. Homemade insect repellants, in my opinion, are the safer bets than the conventional repellants that you can buy at the grocery store or home improvement centers because you gain the knowledge on what is inside the repellant and how it has been made. You can also customize the scent depending on however you want it. These options are great, though I would like to share additional alternatives found here:

    1. Thanks for the extra info! We wish you the happiest of trails out there!